What’s Ryan Tubridy looking forward to most about tomorrow’s Late Late Toy Show? Catching up with all the kids.
“I’ve really missed meeting children all over the country this year. Normally we’d go out and we’d meet them if we’re doing outside broadcasts or they’d come in for auditions, you just get to connect with them. So I’m a little rusty now,” Ryan says.
“This year has been hard because I haven’t met the children so Friday will be different. I’ll be a little rusty but I’m feeling good. I feel very healthy, I feel very fit, I feel very excited, I feel giddy. I feel older and a tiny little bit wiser and I feel a great weight of expectations but I think we’re ready and we’re going to meet the demands of the job on Friday night. It’s just such an odd job in an odd year for an odd man and we endeavour to please.”
Children too are delighted the annual show is going ahead despite a global pandemic. This year’s theme is ‘The Wonderful World of Roald Dahl’ which will be the perfect backdrop for exploring love, loss and lockdowns in an RTÉ studio.
“This was the Toy Show that nearly didn’t happen,” host Ryan Tubridy says as he describes a long and winding road to creating tomorrow night’s Toy Show spectacle.
“We had a different theme picked and then March happened. We had a huge, different plan ready to go, and then Lockdown 2 happened. We have met speed bump after speed bump after speed bump and we keep climbing over them to get to Friday night. This show is about determination and resilience and this show reflects, in those words, what Irish people have been about all year.”
The first lockdown in March was one that Tubs found particularly difficult. He was separated from his family and he was diagnosed with Covid-19 himself, although he says he’s feeling fit as a fiddle now.
“I was very lucky with the Covid experience that I had. Some people had it really bad. I had a very small version of Covid. I had a persistent cough. I only remembered quite recently how bad a wheeze I had, which was a shortness of breathing,” he says.
“But I didn’t take a pill, no medication. I didn’t have to go to bed, I wasn’t tired or anything like that. I took the two weeks to self isolate and that was it, back to work as soon as humanly possible. I was okay. In terms of the long-term effects of Covid, I don’t believe I have any but if I do anything untoward I’ll blame that.”
Ryan is keen to get back to business on Friday night and let the children take centre stage once more in the most exciting night of the year for both him and them. He says tomorrow’s show is all about home in a year so many people can’t be home and at a time when children are missing their loved ones.
“Nearly every child who applied to be on the Toy Show acknowledged [Covid-19] in their applications because they’re missing their grannies and they’re missing their grandads.
“This is a show for children and grandparents as much as for parents because too many people have spent time looking through windows and meeting relatives through windows. This Toy Show is about coming home.”
He is quick to pay tribute to the elder generations of Ireland too, those who stayed indoors this year and stayed away from loved ones to limit the spread of the virus, among them his own mother who is approaching her 80th birthday.
“My mother is nearly 80 years old and the first lockdown was really hard for her, it was very, very tough. I was worried about her and I missed her, even though she only lives up the road. I was worried for her. To me, she reflected all the women and men in Ireland, nearly 80 years old, who deserve our gratitude because they stayed in.”
Ryan is delighted to confirm kids will be taking part in person tomorrow night but he laments that he can’t hold their hands to guide them through the show.
“Behind the scenes there’s an army of people making it equally Covid-compliant. There’ll be social distancing so there won’t be masks required so you’ll be able to see the children smile. I won’t be able to go in and give them a hug if they’re in trouble or hold a hand if they’re getting nervous, which is the most natural thing in the world to do. I’m going to have to work on my socially-distanced empathy. I’ll mind them, they have nothing to worry about.”
To the fore of this year’s Toy Show will be locally made toys and Irish businesses, a cause close to Ryan’s heart.
“I felt with Lockdown 2, the big story was local business. Yes, Irish toys, out the door as much as possible will feature on the programme and Irish toy shops are critical to the effort this year.”
Ryan says the struggles faced by small businesses this year tugged on his own heartstrings every time he watched the news, so much so that he took to contacting many of them.
“I was looking at the news a lot and I kept seeing people outside their pubs crying and I saw people outside their various shops upset and my heart went out to them. In fact, I was watching the news a couple of times, saw the name of the person and looked them up in the phonebook eventually and called them myself to see how they were and introduced myself. I felt very upset for them because I knew that it wasn’t just them, it was them multiplied by tens of thousands of people around the country. By talking to people like that, that fuelled my desire to use whatever bit of influence or voice that I have on radio or television to try and make them heard.”
An avid reader, Ryan says he is excited to take on the world of Roald Dahl and describes the set as a “mind-blowing, head-melt of a dreamland for readers and for fans of imagination and childhood and dreamers and outliers and weirdos like me who just needed somewhere to go. You’ve got a home on Friday night, that’s for sure.”
Aware people are wondering about how deep or how dark some chats might get this year, Ryan reminds us that the Toy Show has never shied away from difficult subjects.
“We won’t hide behind the Christmas tree on that one. We won’t go heavy on it either because it isn’t about that but we’re not going to pretend it hasn’t existed. We’ll be doing it with a twist of seasonal silliness because we’re allowed. Anything goes on Toy Show night,” he says.
“Last year there was a lot of tears and that was before a pandemic. The Toy Show has evolved into something that’s as much about toys as it is, more really, about children. That happened last year. Sophia and Sophie and all the other children that had these stories about their short lives lived so far but were enormous and important. With that in mind, when it comes to the show this year, I think we’re equipped to handle any sadness or darkness if it arises. We don’t anticipate much, if any, of that but we’re able for it because the show has evolved. It will handle all comers.”
One thing he is nervous about is performing to an empty studio.
“I’m going to probably turn the dial up a little bit to try and keep the energy high. I’m a little nervous about that. I’m a little nervous about the weight of expectations on this Toy Show because it’s just different. I’ve no small task and it’s rather humbling, to be honest. I’ve got a job at hand with no audience there.”
So what does Ryan turn to for respite from the chaotic energy of Toy Show week? Coffee, ‘The Crown’ and crime fiction.
“That’s the first order of the day, a good shot of coffee in the arm and then I get going. But on Toy Show week, my feet don’t touch the ground. It’s constant. I’m watching The Crown, it’s been a nice salve. Salve Regina. And reading crime fiction. I love reading crime. I’m stuck in Iceland noir with Ragnar Jónasson and his adventures in the snow drifts of Reykjavík. They bring me places, peculiar places, take me away from unicorns and rainbows.”
As for the smooth running of show itself, Ryan doesn’t get too worked up.
“I haven’t a clue what’s going to happen for most of Toy Show night. It’s a live show with children and toys, what do I know. I just sit there and say, what do you got for me? They’re running the show. You can’t plan madness.”