Best friends and comedians Des Bishop and Joanne McNally have joined forces for a new RTÉ travel show – and it’s just the escapism we need right now, writes Esther McCarthy.
Top comics Des Bishop and Joanne McNally make for fun and feisty travelling companions in High Road, Low Road, a new series that sees celebrities paired on a unique travel experience.
The premise of the show is simple — for one of the stars, it’s fancy five-star accommodation and high-end treats all the way. For the other, it’s all about basic travel and digs, and all the low-budget options. Each episode sees the stars meet at the airport with no idea of where their mystery travel destination is going to be — the only hint they have is the climate so they can pack accordingly.
There, they pick an unmarked envelope — one containing has the posh holiday options, the other the low-budget ones. But as the series progresses, it’s interesting to discover who ends up having has the best experience.
For McNally, who was all psyched up and ready to embrace her inner diva on a five-star experience, the first unfortunate choice came at the airport.
“They said it’s random, that they don’t decide beforehand, and I was very excited to go five-star. Des is genuinely a five-star,business-class man, and I’m not, I’m living a Lidl life. We chose in the airport. I got the budget, and I was very upset,” she laughed, adding that she was delighted to subsequently learn they were flying Ryanair. We ended up going to Tenerife and I’m actually glad. T
So the Dublin comedian didn’t feel too hard done by that Bishop was in a five-star resort up the road. But she does concede that when it came to activities, there was a huge difference in what the upmarket and low-budget experience would cover.
“He was on a yacht and I was looking at scenery because that’s free. But I still enjoyed it. The yacht would have been lovely, but I got used to my cheap existence. I went on these amazing motorised bikes. We were buzzing around the mountains. The truth of the matter is, when I holiday I would still be doing budget holidays. So it was kind of like a regular holiday for me.
“If you’re actually in the city rather than just in a resort, it’s more normal. When they said ‘budget’ I was like: ‘Oh geez, I’ll be swinging out of a block of flats’. But actually it wasn’t, because we went north, to Garachio. You don’t need the frills really. Once somewhere is clean and nice and my room was lovely and big, I really didn’t feel starved of anything. I was actually having a great time.”
Situated on the north of the island and nestling under a 500m cliff, Garachio is regarded as one of the prettiest towns on the island, the largest of the Canary Islands. The stars not only avoided the busiest resorts but also went off-season, which was another bonus.
“It was very spacious,” said McNally. “I went to a banana plantation and learned a lot about the process of growing bananas. I’m easily entertained, I’m a cheap date. I was like: ‘Oh yeah, this is great.’ And we went stargazing, which was lovely. Apparently Tenerife is famous, it’s one of the purest price places in the world to go stargazing. We went up a volcano. I saw snow in Tenerife, which I wasn’t expecting to see.”
She said that she loves exploring and discovering new places, including a recent wellness retreat in Thailand for a travel feature.
“I think I’m the only white woman in Western Europe who doesn’t enjoy yoga. A lot of flapping around on the ground waiting for an epiphany. I just don’t get it. But I really enjoyed the rest of it.”
McNally and Bishop are good friends and have been for years have been good friends for years, and described the trip — which involved more a good deal of filming and less sun-lounging as than you might imagine — as a bonding experience. In fact, it was McNally who asked Bishop to go on the show, she was keen to travel with someone she’d get along with.
“Joanne first asked if I’d heard about it, that they send you with somebody,” Bishop said. “And I said if she wanted to suggest me, go ahead, sounds like a fun idea. So she was the one that began that process. I got the high.
"I’m a little older, a little more established in my career, I’m a little more used to being pampered, so she thought it wasn’t fair, she doesn’t get a chance to get pampered herself. I’m not the pamper type, but I don’t drink. So when I do something I’m not afraid to get a five-star. I’m not a resort guy, but it was an absolutely lovely hotel.”
He is an intrepid traveller, and when he was younger, a bit of a daredevil, giving adventure experiences like bungee-jumping and sky-diving a go.
“Because I got into my job straight out of college I actually never did the year away. But I’ve always been more inclined to go and try at least to go on the more exotic trips. I went to Thailand when I was a lot younger when it was a bit more exciting. I went to Brazil, I travelled around Europe when I was younger. Then the China thing was a major immersion experience (Des moved to China for a year to learn Mandarin, documenting his experiences in a TV series). I like immersing myself in scenarios. I go away all the time. I go away with my job anyway.
Both Bishop and McNally are making the most of very busy and productive times in their careers. Bishop, whose mother Eileen passed away last year, is currently touring a show, Mia Momma, in her honour.
“She died last year and it became a show about grief and stuff. That became a show, which was unintentional originally. And then, I was like, ‘Fuck*** it’, I just committed to it. It’s going well,actually. So I’ll probably commit to doing as much as I possibly can with that until 2021.”
Was it a cathartic experience?
“It’s very hard to know, because people ask that, but it’s like: ‘Well, it’s the only way that I’m doing it’. I don’t have anything to compare it to. I was actually in the middle of a show about my dad when my dad died.
"With both my parents I’ve done shows whereas this one was very much inspired by my mom dying and it’s always existed in her absence. I think it actually makes it a little more difficult, truth be told. I’m definitely more in grief. And I don’t know if that’s the show or just the nature of your mother being a more difficult loss."
“I possibly think it’s healthier. I don’t know if it’s the show or just the actual grief, but I’m very aware of it. And honestly, prepping for the show and doing the show has made it more prevalent. So I’m assuming that actually it’s helping those emotions to come to the fore.”
McNally is embracing the comedy scene and a bustling cultural life in London, having moved and based herself there recently in recent times.
“I love it, it’s just so buzzy. Some people don’t like London and they think it’s too stressful. I really enjoy it. It can be a bit overwhelming sometimes work-wise and I made a real effort to make comedy friends over there.
"Once that happened I was fine. I’m lucky that I have the two and I can jump back and forth. There’s so much work over there, so many opportunities. I contribute regularly now to BBC Five Live. I have to write a new Edinburgh show. I’m focusing on that now, new material.”
She agrees that being Irish in the London comedy scene is a bonus.
“We’ve churned out a good standard of comedian."
“And what’s nice is over there they’ve no idea that I have a southside Dublin accent, so they don’t automatically hate me!”
High Road, Low Road, Thursday, RTÉ One 8.30pm