Tuesday 20 March 2018

'Gerry and I were great pals for 15 years, but not the last eight' - Dave Fanning

Dave Fanning tells Andrea Smith about his enduring passion for the day job, RTÉ's challenging future ... and his happy home life

Gerry Ryan and Dave Fanning at the Four Seasons Hotel Dublin Chernobyl Children's lunch in 2007.
Gerry Ryan and Dave Fanning at the Four Seasons Hotel Dublin Chernobyl Children's lunch in 2007.
Dave Fanning RTE,Pic:Marc O'Sullivan
Frank: Andrea Smith and Dave Fanning chatted about how the DJ goes with the flow when it comes to his career over their recent lunch. Photo: Ronan Temple Lang.
Family man: left, Dave with wife Ursula, sons Jack and Robert and newborn Hayley back in 2003. Dave says marrying Ursula was the best decision he ever made, but admits he could do more at home. Photo: Ray Cullen.
Gerry Ryan
An old pic of Dave Fanning
Ultra-hip: A former rag trade premises has been transformed into a trendy restaurant called Drury Buildings, where Andrea and Dave enjoyed a chat
Andrea Smith

Andrea Smith

He's well known for being a chatterbox, and when 2fm's Dave Fanning rocks up to our lunch in Drury Buildings, he's already in full flow. He's great company and very easy-going, which is why his popularity on radio has endured. But, thankfully, in a world gone PC-mad, the Dubliner is still refreshingly frank with his opinions.

"People think being a DJ is a sexy job, and they're right," he says over a steak sandwich at the ultra-hip restaurant, which is situated in a renovated former rag trade building in the heart of Dublin.

"I've had breakfast and lunch with every movie star and rock star all over the world. It's unbelievable to think that I grew up living just 300 yards from RTÉ, so I just popped down the road and got this job."

Dave remains passionate about music, and, aside from the weekend magazine 2fm show, he usually has several projects on the go, including his weekly column in the RTÉ Guide and the recent four-part series on the history of Irish rock on BBC 6 Music.

He has worked with Channel 4, Virgin Radio, and had a 20-part rock star interview programme on Sky Arts. And as a contractor with the national broadcaster RTÉ, he has done all sorts of radio and television programmes. Was he bothered by all the uncertainty over recent 2fm schedule changes?

"All of these things are worrying, and I never knew what was going on until about two days before it happened," Dave admits. "We all have a fear of our contracts not being renewed.

Family man: left, Dave with wife Ursula, sons Jack and Robert and newborn Hayley back in 2003. Dave says marrying Ursula was the best decision he ever made, but admits he could do more at home. Photo: Ray Cullen.
Family man: left, Dave with wife Ursula, sons Jack and Robert and newborn Hayley back in 2003. Dave says marrying Ursula was the best decision he ever made, but admits he could do more at home. Photo: Ray Cullen.

"RTÉ has become this huge thing – look at all the pensions it has to pay out in the next few years – and if they have presenters on staff, it may be cheaper to give them the gig then someone on contract. I don't have a definite back-up plan, but there are always different things happening, and you just have to go with the flow.

"And to be honest, after 34 years of night-time radio, I'm quite happy to be doing days."

Doing weekend radio means that Dave has more time to spend at home with his solicitor wife Ursula and their children, Jack, 21, Robert, 19, and Hayley, 11.

When it came to getting married and having children, the 58-year-old DJ admits that Ursula was in the driving seat. It was just as well that she informed him they were getting married, he admits, because he has no idea if he would ever have gotten around to proposing.

Gerry Ryan
Gerry Ryan

"I was the rock guy in Dublin and was busy having fun," Dave tells me. "The best decision that I ever made was allowing Ursula to make that decision for me when I was 35.

"We love each other very much, and being married suits me, so it worked out and it's great.

"I could do more at home, I suppose. I should have learned how to cook, and I could do things like cleaning the house at least once a week, but I don't. I'm easy-going, though, and I also have small demands – music, movies and football is all that I want."

Having started in RTÉ around the same time, Dave was great friends with the late Gerry Ryan, but as they got older, the two men slowly grew apart. Their wives, Ursula and Morah, however, remain close friends to this day.

"Nobody could replace Gerry on radio," he says. "It's not like he was the best thing since sliced bread, like people make him out to be, but he was just brilliant on radio. Gerry and I were extraordinary pals for the first 15 years, but we weren't for the last eight, only because I didn't go where he went. He was into food and would go to the Four Seasons, which wasn't my life at all, but I wouldn't say he wasn't a friend.

"The year before he died, we went to O'Donoghue's with Ryan Tubridy, and Gerry couldn't believe that he had to stand up. We were like, 'Not everywhere is the Four Seasons, Gerry. You might actually have to go up to the bar'."

Was Dave surprised that the inquest found that Gerry died of heart failure "with cocaine as a significant risk factor"? "I think the whole drugs thing was overplayed," he replies. "No one said that he was a drug addict – there was just residue of cocaine in his blood and what does that necessarily mean? I didn't know anything about his life because I wasn't hanging around with him, but I certainly don't judge him by that.

"There was a lot of drama around his death – eight pages in newspapers and things like that. Who did they think he was, One Direction?

''We're reminded that we miss him, but that's the way life is, and you just move on.

''With all due respect, and I don't mean to sound cruel, but it's not like it was Ursula or one of my kids.

"Obviously, it's different for Gerry's wife and children. It has been hard for Morah, but a lot of it is water under the bridge now.

''She's getting on with her life and looking after the five kids, who are all lovely and are doing very well."

By his own admission, Dave was not particularly impressed when Gerry's partner, Melanie Verwoerd, wrote a book following his death.

He read the bits that appeared in the newspapers, but hasn't read the actual book.

"I wouldn't have any interest," Dave says. ''That side of the Gerry story is not my thing, and I wouldn't be a supporter there. ''

Dave says it's madness there are now 26 radio stations serving Dublin, when there used to be only three.

When asked who he admires, he confesses that his answer is very predictable. It's Gay Byrne, he says, and he thinks that Gaybo was lucky to be broadcasting at a time when radio was full of "mystique and sex".

"Now every Tom, Dick and Harry is on the radio and they can say whatever they like, and it doesn't mean a thing," Dave sighs.

"And by the way, I don't have any sympathy for anyone doing five days in radio or being on the Late Late, even if they are the executive producer.

''It's a f****** great job and it's not that hard at all.

''And once you do the first week, you could do it for 40 years."

When it comes to his employers, Dave says that a lot of people he has encountered over the years in management have not been to his taste.

Does being so outspoken get him into trouble?

"Everyone gives out about their employers," he laughs.

"I shouldn't say some of the things that I say, but I do.

"I wasn't happy with how some past bosses of RTÉ ran the place, which is a mild way of saying that they were f****** d********.

"Some people in charge of parts of RTÉ were beyond reprehensible, but I feel that the current regime are doing their best in terms of ideas and what is going on, and I leave them to it.

"I understand self-preservation, and there is nothing wrong with making money, because if you don't make money, you are out of business.

"I have nothing against people in management who, firstly, want to survive, but then do better, you know?

''You can survive."

Dave Fanning, 2FM, Saturdays and Sundays, 10 AM – 12 Noon.

A life in brief

Being a father?

The dad thing is brilliant. Robert has gone off for the summer to work in a factory in Holland, and Jack is coming back after an Erasmus year in college in Switzerland. Hayley is all about One Direction and hockey.

The future of radio?

I think radio is dead to people under 21. My kids certainly don't listen to it.

Pat kenny's move to newstalk?

I was shocked and I shouldn't have been, because it was a wise move. Spending the next few years at Newstalk is a great idea.

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