Ryan Tubridy: The Interview
The "youngest old fogey" in the country, at the tender age of 30, Ryan Tubridy has clambered halfway up the greasy pole of rte, having gone from making gerry ryan's coffee to presenting the rose of tralee in record time. as his Full Lounge album, a spin-off from his Full Irish breakfast show hits the stores, he talks personal and professional politics with Olaf Tyaransen.
Olaf Tyaransen, 13 Jan 2004
By anyone's standards, 2003 has been a hectic year for Ryan Tubridy. In addition to rising at the ungodly hour of 5AM every weekday morning to present his hilarious and hugely successful 2FM breakfast show The Full Irish, the skinniest broadcaster in Ireland has turned 30, gotten married [to RTE producer Anne-Marie Power, his long-term partner and mother of his 5-year-old daughter] and hosted the Rose Of Tralee with enough panache and professionalism to be asked back. Now, as the year draws to a close, he's just released an album.
I know, I know, that's what I said as well, but don't worry folks – he's not singing on it! Ryan Tubridy's Full Lounge is a spin-off from the breakfast show and features twenty smokin' cool tracks from the likes of Chet Baker, Andy Williams, Doris Day and Bobby Darin. His rather retro taste in music won't surprise anybody who knows the man. He may have just turned 30 but, given that he first appeared on Irish screens reviewing films on Anything Goes as a precocious 12-year-old, he's actually nearing 60 in RTE years. Even his wife has dubbed him a 'young fogey'.
Born and bred in Dublin – and resolutely middle class – he's been appearing intermittently on radio and television for most of his adult life. In the late-'90s he acquitted himself well as Pat Kenny's roving reporter, before presenting his own radio show Morning Glory. An ill-fated stint hosting the Sunday Show [having replaced Andy O'Mahony] was followed with a far more impressive run as reporter and occasional presenter of Five Seven Live. He's currently two years into The Full Irish on 2FM.
Visiting Galway for a record shop signing session, hotpress finds him holding court in the bar of the Radisson Hotel. Immaculately attired in a natty Paul Smith pinstriped suit and a bright pink shirt, Tubridy immediately bids his companions adieu and suggests we go find somewhere quieter.
We eventually settle in an Eyre Square pub, where he insists on getting the drinks in…
OLAF TYARANSEN: Has your new album actually been released yet?
RYAN TUBRIDY: Yeah, it came out last Friday. Ryan Tubridy's Full Lounge. That was a curious one – I didn't quite see that coming, to be quite bloody honest with you. But what really happened with that was we were doing The Full Irish – the breakfast programme on 2FM – and I've an absolute love of this music. And I was saying, 'Any chance I could play a track here at, say, 6.30 in the morning, before people are really listening, and call it The Lounge?' And say, 'Let's go to The Lounge now and have a listen to this track'. So it wound up being very popular, people liked to listen to lounge music. And it was being enjoyed by kids and people of our generation, who might only have heard these songs at a wedding – Dean Martin, Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald and so on.
I notice there's nothing by Frank Sinatra.
No. Largely because that would have been a copyright issue. Because it all happened so fast we could barely get our heads around it. But the rest of the tracks are all hand-picked by myself. The listeners were saying, 'Why don't you just do an album of these songs?' So it just came about – we spoke with EMI, and it all happened quite quickly.
A lot of radio DJs seem to be doing albums these days.
Yeah. Well, it is a good idea and, to be honest with you, it does have legs. Tom Dunne's did very well. Ian Dempsey brought out Mario Rosenstock's Gift Grub. But I don't recall the last time that I saw a 2FM person bringing one out.
Are you not worried that yours will just confirm your reputation as the youngest old fogey in the country?
Yeah [laughs]. I suppose that's part of it. It was my wife who coined that phrase 'young fogey'. And I'm very comfortable with that expression, but I wouldn't like people to think that it was contrived. It's very genuine. I do genuinely love that period musically, but also historically. If somebody asked which period I would most like to have lived through, I'd say I'd love to have been involved in Kennedy's administration, from 1961-63. I'm very interested in history and most things retro – even right down to design or clothes or whatever. I like that era. You can tell by the clothes I'm wearing. And I like to wear cords and all that kind of stuff.
Are you a fan of any contemporary music?
The stuff that I'm enjoying playing would be things like The Strokes, for example, which is really not new at all, is it? The White Stripes – you could argue the same point. I love some of their tracks – 'Seven Nation Army' or whatever – and yet I wouldn't be going home to listen to the White Stripes' album from start to finish. So yeah, I like that kinda thing. Then I thoroughly enjoy listening to things like Beyonce's 'Crazy In Love' – and I can tolerate Shakira.
What did you think of Robbie Williams' Swing When You're Winning album?
I thought that was an atrocious travesty. I thought it was an assault on the senses. And I said that at the time and I wrote about it at the time – and I stand by it. I thought it was his Jim'll Fix It moment – Dear Jim, Please will you fix it for me to fulfill a fantasy? And you know, if I was Robbie Williams, I'd probably do the same thing. But as an album? I was appalled.
Do you sing yourself?
Not before many, many pints. Actually, about 7,000 pints [laughs].
You turned 30 earlier this year, didn't you?
I turned 30 in May. It was fine. I'll tell you, I got married in May of this year and by the time I hit my 30th birthday, it was an irrelevance because I had too much going on. I came back from my honeymoon and I got a phone call about the Rose of Tralee and at that stage my world was torn asunder. So hitting 30, I never had a problem with it, to be honest with you.
Do you have any brothers and sisters?
Two of each. My parents are divorced and my dad now has two little girls who're also my sisters from a second marriage. They're much younger.
When did your parents get divorced?
They would've been separated in the mid- to late-'80s. They now lead their own lives very happily, thankfully.
Did their separation have a big affect on you as a teenager?
I would've been 12 or 13 when they broke up. It was tough enough because…
Well, divorce still wasn't particularly acceptable in '80s Ireland.
No, but we came from a very straight-talking family and we didn't really dilly-dally around. And I always said that I'd rather them happy apart than unhappy together. That was my philosophy and that kept me going – that mantra. Obviously, of course I'd have preferred if they were together, but now that they're exceptionally happy and doing their own thing… Also, they're not living a million miles away from each other now so I have access to them both all the time. So, yeah, it was a tough thing at the time, but you just acclimatise.
Were you bullied at school?
No, never. Hate bullies.
Was that because you could always talk your way out of it?
Yeah, but it was never an option if you like. Hated… hated physical abuse of women – I don't know why I'm even saying this – but it absolutely turns my stomach. Anything against women, in any shape or form, really bothers me. But probably what would make me angry as much as anything else, the immediate one, is rudeness. I hate bad manners.
Have you ever surfed the net for porn?
No, funnily enough. I mean, even as a kid – this will make me sound very prudish – but I was never really porn material. So no – not an option.
You first appeared on RTE television at the age of 12. Did you always want to be a broadcaster?
Well I did in the sense that… Em, I feel I'm always trotting out this line, but it's true. I wrote a letter to the Irish Times when I was 12 about how I'd been to all these cinemas to see films, and I ran out of films to go and see for under-12s. And it got published. It was a very precocious and obnoxious thing to do – it was ultimately a very middle class scenario. So that happened. And somebody in Anything Goes, which I'm sure you recall, picked up on the letter and they rang and asked me to come in and review a couple of movies for them. And I remember them – they were The Adventures of Young Sherlock Holmes and The Journey of Natty Gann. So I reviewed those two movies. And then I remember hearing kids on the radio reviewing books and I thought, 'I'd love to have a go at doing that'.
You were bitten by the bug…
Yeah, I got bitten by the bug straightaway – I was 12, you know. And I wrote to Poporama saying ,'Any chance I could review some books for you?' Kevin Hough sent an envelope full of books – I was very excited – with a note saying, 'Would you like to review these?' So I made a tape of me reviewing these books and sent the tape off. And they said, 'Come on in'. So I went into this smoke-filled studio, which was kind of Ruth Buchanan smoking More cigarettes and Simon Young smoking B&H. I could just about make them out through the haze.
How times have changed!
How times have changed indeed. Smoking is not an option anymore. But it's not actually a problem because nobody on the breakfast show smokes.
You're smoking now.
Yeah, but that's just with the pint scenario [taps packet of Silk Cut Blue]. I don't usually smoke. But anyway, I went in and did this, and they ended up calling me back. So I did that every month for about two years – reviewing books on radio and TV and stuff like that. Then I had my Aled Jones moment where the voice was breaking and I was unacceptable to anyone or anything – including women (laughs) – so it was time to then hit the books and do the Leaving Cert, go to college, all that kinda thing. So it went on hold.
You studied history at UCD, didn't you?
Yeah. History and Greek & Roman Civilisation. Two subjects very close to my heart.
Your old fogey-ish tendencies were beginning to show!
Well, I suppose it all fits in. I did Latin for the Leaving Cert [trades a few Latin expressions with hotpress]. But that's all very pretentious and I'm aware of that. And I was also a very poor student. I was very distracted in class – always talking. I put all my energies into English and History, which were my great loves. I come from a very political and historically interesting family – I think – so my family is steeped in history and politics.
Sure. My grandad on my mum's side was a guy called Paul Andrews, who was a founding father of the state in terms of… he was chairman of Bord na Mona and then later CIE. And then his two sons went into politics – David Andrews would become the local TD in Dun Laoghaire and Minister for Foreign Affairs.
David Andrews is your uncle?
Yeah, he's my mum's brother. And Neil Andrews, who's an MEP, is another uncle. On my dad's side – it's interesting that we're in Galway – but his dad was the local TD in Oranmore. So there's a lot of politics.
All Fianna Fail?
There would have been very much a Fianna Fail background. And my grandfather on my dad's side – Sean Tubridy – was a member of the first Dail. So while a lot of people get the Andrews connection, there's also this other political side. So I was really steeped in it from the off and that encouraged my interest in history, which I adore.
Do you vote Fianna Fail?
Well, I wouldn't be inclined to, em… I have to kind of cut off my political ties when you go to work somewhere like RTE. My local TD is my first cousin, em, so it's kind of… [laughs]. I think I'll let you do the sums there. But having said that, my vote goes all over the place. I'm not a flag waving, standard bearer for Fianna Fail by any means. But my vote would be pretty predictable.
Were you pleased to see George Redmond imprisoned?
I argued about this with my friend recently. I just saw a picture of him and he was reading Shelley, I think. He had Shelley in one hand, an umbrella in the other and he was shackled to a guard. And he's 79 years old. And I said to my friend, 'I'm having problems with Redmond'. I don't like Redmond, he was not a clean character, but he's 79. And my friend said, 'Look, he's gonna be put away for two weeks. The likelihood is it'll be a suspended sentence'. I mean, we don't know – there's a lot of legal stuff, but they're probably just giving him a taste of it.
So when I was reading today that he had chicken curry for his dinner last night and he's sharing his cell with a traveller and a foreign national, I just thought, 'OK, well, you know what? You pay for your sins'. I would hate to see him in prison for a long, long, long time. I think just giving him the taste of prison is good enough for me. I'm not for hanging and flogging him. And then there's the shame. I think his family must be going through a horrible time. Because whenever there's a scandal, there's a family. So I hope they're OK.
How wild were your college days?
I was never very wild. I enjoyed my pints, I enjoyed meeting the girls, I enjoyed mixing it with, you know… I was the auditor of the History Society in UCD. I was never a debater. I was never in that league. But I loved the History Society – which is apart from the Hist, which is 'histrionics'. So I got involved in every element of college life, but I would never have been considered wild.
Did you take any drugs?
No, funnily enough, never. Nothing. I was never into drugs, never bought anything. In college, I maybe would've had a drag of a spliff at the end of the night, but I was normally too plastered to get it. I've no problem if somebody in my company is spliffing away – that's fine. But I'm quite nerdy that way. It's not an anti-drugs thing, as much as it is a 'don't-need-it' thing. Because (1) I've adrenaline to beat the band, (2) I love my pints and I don't need another buzz. I've been offered E's and I've been offered coke – on a plate – but I just didn't need it.
My old man's a psychiatrist and he's dealt with alcoholics all his life and he always said, 'Drink by all means – but always in moderation'. Now that's a lofty ambition. We don't drink in moderation in Ireland, as you know. But it meant that, at 16, I'd have a bottle of beer with him at home, and it wasn't taboo. Rather than the pioneer badge and the finger-wagging, so it was cool.
What did you do when you finished college?
I was in college from 1991-94. I went into RTE in '95 or '96, and then I started Morning Glory in about '97. I latched onto a producer friend of mine, Michael Kiely – and we just get on exceptionally well. My philosophy really in broadcasting – as much as in business and generally in life – is you meet somebody you like and you like to work with, the question you ask yourself is, can you go and have a pint with this man at the end of the day? If you can't, you have to ask yourself why. If there's a long list, walk away. If it's short and dealable with – if you'll excuse the expression – deal with it. But if it's a straight yes, then you're in. So we devised Morning Glory together and it went well.
Do you find that there's a lot of politics within RTE?
My feeling when I got into RTE was I wanted to swim with the big fish, if I could. I didn't want to be wandering around the shallow end forever. Because there are too many corpses there. Too many bodies of people who have come in, shone and then faded away. It's a very tricky game. And I have to say, I find broadcasting very akin to politics. It's absolutely a political game. Because everyone you meet is a vote. It's somebody who has something to say about somebody else. If you say something nasty to someone – domino! All the way down!
You have a reputation as being a very good player of that game.
What's 'that game'? [sharply]
Politics within RTE.
Well, what does that mean?
That you don't piss anybody off.
Well, I'm sure I do. But my point is I don't set out to. People might say that's cute or that's clever or that's whatever, but my attitude professionally is we're all… everyone's in the media game, they're all out to do well. Of course you're ambitious, of course you're keen to succeed in your game, but… I see some people representing RTE out of Montrose badly. I think that you are always – and this may sound a little arsey and I'll be the first to say it – but you are always representing RTE. As long as I'm employed by RTE, I'll try to be a representative of the place. I'm front of house. And if that means saying hello or stopping to take requests or sign autographs or something, that's my philosophy. And though that's not for everyone, I'll happily do it.
Your wife [Anne-Marie Power] is a producer on the Joe Duffy show, isn't she?
She's the producer in charge of Liveline, yeah. We met in RTE about seven years ago, maybe more. And I was freelancing, trying to get reports and I walked into Studio 2 – a very old fashioned '70s studio – to do a report and she was coming out. And she was wearing a skirt and she had very long legs and I could tell that she had this enormous brain. She does the brains in the relationship. So I had to get her number surreptitiously and I called her up and we met up, then she went to my brother's 21st and then we smooched in the back garden of my mum's house – and it all happened from there.
I know you only got married earlier this year. Wasn't there a rocky period in the relationship before that?
Well, I think, you know… [slightly alarmed]. What was I? I was 25 when we had Ella, so I was 23. There's always gonna be ups and downs and rockiness in everything. I think that's to do with being in your mid-twenties and suddenly you're in this massive relationship… problems might arise. And I think that… To be honest with you, problems arose – and problems were dealt with. They were ironed out. And now we're very happily married. So I think that very human things happen and we sorted it out. We're very straight talking people and if there's a problem we'll sit down and say, 'OK, where's this going wrong?' or 'Where's this going right?' And everything is sorted. So yeah. We've had our fair share of ups and downs. But now I think we're at the happiest place we've ever been.
Which side of the Dunphy vs. Kenny debate did you come down on?
Pat was very good to me when I was starting out. He was presenter, I was his reporter, and I have a lot of respect for Pat. But there are those who would argue that Eamon Dunphy was the best thing that ever happened to Pat Kenny's career in recent years, in that Eamon wasn't coming up with the goods. Audience wise. I mean, that's just a statement of fact. And for all the critics say about him, Pat is pulling in massive audiences every week. Is that the brand or is it Kenny? Well, Pat's doing something right. I mean, if he was as awful as the people who write about him say, they wouldn't watch him. But they do. I think Dunphy was probably a little premature in his departure from The Last Word. I think there was another two years there in him.
But I meet Dunphy around town and, you know, he's good fun. I think that if you didn't have Dunphy, you'd have to invent him. I think he's great value, great colour – and he brings a splash of colour to what is often a black and white city and country.
Do you have a motto in life?
I do actually. It's a Latin expression that goes… [indecipherable on tape]. Essentially what it means is, 'Someday we will look back on all of this and laugh'.[laughs]
[Photography Liam Sweeney]