“We’re going to try and veer away from making people cry too much because I think we’ve had enough tears.”
Irish Twitter’s favourite night of the year is just a few hours away — and never mind the kids, it’s the adults that are making their list and checking it twice ahead of The Late Late Toy Show.
“This is the night where age is utterly erased from your birth certificate,” host Ryan Tubridy says of the kidults across the country sure to be joining in the fun.
“It is just a collective nine-year-old… except, obviously, if you’re a bit older and you want to be nine.
“The wonder of adulthood, which is to say booze, and the joy of childhood, which is to say fun — it’s a good combo!”
As well as malfunctioning toys and the immortal words ‘one for everybody in the audience’, grown-ups partaking in the fabled (and very unofficial) Toy Show drinking game this Friday night will be hoping for more bloopers like 2020, when the normally clean-cut presenter fell foul of an explosive bottle of Fanta.
“Was it an f or a b-bomb?” he tries to remember of his viral ‘oh, b*llocks’ moment. “On playing the tape back slowly and multiple times, it definitely was a b-bomb.
“I think for the adults at home there was kind of a punch in the air of: ‘Yes! He’s just one of us’, which of course is the truth — I just don’t do it that much on TV.
“That was a great moment, I did enjoy that. I’ve never played it because I’ve been too busy working, but my time will come when I’m watching it at home and (I’ll) also be playing Toy Show bingo.”
Not if you put the identity of the next James Bond, plot ofIndiana Jones 5 and release date for George RR Martin’s The Winds of Winter in a Magimix could the secret be as closely guarded as the theme of this year’s show.
Ensconced in a suitably snuggly corner of his Dublin home, surrounded by well-thumbed books and nostalgic bric-a-brac, the presenter — having had 13 years to perfect his poker face — certainly isn’t about to slip up now.
Promising “a big hug” of a show after the tumult of the past three years, Ryan teases: “There’s a lot more Christmas in the show, which I was very keen to see happen because sometimes the theme of the show can take away from the season.
“We were looking at this in the summertime, and trying to figure out the mood of the country, and we reckon it’s going to be one of concern, in terms of bills (and) the world being a worrisome place.
“So what do people want at that time — and that’s home, that’s the couch and it’s family, and that family could be blended or unblended. It could be on your own, it doesn’t really matter, but it’s gotta be cosy, it’s gotta be warm and authentic.”
Over the past two years, the RTÉ staple, as well as reviewing the festive season’s most coveted toys, took a turn for the tearjerking as it introduced the nation to little legends like Adam King and Saoirse Ruane.
But Tubs, as he’s more affectionately known, assuresMagazine+ over Zoom that the only Kleenex needed this November 25 will be to mop up floods of laughter.
“We’re going to try and veer away from making people cry too much because I think we’ve had enough tears,” continues the 49-year-old, who has channelled everyone from Olaf from Frozen to Singin’ in the Rain icon Gene Kelly and Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox during his reign.
“If anyone has a cry it will hopefully be more laughter than sadness this time because I think, as you rightly point out, there were a lot of tears in the last few years. The way the world was, we just wanted some kindness and some light and some love.
“I think we’re heading back towards goof now and that’s kind of where I belong on Toy Show night. We’re going to play it more for laughs than anything else — I think it’s time everyone needs a bloody good laugh.”
Whatever about the opening number, a Jurassic Worldremote-controlled inflatable T-Rex and cuddly Squishmallows teddy, two of the year’s most in-demand toys, are surely dead certs for the most watched show of the year.
Assuming he’s on Santa’s nice list (and after helping to raise over €6.6m for children’s charities last year, he’s a shoo-in), dad-of-two Ryan insists he’s surprisingly easy to buy for at Christmas.
He holds up a flickering D8 Design Co candle to demonstrate: “I love this. I bought it from this company in Dublin and it’s meant to smell of the West of Ireland, which is my favourite place in the world.
“So I have that lighting and it does give me good vibes. I don’t hanker for too much, I’ve got what I need. Something small like that — that’ll do me fine.
“I don’t really have big memories of Santa, as such,” reflects the broadcaster, who admits that an old-fashioned train trip is on his wish list for his milestone birthday next May.
“I remember my father going down the stairs to say to everyone, ‘stay where you are’... and then we had a last word up the chimney to him to say thank you.
“I loved to get annuals: Dandy and Beano and later the Guinness Book of World Records — I was mad about those. And a selection box, which I was always very keen on because I’ve a sweet tooth.
“We played Buckaroo and Operation — textbook ‘80s Christmas. Those are the things I remember, the presents were by the by.
“We’re Trivial Pursuit now,” adds Ryan, who has two daughters, Ella (23) and Julia (17). “We’ve moved on a little.
“(It) gets very competitive. It’s rough — it’s like The Hunger Gamesfor nerds.”
With thousands of people applying for one of Friday night’s golden tickets, one thing the master of ceremonies is grateful for is that it’s not in his gift to hand out the passes, which money literally cannot buy.
“I’ve never been offered money because they know only too well...” he laughs. “The last time was 120 or 130,000 people looking for 100 tickets — it is extraordinary the demand.
“I’m asked all the time on the street or out and about all year for Toy Show tickets and I think people know now that they only ask me while laughing, going ‘any chance?’
“But then there are the sincere requests for tickets that come in and, God help us, people have seriously sad stories, and that makes it really hard. Thankfully it’s not my decision — some poor colleague has to sift through a lot of tricky decisions.”
As the Toy Show’s King of Presents, ironically, it’s his familiar presence that meant far more to some during a dark year for the nation, which saw three siblings slain in Tallaght and 10 lives lost in Cresslough.
“That was meant to be on the QT,” tells Ryan, who privately visited the school and home of tragic Christy and Chelsea Cawley and Lisa Cash after breaking down over the upsetting story on air. “It just came out.
“I had spoken to the principal that morning on the radio and got a little bit upset. I thought I needed to do something and not just talk about it on the radio and go home.
“It could be a gene where I’ve had public service in my family since my grandfathers on both sides. There’s a lot of politics in my blood and I’m not cynical about public service. With Covid-19, that changed things a little bit too because certain sections of society were a bit afraid at that time, and we suddenly had this role in life (on the Late Late), which was saying, ‘It’s OK, we’re going to show you how it’s all going to work’.
“Does that mean politics would suit me? I don’t know. But I’m not thinking that way at the moment.”
Whatever the future holds, Ryan, who has been catnip for trolls in the past, won’t be returning to Twitter, not even to lap up the praise he’s showered with on Toy Shownight. “I get one night,” he jokes. “One night in 365. I’ll take it.
“I don’t read it, so I’m not a hypocrite in that sense that I go on when I have a good match and see what they’re saying about me. No, when I’m out, I’m out — and I’m truly out. But if people are saying nice things, that’s great.”
The Late Late Toy Show airs tonightat 9.35pm on RTÉ One and RTÉ Player