Monday 22 January 2018

What they don't tell you about being a Late Late Toy Show child

Clare Cullen watches the clip of her 12-year old self on the Toy Show after 13 years pretending it didn't happen

Clare Cullen

Clare Cullen

Children all over the country compete every year to star on the Late Late Toy Show, but should they be warned about the reactions of their peers?

This year, the Toy Show will be co-hosted by Cavan-born Fergal Smith, following a "tongue-in-cheek" letter that captured the hosts' attention.

The question is, should we tell him?

When I was on the Late Late Toy Show, all I had to worry about was the people watching it at that time. Now, clips from the show often get uploaded to YouTube and shared online for millions of people to see, across the world. The reaction is not always positive, and the addition of social media could make or break the show.

Everyone remembers John Joe, the little boy who wanted to be a horologist. Online reaction to him was mostly positive, in fact so much so that he was invited back on the Late Late Show recently to update Ryan on his life. In that instance, the online aspect of the show helped to lengthen his 15 minutes of fame due to his popularity- a great side effect of the social input.

Another success story is Ashley Tubridy (no relation), the young singer-songwriter who sang a song about her best friend. She went on to play at Niall Horan's 19th birthday and the Toy Show has been a huge stepping stone towards her first single, released this year. However, Twitter reaction to her was a mixture of commendations and condemnations, with many Twitter users insulting her and questioning her sexuality in vulgar ways.

I don't want to bring down the experience- it's brilliant and it is a huge and amazing opportunity. It also teaches you a lot about life, about people and about the way people react. For me, it was the first time I realised I was not infallible.

Reading books on the Toy Show immediately labelled me as a 'nerd' in my school. Before the Toy Show, I skated along rather unnoticed in terms of the bullies, the odd comment about my height (or lack of) aside. Following the Toy Show, I was prime fodder. Many people felt the need to take me 'down a peg'. One memory sticks out in my mind, of a much larger girl cornering me and punching me in the stomach because I "thought I was so great".

I made the mistake, as many kids have done over the years, (and will do this year) of saying something stupid on the air. In my case, it was a perpetually embarrassing "How much will you pay me?" intended to be a hilarious joke that fell so, so flat. This was the phrase that would haunt the next 2-4 years of my life, with people actively shouting it at me across the street for the first year, and bringing it up in the following years whenever they wanted to win an argument by throwing me off and distracting the discourse.

Unfortunately, the promise I made to myself in the immediate aftermath to never watch the clip and to pretend like it hadn't happened didn't work when others were insistent that I had, in fact, embarrassed myself on television.

Telling a child that they are only being targeted because other children are jealous that they got to appear on the Toy Show is all very well, and probably very true, but doesn't go very far to helping that child deal with the unwanted attention.

Thank God I didn't have Twitter, Facebook, Vine and YouTube to contend with. When YouTube entered into the public eye, I feverishly searched for my clip only to find, to my relief, nobody had uploaded it.

Last summer I finally worked up the courage to watch the offending clip, which I had gotten digitised from video tape over a year before and had left sitting on my shelf. I had built it up in my mind, and while the 'joke' that had haunted me for years wasn't as bad as I had remembered, the whole thing was incredibly squirm-inducing - and my hair was definitely worse than I remembered! Watch my reaction to the video above.

The Toy Show is not to blame for the reaction of those that watch it. The hammering my confidence took was from the bullying, not from the show. The show itself boosted my confidence and made me want to work in media - which I am doing now. I really believe that it had some part to play also in my 'YouTube' channel - it gave me the confidence in front of a camera and the knowledge on what not to say.

Being on the Late Late Toy Show is a huge honour and a huge excitement for children. Looking back, I wouldn't change it because it helped to make me who I am today. It's always a point of conversation at parties and gives old friends a good laugh when I bring it up.  It might have been nice to be pre-warned, though.

#1 'Shite Irish Girls Say' 1.3m views
#1 'Shite Irish Girls Say' 1.3m views
Clare Cullen makes her twice weekly Youtube clisare videos from the drivers seat of her car
#3 'How you know you're Irish' 79,000 views
Clare Cullen aka Clisare records a new video for her YouTube channel

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