Lean and keen
|RTE host Ryan Tubridy talks to Michael Cullen about where he's at, his views on media and current issues and why he’s happy that his shows are taking off in a big way|
Your typical working day?
From the alarm clock on, it’s 6.45am call to arms. I’m at my desk at 7.30am and I’ll have a chat to the researchers on each item. Then some pre-show preliminary check-ups. Do the show, nine to ten… then after, we go over how the show went.
That takes me up to mid-day, or thereabouts. Later in the week, it’s a trundle over to the the television building getting things ready for Saturday night. On Saturdays, I’m in at 4.30pm. There’s a dry run for the show. We like to keep it tight. It’s an hour’s entertainment which scores highly on the ratings, particularly when we have Irish guests.
Are you a big consumer of media?
Very much so, I love media. It comes from my home, there was always a radio on. I don’t watch as much TV as I used to because I’m now a box-set junkie.
I watched Dickens’Bleak House last year and it was brilliant. I like costume dramas like Merchant-Ivory’s Remains of the Day and Howards End.
So, you’re an incurable romantic?
I’ve never been called that! I’m an old-school guy, of that there’s no doubt. It’s my thing.
I do prefer a Mont Blanc pen than a Biro. I like going for afternoon tea with my daughter and eating scones and cake and having cups of tea-leaf tea… I love it.
In a crazy world, I have an iPod Nano (Apple’s digital audio player) and my DVD portable and Mac. You can marry the two. The old world we should learn from and the new one we should enjoy for other reasons.
Would you have preferred to have lived in another era – the 1950s, for instance?
The difference is, do you want to live in 1950s Ireland? I wouldn’t think so, it’s kind of depressing. In Fifties Vegas or Washington, mixed in with the Kennedy administration and the boys in the Rat Pack? Yeah, you want to live the fun times of it.
I’m quite happy in the time and place I am. But you’re allowed borrow. You can wear a nice suit and a good shirt and enjoy the old school things.
How does Irish media compare with elsewhere?
You know, I get bored and tired with America getting knocked. You go over there and see what they’ve produced and what they’ve given. I got to see the original Declaration of Independence and it shows how they revere politics and their institutions of state.
We’re so cynical here. But I’d wake up early in my hotel room to watch half an hour of ‘Morning with Bill’-type show. Their approach to TV news has become unbearable, Fox and even CNN. Their bid to the soundbites and the ad breaks, they drive you mad.
When I came back to RTE with all their Irish news stories about a job loss here or a rainfall there, foot and mouth… I just thought, thank God. Sky News has gone down the American route where they have diluted and diminished the expression ‘breaking news’.
‘News alert’ is just a piece of news which adds nothing to the story. In Ireland, take the Joe O’Reilly case, which was a fascination for the nation. It was well reported. When you see The Irish Times giving so much coverage to it, you know you have to get into it.
It was a tabloid story essentially. People are murdered all the time and yet it peaked the interest of a nation. Yet that didn’t harm the way the story was reported.
Our closeness to the BBC helps?
The BBC is excellent and no doubt about it, but we shouldn’t undersell ourselves. We’ve got some fine journalists and news programmes. We’re big enough boys now to do our own thing well.
Is RTE harshly treated by other media?
If RTE worried about what newspapers said about them, they might as well close the gate. If an Irish newspaper feels RTE is going to be the bete noir, I don’t see the public responding. They don’t care. People who buy newspapers aren’t concerned about ‘the media bubble’, they don’t give a monkeys. Of course, we in the media are concerned about ourselves.
'I talk so much shit, I could probably be a lawyer' - Ryan Tubridy
Your main strengths?
People. I genuinely enjoy talking to people, learning about them and asking questions. One should never take life too seriously, always arch an eyebrow. Do I do that? I’d like to think so. Do I do it well? That’s a question for the public to answer.
Are you stubborn?
I’m determined but not unreasonable.
I’ll tweak my mood to fit the company I’m in. You have to adapt. Take this morning on radio, my guest was Suzi Quatro. I didn’t know the first thing about her, really. She passed me by, generationally, leather jackets and all that. So it was a cold call.
As it happens, we got on well. Unspoken, we both seemed to say, let’s do this. You get the vibe, but it doesn’t always work. With Lionel Shriver, author of one of my favourite books, We Need to Talk About Kevin, there was a frisson that wasn’t working.
When I work my ass off, I get to the point I disappear. I walk Dun Laoghaire Pier or Killiney Hill and listen to the Beatles on my headphones. I walk a lot alone. That’s my therapy. When I’m with my daughters, I’m happiest. They’re my lifeline to normality.
What annoys you?
Bad-mannered people, disrespect to children and bad communication should be avoided.
What’s most important in your job?
Innate curiosity. Listen if you can. I don’t always listen but I try. You’ve got to pepper it with humour. Irish people like to laugh. I always say to guests before they come on, it’s a talk show. That way they’re at ease. Don’t deliver a seminar, that’s boring.
Have you had troublesome guests on TV?
Tara Palmer-Tomkinson was a handful. She didn’t play ball and didn’t answer the questions we thought she might and that was awkward. She wasn’t the politest person to some of our people who worked on the programme. I get angry when people are rude to colleagues. You can’t and shouldn’t do that, no matter who you happen to be talking to.
I think it’s upbringing. I was brought up to say hello to everyone, be polite to everyone. It’s a simple credo in life and you don’t choose who you want to be nice to and then ignore others. If someone has baggage, leave the bags at home. We all have baggage.
Deal with it elsewhere.
Your favourite TV guests?
Hector (O hEochagain). Although we’re not an obvious match in terms of people who’d get on, he always has a twinkle in his eye as if to say ‘what are you up to now?’. As far as big stars from last year, Martin Sheen was a great catch for me, personally.
As an American junkie, a news junkie, having finished seven seasons of West Wing and to have President Bartlet on the seat was a real plus and to get that scene where he talks to God in Latin in the cathedral. On primetime TV, who would have thought!
But Martin Sheen is very political. So West Wing, West Wing, West Wing… Charlie Sheen… Emilio Estevez… Iraq… Bush…Hilary, Obama, McCain, Giuliani, who’s going to win? If you watch interviews, there’s always a little curved ball, a fun-size grenade.
You throw it in when you know they’re relaxed, they’re smiling and you move on. Julie Walters, Joanna Lumley and Barry Norman were impressive and people I like.
Decidedly different to the Late Late Show?
Saturday night is an antidote to what went on Friday night. You’ve two totally different style of presenters and two types of approaches to chat show genre. To suit our show, we’ll might have on a comedian and various entertainers. Then we’ll have the Taoiseach.
He was one of my favourite interviews. He was great fun because he knew about the show. Of course, you ask the difficult questions. I can do a serious interview about God-knows-what three times a week on radio. Bring that to TV? I’m delighted.
What’s your relationship like with Pat Kenny?
Myself and Pat would pass each other by in here (Montrose) and say hello when we do.
Is there rivalry between you?
No, no, no. That’s the media. In fairness, you can understand why they’d try it because you need the sport. They tried it on the first year and it fizzled out because it wasn’t there from the start.
I was a young reporter on his show. We’re very different as are our shows. There’s an age difference too. I couldn’t be a threat to Pat Kenny.
Will you do news/current affairs?
I’ve no ambition to present Primetime or Morning Ireland. But I love the mix. You can deliver the story that people believe ‘Oh, I shouldn’t be reading that’ but deliver it waith a smart twist. There’s nothing wrong with talking about Posh and Becks.
You can have a good old-fashioned tabloid story dressed up a little bit because people think it has an erudite edge to it. People like the red top stories but are embarrassed to be seen reading them. The Irish Independent is endeavouring to capture that market.
It’s a tabloid dressed up as a broadsheet, particularly since the latest editor (Gerry O’Regan). The headlines are more ballsy, bigger print. The back page is where you read about Paris Hilton coming out of rehab – you won’t read much of that in The Irish Times.
The youngsters in the features department will be allowed to have a bit of fun at the weekend. While here, they let me have a go at it on morning radio.
If not media, what else might you be doing?
I talk so much shit, I could probably be a lawyer (said with no sense of irony, not a smirk).
It would have been of interest some years ago (Tubridy has a strong Fianna Fail background. His grandfather, Todd Andrews and his uncle, David were former government ministers. His late uncle was MEP Niall Andrews and his cousins, Barry and Chris, are FF deputies in Dun Laoghaire and Dublin South constituencies respectively).
Not necessarily running for political office. Government press secretary stuff might have been quite interesting - something involving talking, presentation, media.
How about being a candidate?
No. That’s out. I’m in media now and really happy. On a visit to New York, someone said to me: “You really enjoy what you do?” and I said “Yes, I do”. They then said: “Do you know how lucky you are?”. Yes, of course, I’m under no illusions.
It’s so much fun being in radio and TV - but hard work too. I’m not going to give you la-la-land and say I like playing with unicorns and rainbows. But it’s rewarding.
The diplomatic corps?
Foreign affairs, yeah. My cousin works in the UN.
Not for me, no interest at all.
Do you enjoy doing MC?
Not greatly. I get asked to do a lot of things so I’ve got to the point where I do events that I like. I’ve a loose association with the National Concert Hall and I love working with them because they’re all so professional. I like doing projects.
I did a lounge album with EMI a couple of years ago and I’m thinking of doing that again at Christmas. It was great fun. I was considering maybe going back to college and doing a masters in classical studies. I’d rather take the Mike Murphy road in how it all ends.
I don’t want to be dependent on RTE for the rest of my life. I love it here and enjoy my job. But I don’t want to be sitting here at 75, saying ‘you didn’t ask me to do this and that’. This is an exciting year. Both shows have grown up and I have more ownership.
Are you religious?
'I don't want to be dependent on RTE for the rest of my life'
Atheist or agnostic?
No. I’d say I’m one of those outrageous Catholics who order off the menu and say I could do with a dig out here. It’s there floating around. I love the peace a church gives you and the candles but I’m not a regular, so let’s not be hypocritical and suggest otherwise.
Do you like sport?
I don’t play sport but I enjoy watching rugby.
What’s your view of reality TV?
There’s a market for it. I see my eight-year-old daughter, Ella, enjoying Big Brother before nine o’clock and Charity You’re a Star. I’m her dad and I like to see her happy, so it’s allowed.
I don’t watch them and I don’t diss them. They have a role and many of them are hugely popular.
Look at the success of Fair City, but they’re not my bag.
Have you tried cannabis and did you inhale?
Definitely had a little bit here and there but I’m a boozer, a pints man (wide smile).
Should cannabis be legalised?
Not really. I’m not bang against it. It’s like booze, it’s a moderation issue, isn’t it?
The whole cannabis thing bores me. If you can’t deal with it properly as an adult, maybe you shouldn’t be having it and if you can, why not?
I love a few jars so I don’t wish to get into some pontificating rant. But we seem to be a booze-soaken nation and I don’t have any answers as to what we should do to try and improve things.
Should priests be allow marry?
Yes. I’d love to see them get married. Some priests I’ve met down the years would make great husbands. It’s sad but I think we’re moving in the right direction. What about gay marriages? For years, women didn’t have a vote and divorce was banned. Let’s hear the arguments. Your style of interviewing guests? It’s not so much about me being interested in what the person does. My interest is more about what the person is and that comes back to curiosity - asking questions and finding out what people have to say. It’s great when you ask things out of context and people walk off saying they weren’t expecting certain questions, but they enjoyed the interview for all that. In other words, going off the beaten track and not relying on a list of set questions.
Were you annoyed by the changes made by management to your radio show last year?
Yes, it was of great concern to me the way it happened and how it was handled. I don’t get angry often and I don’t get mad, or feel the need to be confrontational. But if I’m pushed enough I will respond. Thankfully, the matter was resolved.
Which broadcasters do you respect most?
Oh, that’s a really horrible question! Seriously, I’m walking past these guys every day. Most of the time people will people will inevitably mention Michael Parkinson.
They always say someone British as they don’t want to upset or complement anyone else. To be straight, I’m a Gerry Ryan fan. From day one, when I came in here as a runner and made him tea and coffee, he’s been a big supporter – despite the fact that he could have said ‘oh, he’s on the TV…’ He’s always backed me and he’s always been loyal.
Our paths rarely cross. He’s from the Northside – I don’t even know where that is! He has no need to be as loyal as he is to me and we always have a laugh in the canteen. When I was holidaying in Ireland this summer, I’d always listen to his show.
I made it my business not to listen to Radio 1. Gerry’s pleasant. A lot of presenters don’t shoot the breeze, he does. So if I’m going to call it, it’s Gerry.
'To be straight, I'm a Gerry Ryan fan'
Could you see yourself working elsewhere, perhaps with TV3 or Today FM?
Yes. My options are always open. I’m very happy here in RTE but I’d never close the door to other offers.
Have you had approaches?
I couldn’t say.
What about a move to the UK or the US?
It’s a possibility. But I’m living in country that I love and working with people I enjoy.
I’ve two young daughters that I adore, so it wouldn’t be right to just pack up and go.
Creating a chat show with some like-mind colleagues out of nothing and surviving to tell the tale… so far (laughing heartily).