I was never going to be a slave to RTÉ. I love my kids too much
Ryan Tubridy opens up about learning from Gay Byrne’s mistakes and why he wishes he’d had ‘a clatter of children’
IT IS a crisp afternoon in Dublin and Ryan Tubridy arrives at Cinnamon café in Monkstown with a smile on his face. Wearing a swaddling tailored coat and a natty scarf, he takes a corner table in the café. We’re here to talk about work and, reluctant though he is, his private life. Ryan rarely opens up about his personal life, insisting that he gives enough of himself on his radio and television show and needs to keep a little something back for himself.
But during our café conversation, he opened up about being a father, how he wishes he could have had more children, about what he learned from Gay Byrne about getting his priorities right, and why he is obsessed with taking on bullies.
The presenter is father to Ella and Julia, who he had with ex-wife and RTÉ producer Anne Marie Power. Ryan admits he would have liked more children, but now accepts that his two girls are now his entire world. ‘Yes, I did think about a bigger family,’ he says. ‘I think I would have liked a clatter of kids, but it wasn’t to be. So, I just look at my girls now and I just swell with pride every time I think about them, they bring very different things to the table and they are my be all and end all, bar nothing. They are why I live.’
They are also the reason why he refuses to follow his mentor Gay Byrne’s footsteps and devote the majority of his working life to Montrose. Gay, now 83, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2016 and in the course of his treatment he has undergone eight rounds of chemotherapy, the final two of which were particularly gruelling.
Gay has revealed that he had regrets that he didn’t allow himself to take more time off, to be around his family. Ryan says he has had many conversations with his mentor Gay regarding that subject and he made a decision to never let RTÉ own his life.
‘I was conscious of that from the very beginning. That’s why I never did it,’ he says. ‘I never became a producer of the programme or asked for a credit. It was never on the cards because I was never going to be a slave. No way. I love my kids too much and I love my time with them too much. I was never going to miss the key elements of being a dad by working. I wasn’t going to be that person. I probably learned a lot of that from what Gay did. I was never going to do that.
‘We would have had a few drinks together over the years and he would have said that to me and talked to me about his own family and the time us dads spend with our kids. And I felt he was rueful about that and wistful. I thought, we are different. We have different relationships with our kids than he did. I don’t think he should beat himself up about it, because it was a different time.
‘We are of an era where we tell our kids we love them all the time. That’s not to say we are better dads we are just better at showing it. I work on the premise of family first and everything else will follow.’
And that formula does seem to be working for Ryan professionally. His daily radio show is riding high in the latest JNLR book of ratings bringing in 313,000 to his hour-long show. He now feels extremely comfortable with the show, which he has been hosting since he took over from John Murray three years ago.
Now aged 45, he says that he is finally at ease with his lot in life and admits that turning 40 threw up some big emotional speed bumps.
‘I think I had about three mid-life crises,’ he says with a smile. ‘I started my career really young and I probably had a few moments where I had to stop and groan. But at 40 I had a bit of moment because my world went peculiar. For that year, I struggled. I thought I was going to breeze though it casually, but I didn’t.
‘Then my father passed away in the middle of that and that hit me, and I wasn’t feeling great about myself or the world. I didn’t think I was being particularly good at what I was doing for a living and I don’t think I was at the top of my game in anything.
‘It took me until maybe 42 to convince myself to cop on a bit and pick myself up and get on with life. My favorite karaoke song is That’s Life from Frank Sinatra and he sings about dusting yourself off and getting back in the game. That’s what I did, and it’s probably why I am in such a good place now.
‘I don’t have the hang-ups and neuroses of being younger any more.’
The radio show has changed greatly over time and Ryan says that he believes he has grown into the role of host and no longer cares about what people think of him. He says that over the past few months he has decided to let go of any hang-ups and use his pulpit to tackle the scourge of bullying, which he believes is rife.
‘I stopped being overly concerned about the impact of every word I would say would have with certain sections of the audience,’ he says. ‘I stopped trying to please everyone I just started speaking my mind without being rude.
‘I think that is age. At 35 you are precocious and not worldly, at 45 you have that bit more experience. You certainly don’t know it all, but you know a bit more and I have confidence in my convictions now.
‘What happened with the radio show is I started each day riffing about what was in the papers and general chit-chat and then we got this feedback that the listeners enjoyed it. That got a bit longer and none of it is written down and it is just what is on
‘I swell with pride every time I think of my girls’
my mind now and people seem to like it. They text in whether they agree with me or not and it is sincere and authentic and what I believe.’
TUBS likes to talk on any number of issues but there is one cause that sets his blood boiling. On Tuesday morning a listener wrote in whose daughter had developed bulimia after repeated bullying from two classmates on the school bus. ‘I hate bullies,’ he says. ‘Anyone who is bigger than someone else and uses that power in a negative way is a bully. I think domestic violence just upsets me greatly. You see these kids and it is so hurtful and when you are a dad every kid is your kid because you immediately imagine your own son or daughter in their place. That “what if” scenario. If you don’t talk about it on the radio, then the bullies win because they have somewhere to hide. Someone has to say something, and it may as well be me.
‘Someone may turn around and say, “Shut your mouth you don’t know what the hell you are talking about.” I will take them on. But I will keep going, because these people don’t have a voice. The bullied child at school, the beaten wife, the gaslit husband, the kid who is subjected by mockery online and is chased beyond the school gate into the phone and into the bedroom. Who is going to stand up for them and put pressure on the relevant bodies?
‘We live in a country where people have been living under rugs and hiding behind curtains for decades while women get beaten and children bullied. It is sickening and it has to stop.
‘All I do is present a radio show, but if it helps to give a voice to those people without being offensive then good.
‘I never was bullied, but I have this innate need to talk about it. I find it is so hard to understand how people do these things and I also like to think we’re talking to the bullies. I want them to hear the pain they are causing and the hurt and savagery they have committed with their meanness. I am trying to shame them as they drive to work. I think it is one of the reasons the radio show is working is people believe I am being sincere.’
At the end of the month Ryan will once again take the reins at the Toy Show, the biggest Irish television event of the year. It is that special time of year where he gets to embrace his inner child, and he seems to have a talent when it comes to entertaining the younger punter. So much so that Ryan has just published a new children’s Christmas book which tells the story of Hillary, a unique sheep that saves Santa.
‘The new book is about a little sheep in a field with a multicoloured fleece called Hilary, the sheep who dared to be different,’ he says with a grin. ‘She just likes making lists and Christmas. She stands out in the field she is in with all the other sheep that look the same.
‘She is alone but not lonely. She is sitting there dreaming and she is one of those kids. She is not being bullied or upset but she is not running with the flock. Santa comes down and he is cold and needs a new jumper and he picks a sheep. And you will never guess who he picks. The book is full of really bad sheep puns. It is just an easy read for children.
But the book won’t be followed by a longer work, he insists: ‘I don’t have a novel in me. I don’t have the ability. I love reading them I just don’t think I have it in me. I might write another history book when the Late Late finishes up. But a novel, no. I don’t have any ideas or any desire to write one.’
As the interview comes to an end, Ryan is eager to make sure we have covered enough topics. ‘Have you enough you can use?’ he asks. I wonder how he feels about the last few years which saw RTÉ introduce cut after cut and even saw them sell off some of the campus.
I ask him where he thinks the next generation of new talent will come from now that RTE is outsourcing a lot of its output.
‘I came through the ranks and I just think that the competition is so intense now. Look at the streaming services and the lack of advertising. The place is under enormous pressure because we still have to make programmes and survive. I really believe that they have trimmed the place down and offered packages and they have sold the land.
‘RTÉ is being reimagined and people can’t say we are just sitting there doing nothing. They are not, they are trying to fix it and I can only say fair play to them. I would like to see new talent coming through I just think that there is so much happening elsewhere beyond terrestrial television.
‘YouTubers for example, I think that is where we are going to find the next big thing. I don’t know if there is enough programmes being made in-house for us to find someone there. Who knows, but all the kids are watching Youtube.’
‘I have confidence in my convictions now’ ‘YouTube is where we’ll find the next big thing’
The Ryan Tubridy show is on RTÉ Radio One from Monday to Friday at 9am.
happy days: After a tough few years, Ryan Tubridy feels good about work and his personal life; inset below, the Toy Show returns at the end of the month