independent

Saturday 19 April 2014

I am writing my story – but it's fiction, not a 'kiss and tell'

Anne Doyle gave her final broadcast on Christmas night.

'Goodnight and take care," Anne Doyle told viewers each time she ended a news bulletin on RTÉ. Over decades it became her catchphrase, and she in turn heard it back from people she met the length and breadth of Ireland.

But Anne says it was completely unplanned and spontaneous.

"I can't remember the first time I told viewers to 'take care'," she says.

"It was probably an accident, but it somehow connected with the audience at home.

"I grew to understand that it's a very personal thing reading the news to people: personal to them, and personal to me. So much so, I sometimes felt during my career closer to the public than my fellow colleagues in RTÉ. The 'take care' was all part of that," she said.

Fourteen months have passed since the Wexford woman disappeared off our screens after she took early retirement from the national broadcaster.

The closest we have seen of Anne since was on a postage stamp, one of a series from An Post celebrating RTÉ's TV50.

But in the spring of 2013, she remains as razor sharp and funny beneath her trademark blonde bob.

"I've just come back from Jamaica and in the last two years have been doing a lot of travelling. The freedom of not working is that on a miserable rainy day in Ireland, you can ring a friend and say 'what about the Canaries?', and be off into the sunshine without worrying about changing shifts, or whether you'll be back in time for work next week."

Another thing Anne doesn't have to worry about is the news. She says she rarely catches the bulletins she once hosted on TV .

"It doesn't matter now whereas before there was always a terror that you had to keep up with everything. Now I really don't care. If I'm on a beach, I'll be reading a thriller and enjoying not having to be up on everything because I'm Anne Doyle off the news," she said.

Much of this new life has been spent in the company of her long-term partner, restaurateur Dan McGrattan, but despite describing herself as "a hopeless romantic", she says marriage is not on the agenda in the years ahead for her and Dan.

"I'm a great believer in leaving things alone if they are fine. What's that old adage? If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

"In life, happiness is not guaranteed. There's a modern view that we should be happy all the time, but actually life is not like that.

"So if you are happy for a while, you're lucky, I've no wish to ice the cake and cause it to collapse.

"Who knows what tomorrow brings? Sometimes life can give you a grand little slap and I've had plenty of little slaps in relation to what life encompasses, like relationships."

But while Anne prefers to keep the affairs of the heart a mystery, she is quite frank when it comes to discussing her reasons for leaving Montrose. In 2010, it seemed inconceivable that RTÉ's news anchor could retire after word leaked to the press that she was seeking early retirement.

"I found it hard to understand the fuss," said Anne, who joined RTÉ as a newsreader in 1978, aged 26.

"It's not as if I was a garda, a doctor or a nurse. If you collapse clutching your chest, it's not Anne Doyle you'll be looking for."

Looking back on the reasons for her decision, the 61-year-old said: "I just felt the time was right. When something feels right, it's that bit easier to make a decision.

"I'd offer this advice to anyone in the same position: rather than dwelling on the money side, it's more important how you feel. If your heart is still in what you're doing, then you should stay in the job."

But Anne's exit from RTÉ turned out to be anything but smooth as months passed with no news if she would be accepted for the package.

"I applied straight away but other unrelated matters got in the way, so eventually I went to the head of news, Ed Mulhall, and told him I was coming up to 60, where I would start receiving a pension, and I was going to go anyway. He said in those circumstances he wouldn't stand in my way, and suddenly there I was – free."

However, Anne is well aware that it's a different story for many of her contemporaries, including Pat Kenny (65) and Gay Byrne (79), whose financial investments and pensions have performed so badly, they need to keep working.

"With me, I never had any money to lose. I was always paid my wages but never so much money I could invest. In someone else's shoes it must be awful – catastrophic – to have made provision for your retirement, and then see it go up in smoke.

"That said, I can't feel sorry for Pat or Gay, either, because they are superb broadcasters and seem to be enjoying what they do. No one is pushing them out."

On the controversial subject of the reportedly huge salaries paid to RTÉ stars, Anne says you can hardly blame the recipients.

"If someone had come to me and said, 'Anne, you are grossly underpaid and here's 350k', I would have said 'great', and bitten the hand off them. Presenters negotiated and took what they were offered.

"If someone offered you a huge salary, are you going to say no? But whether that was prudent from RTÉ's point of view is another matter."

But while Gay and Pat are happy to remain on our TV screens, Anne relishes life after RTÉ.

"It took up more of my time because I started late and spent the whole day getting ready," she says. "Other people in RTÉ would have used those free mornings to do classes and multi-task. For me, it felt like I was on a treadmill and it's only recently that I've been allowed to get off it and enjoy the freedom."

Looking back over her 33-year career, Anne got to know every station secret.

But RTÉ bosses need not worry about the former news anchor ever spilling the beans as she has vowed never to pen a tell-all memoir – despite a string of lucrative offers and a host of autobiographies from fellow RTÉ stars flying off the shelves.

"Well, the fact that other presenters have done memoirs seems to me a good reason for not doing it. I have had a number of life experiences that were fascinating to me and perhaps now to other people, but why the hell would I want to tell anyone about it?

"If there's anybody out there who has any concern that I'm indiscreet, I don't kiss and tell. I have no wish to write an autobiography. It just doesn't appeal to me."

Instead Anne, who read her last bulletin for RTÉ News in December 2011, is channelling her life experience into writing fiction – but has yet to decide if she wants to have it published.

"I'm attempting to write short stories. How well I am getting on? I just don't know. On a good day, I would say 'grand', but on a not-so-confident day, I would say it's rubbish. Hopefully, the truth is somewhere in between," she said.

Neither does Anne see herself making a return to TV screens any time soon.

"I always preferred radio to TV as I'm a listener rather than a watcher. Of course, there are projects that would interest me: travel, history and folklore are things that I'm keen on. So, maybe going on a literary journey for a programme – that I could do.

"But as for presenting for the sake of presenting? No. When you do something for a long time, it's done. And, anyway, the world is full of bright young things who want to read the news. After all, I should know: I was a bright young thing myself once!"

 

Anne: The headlines

Born January 30, 1952, in Ferns, Co Wexford, the youngest of eight children.

1962

Her dad sells off her pet pigs when she was nine. "I swear I couldn't look at a rasher again until I was at least 20," she says.

1963

Her first love – a lighthouse keeper's son she met on a school tour to Hook Head.

1978

Anne joins RTE, coining the phrase "Good night, and take care."

1979

She is dubbed "Ice Queen of Montrose". She replies: "People don't want personality, they just want news."

1992

Briefly suspended by RTE for refusing to cross the picket lines during a technicians' strike.

Mid-90s

Dustin the Turkey brands her Anne 'The Man' Doyle after allegedly catching her "shaving in the gent's toilets".

1997

Meets Fianna Fáil TD Jim McDaid on a trip to New York. The relationship lasts six months.

Early 2000s

Anne and Dan McGrattan start their relationship.

1999-2001

Is famously impersonated on satirical show Bull Island donning forks as jewellery and declaring: "I am Anne Doyle. I am the news."

February 2001

Reveals to this paper her love of cats – she has 10.

April 2009

Pat Kenny introduces her as "the thinking man's pin-up" before her appearance on The Late Late Show.

November 2009

Dustin the Turkey cheekily discusses Anne's "secret tattoo".

2011

The first living Wexford native to appear on a stamp.

Christmas Day 2011

Retires from RTE exactly 33 years after her first broadcast. Paddy Power takes bets on Anne recording a duet with Dustin the Turkey. Odds are 100/1. Gay Byrne hails her "30 years of beautiful diction, clear enunciation and a wonderfully smart grasp of the news she was reading".

Dustin says it is entirely fitting that she retires on Christmas Day because her "first news bulletin was when she was a cub reporter at Bethlehem at the birth of Our Lord."

February 2012

Comes fifth in a poll of Ireland's most desirable Valentines.

August 2012

Ben Frow, then director of programming at TV3, says: "I would give her anything she wanted," regarding the possibility of Anne agreeing to work with the station.

Edel Maher

Irish Independent

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