Tubs talks Ryan Tubridy says we need the Toy Show 'more than ever' this year
Ryan Tubridy is in an unusually melancholic mood when Magazine+ caught up with the 47-year-old.
Dubliner Ryan is preparing for the biggest night in Irish television next Friday but instead of being his usual hyper self the presenter has just been floored by some footage from this year's Late Late Toy Show.
"I had a cry," he admits. "It's the first time in a while I had a real cry. I'd rather not tell you what it was that triggered it but it's safe to say that we are achieving something big this year with the Toy Show - bigger than normal."
He pauses before continuing: "Which is quite an achievement when you consider how different this year's show is going to be compared to normal years.
"It is a logistical nightmare - there are technical aspects of this live programme that I will never understand. All I know is that I am front of house trying to pretend that I know what I am doing and trying to give the viewers at home something magical to feast their eyes on.
"I'm not sporty but I always use a sporting analogy to describe my role on the night of a Toy Show. I am the striker who hangs in the box and gets the ball laid on a plate for me to just poke it in for a goal. The team do all the hard work.
"This year, more than ever, we need this Toy Show. Kids deserve it after the year they've been through. Parents deserve it too. And I also hope that grandparents will tune in because they have missed out on so much too and a lot of them are alone. So this year's show is for them too."
Sensing he was drifting off into a flurry of deep and sensitive clichés, I stopped him in his tracks and asked him how he was going to appeal to grandparents.
"I don't want to spoil all the surprises but when we did a call out for Irish kids living abroad to take part in the show this year - it wasn't just for talented kids and toy-testing kids.
"From Brighton to Boston to Brisbane there are children taking part this year who will blow you away. Let's just say that people like Granny McLaughlin in Monaghan will be getting some big surprises next Friday. There is a lot of heart in this year's show.
"From as early as March I was thinking about this show. And more recently when travel restrictions got ramped up it became clear that for the first time ever kids may not see some of their family this year. And that upsets me, and the team, and will upset you at home watching. But in the world of technology we will try our best to spring some surprises and bring people together as best we can.
"We have a few things filmed already and one piece hit me hard. You will need the tissues on the night. Trust me."
He continued: "Social distancing is the enemy of the Toy Show but we will prevail. There will be a virtual audience in the studio but other than that it will be me and the crew doing our best to create as much distraction from Covid as we can.
"I have had eight months practice of shouting down a camera but this show more than most relies on audience participation so I will definitely miss that. It won't be the same buzz I normally get but if we pull off what we are planning for the night itself I will be a very happy man.
"There will be prizes but not in the traditional sense. There are obviously no more 'there's one for everyone in the audience' and there will be celebrity appearances and toy testing and musical numbers. But things will be pared back in that sense. They have to be.
"So, our biggest challenge was making this big while being very small. And while we aren't finished yet, the plan is amazing and we think it will be the kind of programming that viewers deserve in these times from the national broadcaster."
Earlier on this year Ryan became one of the first big profile names to contract Covid-19 but he says he hasn't experienced any long-term effects since he was struck down.
"I got it bad, in truth. But not as bad as some people. I was kind of kidding myself in the beginning. I was in denial. I even hid my wheezing from my bosses when I made the calls. There were a lot of calls to make. I didn't want family hearing about it in the press first. So once the TV and radio people in RTÉ knew I then told my family.
"If any good can come from it, it is that I have been through it. I can empathise with people suffering from it. After a few weeks being back I spoke to the producers of my shows and I said we should avoid the 'numbers' and focus on the people so we got chatting to lots of people who have been seriously affected by it."
Another positive Ryan got out of Covid was that he received a huge amount of fan mail during that time. "The hand written cards, with immaculate penmanship, from listeners and viewers were lovely. They tend to be of a certain age if you know what I mean.
"They were all lovely, but I also got a lot of scribbled crayon drawings and messages from kids who thought the 'Toy Man' was really sick. That hit me harder.
"I have that role in so many kids' lives. I don't take it for granted and I make sure I do my best to ensure they get the little bit of escapism they deserve each year. My own girls are adults now so I miss that excitement and hysteria that you get from younger ones.
"You will all still get that feeling on next week's show. I just won't necessarily be in the same room as the kids this year.
"I won't be able to reach in and give any of the kids hugs if something goes wrong and they are thousands of miles away. I will just assure them that they are doing brilliantly and to try their best."
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