Lottie Ryan: A Star is Born
When her dreams of becoming a dancer came to an abrupt end, Lottie Ryan discovered her true passion -- television. . And, while the expectations are huge, Gerry Ryan's warm, bubbly and instantly likeable daughter is up to the challenge. She talks to Liadan Hynes about growing up as a Ryan, surviving her parents' separation and her father's death, and why she resisted the offers to fill his shoes on the radio.
Published 10/10/2010 | 05:00
'I don't really know any better." Lottie Ryan is talking about growing up in the public eye.
"I think there's a big difference between being born into it and being thrust into it; choosing it at a point in your life where it's going to be something that changes your life. I take it with a pinch of salt."
As the eldest daughter of Gerry Ryan, and a member of a family whose daily exploits were lovingly recounted on air to his thousands of listeners, Lottie has long been used to her life being a matter of public record. Now, as the new show-business reporter for RTE's afternoon programme, The Daily Show, her profile is set to rocket.
"Obviously I know where the line is, and there's times when you're going, 'That's not normal.' But in general, it's a form of normality I suppose, in a weird way. But I know where it's not normal, I know where the line is," she says firmly.
We've arranged to meet in the lobby of the Shelbourne Hotel, and when I first spot her, she's looking uncharacteristically worried. It's understandable. It would be fair to say that Lottie's aforementioned line has just been crossed: on her way from the car park she was spotted by a photographer who stalked her to the hotel, refusing to leave, despite her obvious discomfort.
As we discuss where to sit, we can see him lurking outside, chatting up the doorman. It's unwelcome attention, but with characteristic chutzpah Lottie shakes it off, and is soon guffawing at the notion of herself as a celebrity, or a person of interest to paparazzi.
In person, Lottie Ryan is surprisingly petite. The huge smile, big personality, and lustrous dark hair deceptively create a bigger presence than the physical reality; she is a mere five-foot three. Like all her family, she has thick, dark locks; she's a perfect fit for Aussie's new line of hair-care products, Take The Heat, for whom she's modelling in our shoot.
As we sit down over a coffee she tells me she is hoping for big news, but doesn't want to say what, in case she jinxes it. We agree to touch base in a few days for actual details, but it's clear that television is where she sees herself. "It's not the greatest thing to be getting into at the moment," she admits, "because there's not that much stuff being made, but I don't really care."
Her profile must guarantee a production an above-average chance; does she get approached by production companies regularly? "It kind of works vice versa. I definitely do my homework and seek them out. But, you know, in the same breath, I'm lucky that they do come looking for me as well. It is kind of 50-50."
She doesn't have any wide-eyed notions about the industry she has gone into. "There's like 90 per cent rejection in this industry, especially right now," she tells me. "I'm not easily deterred though, so . . ." She breaks off, laughing, "I'm a bit stubborn."
"I auditioned along with a lot of other girls," she tells me a few days later, after her first day of filming. "They called me back in last week to do some screen tests. And they seemed really happy with me, and I was really happy with them. So we're gonna give it a go now and test the waters and see how things go. It's exactly what I wanted," she says, buzzing with excitement. "That's why I didn't want to jinx it, 'cause I was like: it's perfect."
Her reports will go out on Mondays; presumably this will leave her time for other projects? "Yeah, it definitely will. it might change," she qualifies, "but, as of right now, the showbiz is just going to be once a week."
For now though, she wants to focus all her attention on her big break; "I'm focusing totally on this at the moment. I know it's only a couple of minutes I do, but I really want to make them my own, and try to really show that I'm taking it seriously, that I'm cherishing those couple of minutes. 'Cause it's so not often that something you're looking for actually turns up for you," she says, smiling.
When we spoke a few days before her first live broadcast, she talked of feeling the weight of expectation. Does she feel she has to work harder because of who her father is?
"Yeah, I do," she told me, in a voice that pulled no punches. "I think people think, 'Oh, the door's been opened, great for you.' But what people don't understand is the criticism is twice as hard on me. Even if I did something as well as the next person, that's not going to be good enough, I still have to do better. People are judging me twice as hard. I'm not gonna pretend having the door opened for you isn't great, because it is, it's amazing. But if I don't have the goods to back it up, I'll be kicked out twice as hard as somebody else. So, I know it's there. Because people are waiting to see, you know, 'Oh great, what's this going to be like?'"
"It's definitely there," she continued, reflecting on the weight of expectation, "but I'm used to it now. And I think I have got something to prove, so I'm kind of eager for it. I'm at a point where I want to go, 'I actually can do this, I actually think I'm good at this, so, you know, give me a chance at this'." She's straining forward in her seat like an excitable puppy as she says this.
With her upbringing, Lottie has a better idea than most about the realities of her newfound industry. "I know it's a horrible industry," she says firmly. "You have to really want to do it for yourself and nobody else because there's just so much rejection. I think you'd go a bit loopy if you didn't really, really want to do it. It makes me happy. I like doing it, it's what I know."
Lottie is naturally warm, bubbly and instantly likeable. She has the same impish spirit of fun and quickness to enjoy a good laugh that makes her mother such good company. She says she's the spit of her dad, but her brunette beauty, the huge lips and eyes, and the habit of opening her mouth in a huge, silent laugh when she's amused or excited are all from Morah. "I'm definitely, you know, a product of the two of them," she comments.
Does she think her personality is particularly suited to TV? "I think people might think of me as outgoing. I think I'm . . . normal," she contends. "Maybe people see you in front of a camera and think, 'Oh, you're so outgoing.' I take that as I'm actually just really comfortable; it's not new to me, it doesn't faze me."
If she had to name her ideal TV show to present? "Eeeeeeeeeeee!" she squeals, bouncing up and down in her seat. "I'm obsessed with E! And I'm so not ashamed to admit it," she giggles. "I'm like the biggest Ryan Seacrest fan ever, totally," she gushes, descending into teenage-speak in her enthusiasm.
Somewhat surprisingly, given her lineage, Lottie Ryan wasn't always going to be in TV. As the eldest daughter of legendary broadcaster Gerry Ryan, and, in her own words, something of a doppelganger for her father, media in some shape or form seems like an obvious path, but, until the age of 18, Lottie had no interest whatsoever.
"I think I'm incredibly like my dad." She pauses to think before elaborating. "My personality is extremely similar to his. When people meet me who know my dad well, they go, 'Jesus, you're the spit of him.' In the way I present myself, I'm quite matter of fact, and I'm not shy to speak. I think I was definitely the biggest daddy's girl growing up."
It wasn't until she sat down to fill out her CAO form that Lottie considered the possibility of a career in media. Since the age of six she had trained as a dancer with the intention of going professional.
"That was what I was supposed to do," she says. "I wanted to professionally dance. I spent years doing everything, five, six days a week. I did everything, bar Irish dancing -- ballet, contemporary, jazz. I focused on hip hop, because I knew I wanted to do commercial dancing," she reflects, revealing her natural practicality.
Then, in sixth year, her lifelong dream was brought to an abrupt halt. "There were a couple of incidents; the student visa for America was turning out to be a bit of a nightmare, I got a bad injury in my hip. I ended up going, 'Crap, better fill out the CAO actually seriously,'" she recalls.
She attended an interview to study Communication and Media Production at Colaiste Dhulaigh "to keep my options open", and the penny dropped. "I absolutely fell in love with the place. And just thought, 'Wow, I can't believe how much I've been so set on something, when I didn't realise how much I love doing this stuff.'"
Not one to let a lifetime's work fall by the wayside, Lottie also managed to turn the dancing into a second career. "I started teaching . . . and I still teach now. I teach both my sisters."
Aside from her father's ability to conjure up a scene using words and a microphone, show business was in her blood -- Lottie's paternal grandmother was a theatrical legend. "Yeah, my dad's mum, Maureen, came from the Burke family. They ran the costuming shop above the Olympia, and they ran the Olympia. And she was a dancer. We're quite theatrical. I think it comes from that," she muses of her grandmother's influence on her and her siblings. "We'd stay in my granny's house; she'd make us put on plays and stuff. So it wasn't even always coming from us. It'd be like, 'OK, come on, time to do The Wizard of Oz or something,'" she recounts, adopting the brisk tones of an elder announcing homework time.
Did the theatrics continue at home at her parents' house? "My dad was obviously really like that. I think the whole theatre and, you know, extravagant personalities might have been new to my mum," she says, "but she loved it. We'd sit around and make them watch our plays. I mean, God help them, the hours of footage we have of ridiculous things," she recalls, laughing.
Though maybe a little quieter than her in-laws, Lottie's mother, artist Morah Ryan, is a free spirit in her own way, not to mention a national style icon. "From when we were really young, a big thing with my mum was she never dressed us. We were always allowed to pick what we wanted. I'm sure it was disastrous on occasions for her, as in, I'm sure I looked absolutely ridiculous," Lottie smiles. "But in the long run, it's taught me not to be scared of fashion, to totally experiment, and not care what people think. That, from her, is like the biggest thing ever for me. All my brothers and sisters would be quite stylish, you know. I think so, anyway," she says proudly. "She has that thing that some people strive their whole life for, which is knowing you and your body really well. She knows what works for her, and she sticks with it. I can tell from my mum she's comfortable with herself. I think it comes across in your personality when you're comfortable with yourself."
Today Lottie's dressed in a drapey cardigan and lots of jewellery. The effect is vaguely boho, a little bit rocker. How would she describe her own style? "Completely all over the place," she laughs. "How shall I narrow it down? Alternating between boho chick and rocker chick." Does she borrow clothes from her mother? "Not reeeeally. The odd time," she replies, commenting that each Ryan woman has a very distinct vision of how she likes to look.
She's been trying out the new Aussie line, a product range designed to protect your hair from the damage wrought by straighteners and hairdryers. Hers is a free and easy, low-maintenance, natural-beauty aesthetic, perfect for Aussie's 'good products, minimal fuss' ethos. "I think when you look after your hair properly, like when you look after your skin, it will respond well. I've stopped using all ghds and stuff. I definitely think if you're using the right hair care, it shows. And they smell great," she smiles, "so that's good. It's always a bonus."
"We do all dip in and out of each other's wardrobes all the time," she says of living in a house with three other women. "You wanna see the youngest, Babs. She's 10, and for her birthday she can do full make-up and full ghd hair better than me and Bonnie can. Like, it's ridiculous," she giggles delightedly at the thought of her little sister. "She puts together her little skinny jeans with her little T, and she has little lace-up boots. And I'm like, 'Wow, in five years time, you're going to be a force of nature.' She's a trip. She has long hair down to her bum and legs up to here; she's going to be a model."
After graduating last year, Lottie moved to New York with long-term boyfriend Fabio Aprile, whom she met through mutual friends six years ago, to intern on CBS drama The Good Wife. Behind-the-scenes gossip? Julianna Margulies is wearing a wig: "In real life, it's disgusting. I remember when I saw her I was like, 'Oh sweet Jesus, why did they put that on her head, it's like a dead rat.'" Mr Big is "really cool. I was totally star-struck, I was like, 'Oh my God, oh my God.'"
The move was documented tearfully by her father on air, who spoke in glowingly proud terms of his eldest daughter, describing her as his right-hand woman. "Making a holy show of me," she giggles when I ask her about his on-air tribute.
Was it mortifying when he spoke of you, or were you used to it? "Emm," she squeals with laughter. "Aw, totally used to it," she says, shaking her head fondly. "That's how he engages with people, it's how people can relate to him and how he relates to people, is that he's got a growing family, that we're doing what other people's growing families were doing. I didn't hear the actual speech live. I had people texting me saying," she adopts a mock nasal teenage drawl, "'Your dad's crying, saying that you're, you know, flying the nest or the coop or something.' I was just like, 'Oh Jesus, here we go,'" she laughs again, clearly utterly unfazed. "No, it's lovely that he can be so open and honest."
In the same speech, her father spoke dotingly of Lottie's role within the family, saying, "Lottie is like a second mother to her siblings. She has been absolutely terrific."
They're obviously a close family. "I think that any big family is really closely knit," she says. "We go from 10 to 24, so there's no room to not be close to everyone. We all know each other incredibly well. I think in every family the eldest kid is always super responsible and protective of your siblings, and I would totally be over-protective.
"When I was growing up and I was 14, I'd have to ask permission to walk to the bloody shop, and they get away with murder. I'm always like, 'Hang on a second,'" she giggles at the notion of herself as her siblings' finger-wagging disciplinarian, "'when I was your age, I had it so much tougher.'"
It's a familial closeness that not even her parents' divorce in 2008 undermined. "There were no sides, or conscious decisions," she says, speaking very slowly, cautiously weighing up each sentence. "We equally support," she says, each word individually punctuated with a full stop. "We were all extremely close, all seven of us. There was no six and one. There was seven people close together, it was a difficult time for all seven of us. So everyone supported everyone." She breaks off, pausing to gather her thoughts. "I think it's a difficult time for anyone who goes through something like that. And obviously it's worse when some people feel like everybody's watching them; nobody likes people watching them and judging them. It's not nice. There was no divide in any way whatsoever. We were an incredibly close family."
Her father spoke about spending Christmas with the family. "Oh yeah, all the time," she says, nonchalantly, as if to say that his presence was no big deal, in no way a one-off. "Sunday lunches, I mean. So there's no animosity in my family. My mum and dad are incredibly close, good friends and we all . . . I mean, these things happen."
Was the public outpouring of grief and support at the time of her father's death surprising to her? "I don't think we still even know how to put into words, the response from the public. It really was just . . ." she trails off, momentarily lost for words. "Even to this day, the postman has to knock on the door to give us bundles of letters and things. The comfort that we got from reading those letters," she shakes her head in awe, clearly still trying to digest the nation's reaction. "Like, people actually would send us pages of letters. It really was so lovely to kind of -- you felt that everybody was going, 'We're here for you; we understand this too.' It was just, and still is, a huge comfort for the family. To go back and look at them and it just . . . mind-boggling, it really was."
She has described her father in the past as her best friend; theirs was obviously an incredibly close bond. "Em . . . ," she pauses to think. While she obviously enjoys reminiscing about her father, she's also protective of her family's privacy, and the sanctity of his memory. "The bulk of my knowledge is from my dad. The bulk of how I judge situations and how I approach life, it all comes from him. You know, I'm the product of both my parents, but obviously a huge amount of the way I approach things -- considering the industry I've put myself into -- comes from him. And I think a lot of my family would say that as well.
"He was a walking encyclopedia; my brother has said that before, and it's true. If there was anything you had a question about, there was no way he didn't have the answer to it. He just had a ridiculously vast amount of knowledge. It was ridiculous," she laughs.
At the moment, she's living in the family home in Clontarf, with no immediate plans to move out. "I think it'll be a while before I can afford the luxury of an apartment," she says, noting that this is typical of her age group. "Moving away to New York was my first time and Fabio's first time learning how to manage bills. We totally threw ourselves down the deep end, because we had no option to cry, to go, 'This is too difficult, let's go home.' I would love to move out, but I want to be comfortable before I do it.
"When I came back from New York in the new year I had consciously said, 'I need to chill out for a while.' Because I had done a five-year degree -- gone straight to four months of interning from my honours degree. I was exhausted. I said I would like a couple of months of just kind of chilling out. I know I'm out of college, but living the student thing for a while. Because I would have been quite hard on myself in college. So that's what happened; I took a few months to kind of just do nothing. And then it ended up, you know, turning into a little bit longer, but . . . it's done me the world of good," she says firmly.
No doubt their family needed time to heal, to regroup? "Everybody needed to bond together. And also, with what I'm doing, it can appear that you're sitting around doing nothing, when you are actually working your ass off. It's not until the goods are received and you're out there that people think you're doing something but you are actually sitting at home making the show reels, making the calls."
Lottie says some of her fondest memories growing up are of their family holidays spent in America. "We, on a daily basis, would play our family videos of Disney. We just have them on in the background. We've always been like that. It's just a really big thing that we all connect on. I think it's because, no matter what age you are, everybody likes to join in on that conversation. We always relive those memories; we'd constantly laugh about stories to do with Disney.
"We went to LA during the summer, and I just absolutely fell in love with it. My family have always gone on family trips to Florida, New York. It's just something we do every year. And so we went to LA, we all went, and we all just fell in love with it. I'd love to go and do something over there eventually. TV's the kind of job, I suppose, which has legs. Maybe one day," she muses.
In the first month or so after the unimaginable happened, Lottie's name was often touted as a possibility to replace her father on air. Is she asked a lot about doing radio? "All the time," she says in a voice tinged with disbelief. "It's just, not happening. I didn't specialise in radio in college," she says with a tiny show of irritation, understandable in one who is not content to rest on the laurels of others. "I specialised in television, and -- not that I'm not flattered that people would think I would be good on radio, but the shoes are just too big to fill -- I think I'd spend most of my life with comparisons. And I'm never going to be as good," she says firmly. "I'm never even gonna come close. And it's not where my heart is. My heart is in television. Not that I don't love being in a radio studio. I do; I grew up in them. I do get a buzz being in them. But it's just not where I see myself going in life. My main focus, anyway."
Her determination to create her own story, to not be defined by the recent events of her young life, or the achievements of others, makes Lottie an irresistibly charming presence, one that is both admirable and incredibly endearing.
Bubbly, plucky, with not an ounce of self-pity, and with her eye firmly set on her future, it's impossible not to warm to Lottie Ryan. When we finish our chat, I offer to walk her to her car; she's such a tiny little thing I'm reluctant to send her off into the possible clutches of a lurking snapper. Lottie's having none of it. With a determined toss of her bouncy locks, she's off, the world's most charming overachiever. You can't but hope she'll take over the world.
Lottie celebrates the launch of Aussie Haircare's new Take the Heat Collection, a range whose formulations, containing Australian jojoba-seed oil, help keep hair smoothed, soothed and protected from the excesses of styling. Thanks to Aussie Take the Heat you can go from tepid to total hottie -- its formulation helps insulate your hair against excessive heat so you can curl, style and blow-dry with confidence. Aussie Take the Heat Collection is available nationwide, see www.aussiehair.com
Photography by Sarah Doyle
Styling by Liadan Hynes
Make-up by Lyndsey Cavanagh for Max Factor
Hair by Paul Davey using Aussie's new hair care collection Take The Heat
Shot on location at The Workman's Club, 10 Wellington Quay, D2, tel: (01) 670-6692, or see www.theworkmansclub.com