Ryan's Daughter: Lottie Ryan - A star is born
Almost one year into presenting her own radio show on 2fm, Lottie Ryan has learned to accept the unexpected and roll with what life throws, rather than always trying to plan and control it. She talks to Emily Hourican about wanting to 'try everything' and being recognised in her own right, about the renewed respect she has for the gifts of her father, Gerry, and how she still feels she can go to him for advice. Photography by Kip Carroll. Styling by Nikki Cummins
The last time Lottie Ryan, broadcaster, TV presenter, daughter of Gerry and Morah, was interviewed at length for this paper - in 2010 - she said she had no thoughts of taking on her own radio show. "It's not where my heart is," she said back then. "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."
Just over three years later, in January of 2014, she began presenting The Early, Early Breakfast Show on 2fm, at 6am on Saturday and Sunday mornings. So what changed, I ask Lottie, when we meet one frosty morning in the RTE radio reception?
"I stopped planning my life," Lottie says with a big laugh. "When I said that, I was just out of college. I liked to plan everything, but that's not a good way, and after a couple of bumps in the road, I decided, 'You know what, I'm just going to roll with what happens,' and naturally things started to fall into place.
"Once I stopped fighting life, things just naturally happened. I stopped thinking, 'OK, this is how it's going to go'," she explains, "because that's just not how life works, I think. And that way, there's disappointment, because you're constantly expecting something. Really, its another way of saying, 'I grew up'. And I'm absolutely none the worse for that."
So did she find the letting go easy? "Initially, it was hard," she says, "but once you give it a try, you see how easily life can happen, and you think, 'What was I doing all those years, being so strict on myself?' This way, it's so much easier, and I enjoy it much more too. It's great to have goals, aspirations, to be driven towards something, but don't knock the curve balls either, the things that come unexpectedly - learn to go with them as well."
Now 29, Lottie is down-to-earth and self-contained. She is recognisably the same person as she is in her TV entertainment reports, approaching stars like Kevin Spacey on the red carpet, and on her radio show, an eclectic mix of music - think Troye Sivan's Happy Little Pill alongside Baby It's Cold Outside - and easy-going chat. With Lottie, there is no persona, no made-for-media face. When I mention this, she says, "I think that's really important." She says it seriously, like she's thought about this.
"How long can you continue being a fake person?" she asks. "That must be really tiring. And exhausting and confusing. When are you on and when are you not? When you're on camera or radio, maybe you're a slightly exaggerated version of yourself, but you still have to be you. It's either going to work or not going to work. I just wanted to be myself."
Lottie finishes her words and sentences clearly and definitely, rather than allowing them to trail off or peter out. It's her broadcasting training, but it's Lottie, too. It's the definite side of her personality making itself felt in her speech. At one point I tell her that she seems very un-neurotic."That's always a good thing," she flashes back, with a laugh.
Did she ever consider saying no? "It was such a natural progression. When I started here, I started as a contributor on Colm Hayes's show, I would come on every Friday. Over about three years I started to do more and more in here. By the time The Early, Early Breakfast Show was put on the table, it felt like a natural stepping stone; it didn't feel like a big life decision. It felt like, 'Yeah, this is what my time here has been working towards, and this is brilliant.'"
So, one year into the new gig, how is she finding it? "Great," Lottie says, with infectious enthusiasm. She looks like she means it; every bit of her is glowing with excitement and vitality. "I'm a year into my own thing now, and about four years in 2fm. When you first start, you're just incredibly nervous, because it's brand new. I'm the first person in the [RTE Radio] building at the weekends, so I'm even turning the lights on. It's a little freaky; you think you hear things. It was daunting at first, getting a grip on that, but as with anything, practice makes perfect and I'm really settled in now, really comfortable. I'm not even minding the early mornings as much as I did in the beginning."
On Saturdays and Sundays, Lottie gets up at 4.30am - "a disgusting time," she agrees cheerfully - which basically means that she has no weekend social life. Not all 29-year-olds would be pleased with that, but for Lottie, it's a trade-off that she is more than willing to make.
"I was never a big going-out person to begin with," she says. "So I never felt I was sacrificing big nights on the town or anything. I'm more of a cinema-or-DVD girl anyway, so I can still do all those things and get to bed at a reasonable hour."
The way Lottie tells it, she is a low-key type of girl. She has the same group of friends, from school and from at home in Clontarf, since forever. She may finally have moved out of home, but she still has the same boyfriend of nearly 10 years, actor Fabio Aprile. Clearly, she's not drawn towards the giddy transience of the social scene.
She also doesn't much care for social media, "My gut is; I don't like it," Lottie says. "It's such a normal thing now for people to casually disengage from conversation and be on social media and spinning everything. I know it can be an incredibly useful tool, and I do use it for work. I also have a private Facebook page that I use to spy on my siblings, and that's kind of the extent of it."
I think that this conflicts with her strong belief in communication, and indeed, she agrees. "Why can't we just talk face to face?" Lottie asks. "Or pick up the phone, or go out? Instead of always being online? That's the definition of fake persona. Maybe some people feel they're getting some kind of fake confidence from it, but it's just not my kind of thing, to be living a life on social media."
But back to the radio show. What, I wonder, in the context of a 4.30am start, is a reasonable hour to get to bed? "I go to bed about 10pm and try to be asleep before midnight," says Lottie, "then usually I will get a quick power nap in after the show."
Does she never stay awake and worry, the way we all might at times, but mostly without the dread feeling of, 'Oh God, I've got to get up before dawn . . .' "I think everyone goes through phases," she says candidly. "Certainly there are times when worries will keep me awake at night. But then exhaustion will help me sleep. I think everyone goes through waves of it . . . but at least I know in my own mind that if I do have a bad night and I am up, I can have a power nap when I get home, and motor through, and I know that I'm going to be exhausted the following night so I'll get some sleep then.
"You accomplish more in the morning anyway," she says cheerfully. "I get a lot more done before midday, as opposed to later when you hit a slump and get more lethargic." Frankly, it's hard to imagine her any of those things, but if she says so . . .
Actually, I'm not sure Lottie can think of any drawbacks to her life just now. The excitement she glows with is a kind of pent-up delight at being given the chance to do something she loves. "I'm excited about right now," she agrees. "It's been a lot of work for so long, but when you get that glimmer of light and something happens that you've wanted for so long, you really have to grab it with both hands and embrace it; love it and care for it, grow it and do everything you can. I'm in a really good place at the moment, because I'm so happy with what I'm doing. I'm lucky. I'm blessed."
Lottie clearly means every word of it. She clearly takes nothing for granted. "Absolutely I don't take any of it for granted," she says solemnly. "It's too important; it means the world to me." And, no, she's not unduly bothered by the few bitter folk who have muttered, online and in person, that she's only where she is because of her name.
"I think that happened when I had just come out of college. I think it's starting to die away a bit," she says. "I'm very proud of my name, and I'm lucky to have it, but I think, at this stage, I'm a broadcaster in my own right and I work very hard and I'd like first and foremost to be recognised for the work that I do and not for my name. And the more you do, the more that happens. The best way to show people you're there on merit is to work hard."
She quite evidently believes this - I suspect because she has been taught from the start that hard work and commitment to doing your best will carry the day - and she believes in herself. I reckon the two together should see her through.
Does she feel the weight of comparison with her father, one of the greatest broadcasters of his generation? And if so, how does she deal with that? "I don't feel like I'm in a shadow or following in footsteps, because I'm a different broadcaster, a different journalist to my dad," she says, with a quiet self-confidence that makes me feel that Gerry must have been as good a dad as he was a broadcaster.
"I don't feel a pressure because we're so different in so many ways," Lottie says. "I'm at the very beginning of my career, and people who would try and draw a comparison are drawing comparisons with a man who was at the height of an incredibly successful show, and that's just ridiculous. It doesn't make any sense.
"Anyway," she goes on thoughtfully, "it would be detrimental to my career and myself as a person to compare myself with him. It would be a really bad place for me to go to. I admire him and I am in awe of the things that he did, and that gives me encouragement, I suppose." So her dad is more an inspiration than a point of comparison? "Definitely," Lottie answers.
She has also discovered renewed respect for her father's remarkable professional abilities, through her greater knowledge of just how hard it is to make it look as easy as Gerry did. "Oh yeah, absolutely," she says. "Not just because I'm in this business now, but growing older and growing up, you're able to appreciate more. At the time, it was no big deal. I thought, 'That's just life, that's just what's done.'
"He made it look really easy. He had a gift," says Lottie. "It's not just something that can be learned over years, he definitely had a gift. You refine it and you make it better, but he definitely had something. It's hard to put into words." Actually, I think she's put it into words very well. Gerry had a gift, one that he worked at constantly. To paraphrase that Sam Goldwyn quote about luck, the more he worked, the greater that gift became. It's something that Lottie seems to understand very well.
Did she ever worry, I ask, in the immediate aftermath of his death and the inquest into it, that the drama might overshadow his legacy and reputation as a broadcaster? However, she is not prepared to be drawn on this. "The public support around my dad as a broadcaster was incredible and I think that he will always live in the heart of the nation," is her rather succinct reply.
Later, I ask if the commemorative plaque RTE put up outside the radio reception, which reads simply, 'Gerry, the Ryan Line is open,' felt like any kind of closure on the traumatic months after his death, when his use or otherwise of cocaine became a hotter topic than regret for his talent, and several of his friends seemed almost to be distancing themselves from his memory. "Myself and my family were thrilled with the plaque," she responds carefully. "And we also know it meant a lot to his colleagues who worked with him."
OK, so does she miss having his advice? "But I still have his advice," she says earnestly. "I have about 20 years of recordings - and I listen to them. I like listening, and he has a book, which on reflection was an incredible gift to have, because it's full of advice and lessons. So, I feel like I still have stuff. And that's great."
And, of course, she has her mother, Morah, whose experience of media is pretty all-encompassing. "I would definitely go to my mum for advice," she agrees. "I take her word as gold, she knows what she's talking about and she's been doing this for a long time. It's good to have an outside perspective, someone who knows the business. Whether it's personal or professional, I'd definitely go to her for advice on any side of it - on air, off air. She gets it, and is happy to constantly throw her two cents in. She likes helping."
Although Lottie initially wanted to be a dancer - and still teaches dance, mainly hip hop, to adults and kids - Lottie, along with all her sisters and brothers, were trained up to a life of performance from an early age. "We're all quite theatrical," she says, in what I suspect is a bit of an understatement. "We grew up in performing-arts schools, there's constantly Let It Go being sung at the breakfast table, it's that kind of a house."
However, it wasn't just high kicks and scenes from musicals. "We did six hours on a Saturday and a Sunday. Doing that teaches you so much when you're growing up - how to be part of a team, how to deal with constructive criticism, how to take direction, how to treat something as a business and not a play day. Those things are really important and they were put into us from about five or six, so it was a seed that was growing from a very young age."
The eldest of five, when Lottie speaks about her brothers and sisters, her whole face lights up, and she clearly takes her role and responsibilities very seriously. "I think all eldest kids are like that," she says. "I think the eldest in all families feels a sense of wanting to set a good example, of encouraging, of being there when they need you. We're a really close family as well, we have a great laugh together. Big families are great. You're killing each other and then hugging each other."
Everything Lottie says paints a picture of a noisy, lively, bubbly household. "There was a lot of debate at home," she says. "That's what makes big families fun - conflicting opinions, someone wanting to perform a song and a dance, someone else wanting silence, and my poor mother in the middle with her head in her hands!"
I ask does she have a picture in her head when she goes on air, a person she speaks to, like Seymour's Fat Lady, in JD Salinger's Franny and Zooey? "I don't picture a person," she says slowly. "There's definitely an idea of a person, but not somebody in particular."
Then she adds: "Sometimes I picture one of my brothers and sisters, because they're the people I would probably have the easiest casual conversations with, and that's what you want to be happening at that hour of the morning - casual, easy conversation.
"But I'm not imagining a load of people, to make myself nervous. I'm comfortable in the studio, it's a comfortable environment, and I'm not imagining that there's a whole load of people hanging on my every word. That would be death; the end of the show, right there." She says, laughing merrily.
Lottie doesn't make New Year's resolutions. "I try to take something on, instead," she says. "Last year, I took on yoga, which was good". She doesn't diet: "Why would you do that to yourself? Just be healthy, happy, go for a walk, enjoy yourself, and don't feel guilty" But she does meditate: "It's difficult, it's a chore in the beginning when you're trying to learn. It takes a while and you have to put the time aside for it, but once you're in the zone and make it part of your routine, it's a fantastic way to de-stress and be in the moment."
Rather than taking on mindfulness, or Buddhism, or anything pre-organised, Lottie has worked out her own meditation form. "I've got my own vibe going on," she laughs. "Whatever it is, it's relaxing."
So what next for someone who so clearly has big plans? "I don't know. I want to try everything," she says. A perfect Lottie response. "I would love the radio show to grow into something more. I would love to do more radio. It's hard to see past what's taking up so much of my vision at the moment, but obviously everyone wants their own big, prime-time show. Everyone wants their career to eventually come to a big point like that; but baby steps, baby steps."
Baby steps, maybe, but leading somewhere big.
'The Early, Early Breakfast Show', 6-7am, Saturdays and Sundays, RTE 2fm