Who, me? RTÉ's Rick O’Shea on suffering from imposter syndrome

Who, me? RTÉ's Rick O’Shea on suffering from imposter syndrome
Rick O’Shea. Picture: Moya Nolan

Rick O’Shea tells Irene Feighan he used to worry about his appearance but it no longer bothers him.

The past can often stalk the present, even when the evidence contradicts it. And so it is for Rick O’Shea. He has been on the national airwaves since 2001, has founded the country’s largest book club, been a judge for the prestigious Costa Book awards, and is the new presenter of The Book Show, but he still struggles to accept his success.

“When things are going well, I find it very hard to accept that it’s deserved,” he says. “I have an imposter syndrome the size of half of Leinster. It has never gone away.

Looking back at where my family comes from, my mum was born in the Liberties, and what my background is — we’re not the sort of people who end up doing that kind of thing. That’s where the imposter syndrome comes from.

But his proud family — in particular, his father — is having none of it. “They ring me up all the time and tell me how much they enjoyed something. I have to cut them off sometimes.”

He’s spent years “obsessing” over the career of Noel Coward, the English playwright, author, and songwriter and performer. “Coward’s nickname was the master because he was Jack of all trades and master of none. And I like to think that I’m never going to be the master of anything but I can turn my hand to almost anything.”

Married to Liz, he has three children, aged 21, 15, and 12, from a previous relationship.

The Book Show, RTÉ Radio 1, Sundays, 7pm.

Who, me? RTÉ's Rick O’Shea on suffering from imposter syndrome

What shape are you in?

I’m probably about a stone heavier than I need to be. Having said that, at the moment I am at the lowest weight I’ve been in my adult life. I do almost no real exercise of any kind shy of walking every now and then. I do pilates once a week but that’s for my back — it’s not really going to help to keep you fit. I have epilepsy but it is well controlled with medication.

What are your healthiest eating habits?

Bread was always my major problem so I’ve cut down enormously on the amount I eat. I developed a healthy attitude towards calories a few years ago when I realised that the weight I’d lost over the space of a couple of years — I went through a separation and a divorce and lost about three stone — was creeping back up again. I decided something had to be done and I had to be very cautious about what I was eating.

What are your guiltiest pleasures?

I try not to feel guilty about my guilty pleasures if I’m having something that I want to have. I know it sounds really old man, but I like toast or toasted bagel.

What would keep you awake at night?

I read before I go to sleep every night and that usually helps immensely but even then I go through periods of insomnia where I find myself awake at half one in the morning and there’s no real reason why.

How do you relax?

I read, I go to the theatre, I like going to dinner in nice restaurants. But sometimes sitting at home having dinner with John Kelly’s Mystery Train on Lyric FM and a glass of wine is a nice way of relaxing of an evening. I try to spend as little time as I can on my phone as well.

What’s your favourite smell?

Cocoa butter, mainly because my wife uses it.

What would you like to change about your appearance?

I spent most of my life worrying about my appearance and wanting to change it. I was a little fat kid and I was overweight for a lot of my 20s and 30s. Also, while most of my hair is still there, I’ve been going grey since I was about 19. I’m now 46 and none of these things really, really bother me.

When is the last time you cried?

Last night. I was watching Marriage Story with Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver on Netflix. And on Saturday night during the Gate Theatre’s performance of A Christmas Carol, I found myself welling up a couple of times. It’s something that doesn’t happen to me too often.

What traits do you least like in others?

I’m not mad about cynicism. And I’m not mad about negativity for the sake of negativity. I try to avoid excessive drama. There are always people in your life who put drama where there just doesn’t need to be drama.

What traits do you least like about yourself?

My inability to take any kind of success as being deserved.

Do you pray?

I am a 100% card-carrying atheist.

What would cheer up your day?

Today has been a long day at work — there has been a lot happening — but the knowledge that I get to see my wife later on and we get to spend the evening together.

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