'I was never arrogant about the Late Late Show - it was all nerves' - Ryan Tubridy
Published 12/02/2016 | 07:15
It's a jittery Ryan Tubridy that I encounter outside the radio centre in RTE on a frosty morning in Dublin.
His nerves are understandably jangling because it's the dreaded JNLR day in radio-land, a day he compares with receiving his report card in school.
"I used to have a little knot in my stomach going into some of the classes and the JNLRs can do that to you too. But as Gerry Ryan said to me once, 'They're numbers Tubs, they're just numbers'," he said.
Shortly afterwards, as we make ourselves comfortable in the RTE canteen, he gets a call - his figures for his Radio 1 show are up a significant 7,000 listeners since it started six months ago - and he visibly relaxes.
Even this long into the job, Ryan (42) endearingly reveals how he still gets sleepless nights over the job, particularly the juggernaut that is the Late Late Show.
"I was never arrogant about the show. It might have come across as such but it was never intended. I was more nervous whereas now I'm more relaxed.
"I feel very comfortable with whom I'm surrounded by and also where I'm at, at the age that I'm at. We now have guests coming in, who are half my age and are rock stars or whoever and you can be a bit more avuncular. A little more of the old man of the piece," he said.
Ryan, or Tubs as he's known to his fans, is good company. He's quick-witted and funny and the kind of person whose mind is constantly whirling.
He's also in the best form I've ever seen - and he reckons he has hitting his 40s to thank for that.
"I found my 30s were quite angsty. You're kind of running to get there and when you do you wonder, 'Am I doing OK?'
"Then you turn 40 and that's a bit of a wobble too and then you get beyond that into 41 and 42 and you go 'Ah'.
"You see people in their 30s now and you can see the scramble and the sense that they've something to prove.
"I still need to prove things. I'm not sitting on my laurels or anything but I'm much more relaxed about it. If it came down to it, if I had to leave this job, I know I'd be comfortable, happy making a history programme, teaching history or writing books."
Life is simple for him, he says. He enjoys pints with his siblings, walks on Dun Laoghaire pier and caring for his two girls Ella (17) and Julia (10).
He's been receiving warm reviews for his TV and radio shows and a recent outing pulling in 800,000 viewers, thanks to a bizarre combination of Dynamo the Magician and one unfortunate trussed-up lamb.
Tubridy readily admits that the critics have "moved on to other people" as he reckons that he is "no longer a person of interest anymore", a tag he clearly relishes.
He's too diplomatic to mention names but when I ask if he empathises with Ray D'Arcy's situation, and the mauling he has had for his TV show, he's quick to shoot down the suggestion.
"What I'd say is, I'd never sympathise or empathise or pity anyone else in the station because it drives them mad when they hear it 'who does he think he is telling me that he sympathises with me?'
"But I was the Saturday night guy and I loved it because it was a lot of fun and I enjoyed doing it so I presume the ratings (for Ray) are fine and they're happy and we'll see him again in September.
"It's just steady as she goes, whether it's a business or a radio show. The Late Late Show took me a while to settle in.
"I had a good first year, a ropey couple of years and I feel we're in a good spot now. We recently had 800,000 people tuning in and that's in the age of digital TV," he said.
"I was talking to AA Gill recently on the radio and let me quote him: If you want a compliment, call your mother.
"It's really good because for years, I didn't understand why were people saying mean things? But that's their job. I don't have any issue with it."
Tonight he takes on the role of Cupid to the nation's love-lorn singletons as he hosts a Late Late Show Valentine's Day special.
Which brings me neatly to the topic of his own love life, given his reported split from girlfriend Aoibhinn ni Shuilleabhain. He instantly clams up for the only time during our lengthy interview and I almost regret my nosiness.
"No, I'm not discussing it. I just don't get into that. I just focus on the job," he said.
For someone so prolific, it makes sense that he wants to keep some parts of his life out of the spotlight.
He's more forthcoming on how he unwinds from such a stressful job - going to the cinema - which is how he'll spend Valentine's Day.
"I'll go for a walk and see a film. I always go to the cinema on my own. I usually go on a Monday afternoon. I'll just slip away, turn my phone off and I just need to stop because I'm always talking. I'm always on, I'm always moving. I buy my popcorn and Coke and I'll go to my local cinema and see a film," he said.
"I'll have been invited to the premiere of it weeks before which I'll have ignored. You don't see me at any of those events. So I just walk the pier and I listen to Desert Island discs.
"I've got quite a simple existence beyond the walls here and it's lovely."
He's had a tough few weeks, given that the man he described as a mentor passed away after a battle with cancer.
He admits that he sensed something was wrong with Terry Wogan last December. The broadcaster had asked him to review his book Those Were the Days and Tubridy received an email from him thanking him.
He was then contacted by the BBC asking if he could fill in for Wogan, although they declined to go into detail about his illness.
"I had a really bad feeling. I emailed him and said, 'hope you're OK'. He always responded really quickly. I never heard from him again. Which is really sad because I knew then there was something bad happening," he said.
He was also left reeling after fellow broadcaster Gay Byrne suffered a heart attack at Christmas-time and he met him for the first time since for a recent lunch. But he reckons that Byrne acts like a man 10 years younger and "is going to keep going".
I ask if he can imagine following in their footsteps by continuing to broadcast into his 70s and 80s. He readily agrees.
"I think it's hard to say goodbye completely. Terry did the Sunday 11am-1pm slot and Gay does Lyric at the weekends so it's on their terms. I can imagine still going at that age, just trying to bore the few people who actually still like me," he said.