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‘I’m not a fan of mediocrity — I have Toy Show anxiety dreams’

A long-established Irish institution, The Late Late Toy Show brings a feelgood factor to the country. Host Ryan Tubridy tells Denise Smith how he still gets pre-show nerves and what the children mean to him

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Ryan re-enacts the famous scene from Miracle on 34th Street. This is not a Toy Show spoiler.

Ryan re-enacts the famous scene from Miracle on 34th Street. This is not a Toy Show spoiler.

The Greatest Showman Ryan on The Late Late Toy Show in 2018.

The Greatest Showman Ryan on The Late Late Toy Show in 2018.

Ryan with Anna and Elsa on 2014’s Frozen-themed show.

Ryan with Anna and Elsa on 2014’s Frozen-themed show.

Ryan channelling his inner Mowgli back in 2016Christmas

Ryan channelling his inner Mowgli back in 2016Christmas

Ryan Tubridy hosts The Late Late Toy Show.

Ryan Tubridy hosts The Late Late Toy Show.

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Ryan re-enacts the famous scene from Miracle on 34th Street. This is not a Toy Show spoiler.

It’s not every day you have Ryan Tubridy in your kitchen, even if the enigmatic TV presenter is being beamed in over Zoom.

Naturally, I deep cleaned every inch of background surface that would show up on my 12-inch computer screen.

But in true showbusiness fashion, and due to enduring technical difficulties, I had to settle for an old-fashioned phone call with the 48-year-old TV veteran.

Mirroring my disappointment Ryan assures me he’ll happily take the tour of my kitchen next time round, “I’ve just finished mopping my floors too,” he says conspiratorially.

The master of the small screen, the RTE star has worn many hats over the course of his broadcasting career, but there is no role in which he shines quite as brightly as that of the Late Late Toy Show ringmaster.

“It is a juggernaut ruled by rainbows and marshmallows, it is a completely insane automobile and I happen to be the author and driver of crazy town.”

In his thirteen years at the helm, he has cultivated a joyous and truly magical small screen offering that exhibits the true meaning of Christmas and the humanity in each and everyone one of us. You only have to look to the €6.5 million that was raised for Irish children’s charities on last year’s show to ascertain just how beloved Ryan and his little helpers truly are.

“When I started doing the Toy Show it was crazy toys and bikes and it was gas. Then it started moving into more of an emotional event and the kids became more important than the toys. The kids that perhaps might not be first to be picked to be on a team or not great dancers or singers, they were the one’s who had great stories to tell and it became kinder and more emotionally intelligent.”

I ask Ryan if he can draw any parallels between his younger self and the children who light up our TV screens road testing the season’s must-have toys?

“Absolutely, of course. I was never going to harm the catwalks of Milan, let’s be honest here,” he laughs disarmingly. “And I was never going to trouble an Irish rugby jersey, other than at an auction.

“I see those kids coming in and some people might not think they are all that, but I think they are knockouts.

“From the moment they are with you in those few moments they are on TV they become your child and that is the truth of it, you become their dad because they are very vulnerable and I feel enormously responsible for them to be happy and safe and to be comfortable so that they can go to school on Monday and be raised on the shoulders of their classmates because they are local heroes. I want each every one of them to be crowned that after the event.

“A little bit of niceness goes along way and hopefully kids see that on the Toy Show.”

Ryan may be a fill-in dad to all the children who grace the Late Late set, but it’s his two girls who have his enduring love.

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“The girls hate my job,’ he quips good humouredly. Known for his unwillingness to part with any details of his personal life, he neither deflects or evades my line of questioning when I mention his children.

“I am their dad and I am not the Late Late guy, they are my world. I will be the dad to all the kids on The Late Late Show but I will only ever be the real dad to my beautiful girls, but they all teach me and they make me better so that helps.”

There is no disputing Ryan’s role in the ever-changing landscape of Irish TV – a landscape he hopes will offer a home to The Late Late Show in decades to come.

“People are very protective of The Late Late show. It is an institution, and I am now institutionalised.

“I didn’t know how long I would last or how long they would have me, it has been crazy and then throw a pandemic into the mix and then last year the Toy Show raised 6.5million euro. That is Irish people at their best, in the middle of the pandemic giving money to people who need it.

“When you are watching Netflix and Amazon, the bottom line is you won’t be able to watch distinctly Irish things.

“You can’t download the soul, it would be a shame if there was no Late Late Toy Show, if there was no Prime Time or Ireland’s Fittest Family, this is part of who we are. We have to keep some of our identity and as long as that’s the case I will be here.

“They might turn around and say, ‘he was only alright,’ but I am very proud of the show. It is run by an army, I feel like a general who just comes up and sweeps up the glory and that’s not me being self-depreciating it is a military operation.”

And like any good general, Ryan can often be his own harshest critic.

“I am very critical of myself, I have standards and they are pretty high I think. I am not a fine of mediocrity but I am fortunate to have the people I do around me.”

Having interviewed everyone from Saoirse Ronan to Liam Neeson I can’t help but ask the TV star to put together his dream Christmas dinner guest list.

“Michael Bublé is a lovely guy, very kind and interesting and we’d have a few jars and he could sing a few songs. Peter kay is hilarious and is a good chatter, Joanne o’Riordan, she is one of Ireland’s great advocates, so very smart and funny.

“I will be walking to the shop later on and saying, ‘I should have said Michael Fassbender he is gas craic or Hilary Clinton’. I had a radio chat with Hilary and we got on a house on fire.”

In reality, Christmas will be very much a family affair, just as Ryan likes it.

“We go to my mother’s on Christmas morning and my older sister’s for dinner. I have a very family-centric Christmas and I love that, I love my family.

“We will have beer and take the mick out of each other and play a bit of Trivial Pursuit and then go home.”

With one week until the most magical show of the year is unveiled, spare a thought for Ryan and his pre-show nerves.

“Yes, I do get Toy Show anxiety dreams and they are hilarious. I am looking out to the audience and no one is paying attention and it is painful. Nobody is looking at me and I’m shouting, ‘lads, lads, we are on.’ And that is my idea of hell.”

In reality, Ryan is simply carrying out Saint Nick’s good work.

“Sometimes I feel like I am Santa’s ambassador in Ireland sent down to relay messages from the North Pole and if I am walking down the street or going to a shop and I see a child and their jaw drops to the floor sometimes I forget and think what is wrong and then I realise, I am the toy man. It is a beautiful, gratifying, lovely position to be in.”

  • The Late Late Toy Show airs Friday 26th November, 9:35 pm on RTÉ One & RTÉ Player.

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