He was one of the highest profile people to catch Covid-19, but as Ryan Tubridy tells Claire O'Mahony, he’s in good health and eager to get the new season of The Late Late Show started.
While we are still far from back to normal, new or otherwise, there are some things which remind us that the year still turns. The kids are back in school – although it’s a changed classroom experience for them – and The Late Late Show returned on September 4.
Ryan Tubridy is more than ready to get back into the hot seat after a restorative three-week break, for what is likely to be an interesting season. Certainly, what came before it was a challenging time in television by anyone’s reckoning, and looking back, Tubridy describes it as "definitely the most peculiar season of the Late Late that I can recall." It kicked off, presciently as it would turn out, with a 'thank you’ to the emergency services. Then Gay Byrne died in November 2019.
"We couldn’t believe it. He was such an important person, he was a friend of mine, he was a mentor and suddenly, we were doing a tribute show to him in the middle of the week. It was just so desperate. I had to try and grieve and present the show, do my radio show and be a dad; it was intense," he says.
In the weeks that followed, the deaths of two other broadcasting legends, Marian Finucane and Larry Gogan, also occurred. Then Covid-19 struck.
"The warning bells started to come in March and the next thing I realised, I’m telling people at home how to wash their hands. Dr. Sarah [Doyle] and myself at two sinks," he recalls. "Initially, when I saw that segment, I said ‘What are we doing, telling people how to wash their hands?’ Then during the rehearsals, somebody said to me ‘We’ve just heard word that it’s much more serious than anyone realises’ and I thought ‘OK, enough of the messing. Get down to business.’
"Our job now was to deliver the message and make sure everyone is safe, to talk to people and try and help the frontline services get the word out there in terms of the seriousness of it and how important it is that we all work together. Suddenly, the show was transformed into the Late Late Covid season and it was remarkable."
Initially, he found it strange not being in front of a live studio audience, but soon, Ryan discovered this had benefits. "Many of the guests we had on were actually proving to be better interviewees with no audience. Some guests are kind of introverted, if you like, where the audience freaks them out so no audience suits them," he explains.
"And with that in mind, I decided, ‘OK this is now an enormous radio show in a studio that’s built for TV and suddenly I was talking to my guests like we were on the radio. I’m very comfortable on the radio; in a way, with a live studio audience, you’re a different type of presenter. So I think it brought out the best in me, which meant I brought out the best in the guests so everyone at home got the best show possible – everybody won."
Of course, he was also very aware of the bigger picture. "The figures of people dying in the country were enormous. The fear in the country was also enormous, so I didn’t care about the frivolous end of how the
chat show was put together. Thee audience? No. One for everyone in the audience? Gone, don’t care. Audience members can’t be there? That’s correct, it’s the right thing to do.
"So suddenly, it was almost like a wartime chat show, if you can have such a thing, where it was, can we all pull together? Yes. Can we get this guest? Yes. And they did. Every week, the team pulled together and they brought on these amazing guests. We just got used to the Zoom calls, we got used to the no crowd."
Ryan was unlucky enough to catch Covid-19 at the end of March. He describes his experience of it as "very fortunate." After developing a persistent cough, he tested positive and went into quarantine at home. He
subsequently returned to work without any of the long-term after-effects that have hit a significant number of people who had the disease.
When he went on holidays this summer, spending 10 days in Clifden in his beloved Connemara and then on to Kerry to revisit some of his favourite spots along the Wild Atlantic Way, he made a point of switching off.
"I went off Instagram; I didn’t WhatsApp work or anything like that. I kept an eye on the news but I read books, played board games and had great fun." After that reboot, it was back home to pay bills, do laundry and all the mundane stuff."
"I’m quite nesty," he says. "I like the house in order for the autumn. I Iike to have the fuel in the shed and I like to have everything clean – almost like a spring clean but in August."
What does he miss about pre-Covid life? "I probably miss a bit of foreign travel, but not too much of it. The Covid situation kind of suits me because I’m very much a homebird and I love Ireland, so going to Connemara
wasn’t a big ask for me. I would have gone anyway. I watched Hamilton, and I really enjoyed it – the girls [his daughters Ella (21) and Julia (15)] – loved it too and I thought I’d love to go over to London and see that on the stage. I miss that. I miss a gig; I miss a good concert and few beers at the concert. I miss the pub but I totally accept the sacrifice and I’m going to play this game until we see it to a happy conclusion."
He thinks his family have coped brilliantly with the new normal. "The girls, for me, have been just remarkable – their stoicism and their ability to adapt," he says. "Through their friends, I see the young people in this
country; they got a raw deal, they’re missing out on a lot of firsts, a lot of experiences, but my God, they’re doing it with a smile."
As to what he can reveal about the new season of the Late Late, Ryan won’t give away much. But he highlights that there will be no audience. "That’s important to me for a message to people at home. If you can’t
meet in any numbers, why should we and until you can’t, we won’t." He believes that this year’s Toy Show is going to be the most important they’ve ever done.
"The children of this country have been so good and have been given such a raw deal in their young lives; we feel that we’ve a role in offering them a night off the virus, like they haven’t had for a long time. We are putting everything, every piece of us into that, heart and soul."
As for the show itself, there will be a catalogue of big names, Zoom interviews and the best of Irish music coming into studio. "We’ll always bring something into people’s living rooms on a Friday night and we’ll
always endeavour to make it fascinating, engaging, informative and entertaining."
He’s aware that the road ahead is not an easy one. During the previous season, reading the mood of the nation was pivotal in how the show functioned and it became apparent that people looked to the Late Late
for clarity, for guidance and for information.
"We found that people were saying to us that the show, in a world gone blurry, was like a signpost in the fog saying ‘Friday this way – wash your hands, cough into your elbow’ and so on," he says. "We got very positive feedback but we have a massive challenge ahead of us this autumn; there’s no doubt about it. It’s different.
Initially, it was this great national effort and everyone’s in it together. I just feel that’s changed a little bit, but we won’t know. It’s changing day today so we won’t know until showtime on Friday the 4th."