Tuesday 15 October 2019

Through thick and thin with Marty Whelan

In the arid wasteland of the midsummer schedules, a perennial oasis blooms: Winning Streak might attract its fair share of snide remarks, but the feel-good programme is now the longest- running gameshow in Europe, and has seen off most of its opposition over the years.

Of course, for sheer longevity the show is no match for its host Marty Whelan, the man with the moustache, who is one of the great stalwarts of Irish media. For the last two years he has shared Winning Streak's presenting duties with Sinead Kennedy, and their May-December chemistry, he says, is one of the keys to making the show work.

"Having a rapport on-screen, that's very important. I let her tell me what to do, no that's a joke. I've worked with lots of co-hosts on TV over the years and the trick is to be generous. I worked with the lovely Mary Kennedy for six years on Open House, it was five days a week, very intense, and from that experience I learned a lot about the whole give and take of presenting."

The duo recently gave an interview in which she said they have in common that they are both "big into" their hair. It's true that they share a certain shade of silver and Marty was very open about his two hair transplants, and he says now that the operations worked wonders for his confidence.

"Sinead creates various looks, whereas I'm just happy to have one look. I went out to Maurice Collins in Blackrock [for the transplants] and he was fabulous. The aim behind it was twofold; first of all it was just for me, personally, and I feel a lot better with it. But of course there's also a professional part of it too, which goes back to appearing in public and just wanting to look your best. There have been a few prominent figures who've gotten it done in the last few years (Wayne Rooney and Louis Walsh to name two others) and the more people who get it done the more commonplace it will become. I definitely feel better overall, and Maria, my wife, does too." Marty and Maria will celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary this summer and I wonder what the secret to such a long marriage is.

"Well, just to go back to the hair thing for a minute, she knew me when I'd loads of hair, she knew me when I'd none, and now she knows me when I have loads of hair again, so she's literally been with me through thick and thin. We met as teenagers and we'd been friends for years, and when you've been with someone when things are not fabulous, you really know them. I worked in insurance for years earlier in life. She worked as an air hostess. We were always able to battle on through."

It would seem strange if the gregarious Whelan were sequestered in some insurance office, but he's realistic enough to understand that that particular career path woul dn't have been without its benefits: "If I had stayed in insurance, I'd be now retired and sitting in my fourth home out in Portugal", he laughs. "I have no intention of retiring. Even with all of the nonsense I've put up with from time to time, I love it. I couldn't do 30 years behind a desk. I've had a great time and I wouldn't change anything."

Winning Streak has seen off all of its recent rivals, particularly The Million Euro Challenge. Marty puts that down to "a great family atmosphere on Winning Streak. It's five people plucked from obscurity but we make time for each one and send them home happy. There are younger couples now. It's a formula that has always worked, we have changed very little about it." Indeed, the same might be said about Whelan himself.

Marty In The Morning is on Monday - Friday 7am -10am on RTE LyricFM.

Winning Streak is on Saturdays at 8.15pm on RTE1

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