This much I know: Joe Duffy, broadcaster

Before Liveline goes on air each day I wash my hands, look at myself in the mirror, and say two words: ‘Libel’, and ‘entertainment’.

It’s a big animal of a show. It’s pretty relentless. We’ve 75 minutes to fill with speech every day, no music or reports to pad things out, and it is absolutely live.

It is stressful and I have to be on top of my game as I’m the only person on the team who hears every bit of the programme — the producer is trying to juggle phones and so many other things at the same time — so I have to be totally engrossed in what’s being said.

I grew up in Ballyfermot. I originally wanted to be a fireman. I was always brutal at sports, which made me the odd one out in our family, but the little local library was my Aladdin’s cave. From the get go I loved the smell of books and once I learnt to read I enjoyed escaping into other worlds.

I have always been a very determined person. Growing up in Ballyfermot, ambition didn’t really come into it. Nobody in my school was expected to go to third-level education. It wasn’t even mentioned.

I believe we can be the masters of our own destiny. I sat my Leaving Certificate twice, determined to get the points to get into Trinity College.

I met my wife June in Trinity. I was involved in student politics and asked her would she vote for me. I was elected president of Trinity College Students’ Union and then president of the Union of Students in Ireland.

After college I worked as a social worker and a probation officer for five years until I saw an ad for a job as a trainee producer in RTÉ. So I gave up the permanent job in the civil service. I got my start in radio as a producer on The Gay Byrne Radio Show in 1989.

My biggest challenge so far has been rearing our triplets. They’re 22-years-old now and are all in college.

The trait I most admire in others is a sense of humour.

My worst fault is worrying.

When I’m not working, I love painting. I took it up 15 ago and it’s one of the best things I ever did.

My idea of misery is being in bad health. When people ask me why I get up at 6am every day I tell them it’s because I can.

I go to the local gym in Clontarf each morning. Then it’s home for breakfast and by 7.40am I start listening to the radio and reading all the papers online. I continue to monitor what’s in the news until we go on air.

If I could change one thing in our society, I’d make our democracy more participative. I’d love to see more initiatives like the Citizens’ Assembly. I spoke to some of the participants on the programme and was so impressed by how much they learned from being involved in the process.

If I could be someone else for a day I’d be JFK. He lived in such a fascinating time. There must have been a great sense of optimism.

The best advice I ever received was from the legendary Gay Byrne: If you’re going through hell, keep going.

The highlight of my career so far has to be my book Children of the Rising — the first ever account of the children killed during the 1916 Rising — and the creation of a memorial wall to them at Glasnevin Cemetery. It was an accidental project which came about after I asked, on air, if anyone knew how many children were injured back in 1916.

So far life has taught me to try and speak about other people as if they can hear me.

Watch Liveline Callback, where Joe looks back at the standout stories from the radio show and follows some of them up, Thursdays at 8:30pm on RTÉ One.

Liveline is on weekdays at 1:45pm on RTÉ Radio 1.


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