How Gerry Ryan turned into Mr Smug
Books Editor John Spain searches through the veteran radio star's new book for something of value, but finds that this 'tell-all' tale comes up well short
Published 16/10/2008 | 00:00
So, is Gerry Ryan's new book worth the guaranteed €100,000 he has got from Penguin Ireland for writing it?
The book does have a few redeeming qualities but the straight answer to that question has to be: Definitely Not.
Most books by minor celebs have at least one Big Revelation within their pages.
Gerry's big revelation is that he suffers (mildly) from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. He's a tidiness freak who hoovers too much. It's an early indication of how mundane the rest of the book is going to be. And the main problem with it can be summed up in two words: Gerry Ryan.
Like most of the nice middle- class Dublin boys of his era who went on to find success, Gerry is self-satisfied to the point of being smug.
"My canteen is the restaurant of the Four Seasons Hotel," he writes in a chapter headed Fine Dining. "I have all my meetings in that restaurant. I know Louis Walsh does the same thing."
Shortly after that, he is talking about wine: "I think Irish people still need to wake up to the joys of sommeliers... My favourite sommelier was Pascal in Dromoland."
Or here's Gerry in a chapter called The Front of the Plane: "I go first class with Aer Lingus to JFK.
"There's a big seat, everyone's attentive and nice," he goes on. "I have a few drinks, and when I'm with my family, I see them enjoying the fruits of my labour .... Then we get to New York and there's a limousine waiting to take us to Manhattan.
"We check into Fitzpatrick's and go upstairs to one of the suites, or as we did last year, to the penthouse ... And the path is always greased. Maybe U2 are playing in Giants Stadium, and the backstage passes will be waiting for us in the Rockefeller ....
"I defy anyone to say that's not a good way to travel."
And there's more, much more, of this sort of tedious, self-admiring guff. "My favourite tipple is Jameson twelve-year-old. I like Gold Reserve ... I used to spend a lot of time collecting single malt whiskies .... At one stage I had a big collection of whiskies, fifty or sixty, and I would delight (in an obsessive compulsive way) in lining them up."
He also loves cigars: "My eldest son Rex, who was eight or nine at the time, was in charge of the two big humidors, and he had the business of keeping the cigars at the right temperature down to a fine art.
"He kept the whiskies' labels all turned out front too."
Yes, indeed, Gerry loves the finer things in life: "These days, Paris for me is staying at the Hotel Meurice up at the Jardins des Tuileries.
"You can't even get in there unless you've got a grand in your sock..." And he goes on to tell us a story about how he ordered a €2,000 Petrus thinking it was a €200 bottle.
Of course, there's nothing wrong with enjoying the finer things, it's just that Gerry's need to justify himself and his compulsion to tell us about it in such detail become boring after a while.
He finds himself fascinating and seems to think that everyone else should find the minutiae of his life fascinating as well. The truth is, however, that Gerry is not particularly interesting. The only difference between him and anyone else from a similar background is that he's got a few famous friends like Harry Crosbie and Bono and he is famous for waffling on the radio.
That is the other big weakness of Gerry's book. Interspersed between the details of his own life and career are numerous short chapters with headings like How to Run the Country and Is It Possible to be Friends with a Woman? in which Gerry riffs on various subjects much as he does on radio.
It's not his fault, but the kind of waffle that sounds funny or insightful on radio and fills up hours of airtime does not work in print. Once it is written down, it seems lame. The truth is that Gerry's views are often superficial and trite, the kind of stuff you hear from young fogies in college debating societies.
There is also Gerry's irritating assumption that his imprimatur on things actually matters. Here he is on Bertie, for example: "Bertie Ahern is, without doubt, more than any other politician in the history of the Republic, substantially responsible for the success of this country, and he has been pushed, shoved, prodded and p***ked around beyond all toleration... How much was it? Two grand? Five grand? ... We're a begrudging bunch of f***ers."
Or here he is on the difference between the sexes: "I do believe that men and women are very different ... Men and women want to be celebrated and cherished and loved and taken care of, but we're utterly different."
This is the kind of guff that can sound profound when heard on the radio but it does not stand up to much scrutiny on the page.
They are one person's non-expert views on complex topics. They don't carry any more weight than the average caller to Liveline.
There is a lot more that makes this book a questionable buy for €100,000. There is Gerry's name-dropping (he even works John Banville and the former attorney general John Rogers -- misspelled as Rodgers -- into the mix).
There is a lot of mind-numbing stuff about the internal machinations in RTE and why Gerry almost left to work for Denis O'Brien.
And there are lots of boring details about Gerry's health and about how he uses Udo's Oil for arthritis in his hands and Reductil to help him lose weight.
Do we really need to know this?
Gerry confuses being open about the small details of his life with being interesting. And he seems to have little awareness of how hilarious his self-importance is at times.
One example of this is when he is writing about presenting the Eurovision: "My talent is to imbue a project with much more significance and theatricality than it actually deserves. This gives a sort of incandescence to it that makes things that are not all that bright shine very brightly. I can bring that to the party.
"But like it says in Blade Runner, the light that burns twice as brightly burns twice as fast. How brightly I have shone."
Make of that what you will. But there are some redeeming sections in the book. Gerry writes with great insight and love about his father, a slightly eccentric dentist, and his mother a flamboyant woman who herself grew up in a famous theatrical family.
He is also very good on being a father himself and raising kids in today's world.
When he sticks to what he knows and what he really cares about, he writes well and there are sections of the book which are very honest and moving. The great pity is that being G. Ryan just keeps getting in the way.
________________________ Would the Real Gerry Ryan Please Stand Up is published this week by Penguin Ireland priced at €18.99