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Believe in your elf The Late Late Toy Show's Ryan Tubridy reveals he still gets pre-show 'anxiety dreams'

A long-established Irish institution, The Late Late Toy Show brings a feelgood factor to the country

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Ryan re-enacts the famous scene from Miracle on 34th Street

Ryan re-enacts the famous scene from Miracle on 34th Street

Ryan re-enacts the famous scene from Miracle on 34th Street

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

Naturally, I deep cleaned every inch of tile that would show up on my 12-inch computer screen. But in true showbiz fashion, and due to enduring technical difficulties, I had to settle for an old-fashioned phone call with the 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 quips.

Master of the small screen and airwaves, the RTÉ star has worn many hats throughout 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," he says. "It is a completely insane automobile and I happen to be the driver and mayor of crazy town."

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Host Ryan Tubridy

Host Ryan Tubridy

Host Ryan Tubridy

 

In his 13 years at the helm, he has cultivated a joyous and truly magical offering that exhibits the true meaning of Christmas and the humanity in each and every one of us.

You only have to look to the €6.5 million 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," he recalls. "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 children who had great stories to tell, and it became kinder and more emotionally intelligent."

I ask the 48-year-old if he can draw any parallels between his younger self and the kids 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. "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 real 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.

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

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

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

"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 and every one of them to be crowned that after the event.

"A little bit of niceness goes a long way and hopefully kids see that on the Toy Show."

Ryan may be a fill-in dad to all the children who grace the set, but it's his two daughters with ex-wife Anne Marie Power, Ella (22) and Julia (16), who have his enduring love.

"The girls hate my job," he jokes. Known for his unwillingness to part with any details of his personal life, he neither deflects nor evades my line of questioning.

"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 Toy 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 television - a landscape he hopes will continue to offer a home to The Late Late Show in the decades to come.

He says: "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 €6.5 million. 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.

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

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

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

"They might turn around and say, 'He was only alright', but I am very proud of the show," he continues. "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 am not a fan of mediocrity but I am fortunate to have the people I do around me."

So having interviewed everyone from Saoirse Ronan to Liam Neeson, I can't help but wonder who would be on 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 a good chatter; Joanne O'Riordan, she is one of Ireland's great advocates, very smart and funny.

"I will be walking to the shop later on and saying, 'I should have said Michael Fassbender, because he is gas craic, or Hillary Clinton'. I had a radio chat with Hillary and we got on like a house on fire."

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Ryan channeling his inner Mowgli back in 2016

Ryan channeling his inner Mowgli back in 2016

Ryan channeling his inner Mowgli back in 2016

 

In reality, December 25 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 just days 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," he says. "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, we are on!' And that is my idea of hell."

"Sometimes I feel like I am Santa's ambassador in Ireland sent down to relay messages from the North Pole," jokes Ryan.

"If I am walking down the street or in 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 is on Friday November 26 at 9.35pm on RTÉ One and RTÉ Player

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