Friday 16 November 2018

Waking hours: Gay byrne

In conversation with Ciara Dwyer

In all the years I was working, we were early risers. I happen to be married to a woman who is a lifelong early riser anyway. During summer months she loved getting up early and pottering around the garden.

She found it very serene. We'd both hit the boards at 6am -- the alarm would go off. No, there'd be no radio on in the morning, just peace and quiet and then I'd get out the door and be in the car at 6.50am. I'd listen to the Today show on BBC and Morning Ireland -- a mix of the two of them, just to get a feel.

We still get up early, some time between 7am and 7.30am. We listen to Morning Ireland and usually have breakfast together. We have cereal, fruit and tea. I'm not particularly a morning person. I like quietness and I like to take it easy. I don't like to be rushed in the morning, I'd rather get up half an hour earlier. We are dreadful people for being on time.

It's an insanity to think that I lived in Howth for 40 years and worked in Montrose and I drove in every day. Now that I'm retired out of Montrose, I'm living next door to it and I could walk to it. Our daughter Suzy is now living in our house in Howth with her family. I miss Howth and the sea hugely and I believe that it kept me alive for the past 40 years. I would not have lived to the age that I am if I had not been living in Howth, because I walked a great deal. Within one minute of closing the front door I could be on the cliff walk and have the place to myself. I'm still walking around here, but it's not the same thing. Bernard Levin wrote about walking across all the bridges of the Thames and I decided to do something similar in Dublin. I walked from Sandymount to the East Link bridge, all the way down to Heuston Station, crossing each bridge as I came to it. As I walk, I am saluted but not tormented. Kathleen and I have experienced nothing but kindness from people, which is extraordinary.

When I was in RTE there was an absolute routine to my day. I would go straight into the Late Late Show office, do some work there and then I'd go across to the radio studio at 8.15am. I was blessed to have two wonderful people as producers, John Caden and Alex White, they were terrific guys. A sack of mail came into RTE every day addressed to Gay Byrne and they all had to be processed. Then, we'd have a word about who we were going to interview and a list of possible records -- which we never got to play, what with all the phone calls. After the radio programme we'd pile up in the canteen and talk about the next day and the next day.

There was no secret about doing interviews. It was just listening to what other people had to say. You would have formulated a number of questions to ask them but if they said something that was unexpected such as, 'That was when my father murdered my mother', well, you'd go after that. I would have been genuinely interested in most people I interviewed. The secret of an interview is that a person has a story to tell, that it's an interesting story and the person has the capacity to tell it. With a live talk show, if they ain't gonna talk, they shouldn't be on.

My working day in RTE would have gone on until 4.30pm and then I would leave to avoid the traffic -- but quite often I would hang around until 7pm because I would have to see a play or a film for work. Then, I would meet Kathleen in town for that.

There's no set structure like there used to be. Every day is different and a phone call in the morning can change my whole day. Now that my day isn't structured any more, I don't feel I get as much done. I work on several things. There's the Road Safety Authority -- and we have several meetings for it. I do my radio show on Lyric FM every Sunday afternoon. I play jazz and talk about whatever I like. I discovered jazz in school in Synge Street when I was 14. I like it very much.

Then there is this new DVD we've brought out -- Gaybo Laughs Back. It has excerpts of comedians from The Late Late. When the idea was suggested to me I had huge reservations. I wondered if it would seem old fashioned, but I was pleasantly surprised. I remember the first night Tommy Tiernan was on. He was exceptional. Comedians are not known for their charm but he had great charm with this angelic face and a dimple, talking about the mammy and daddy in Navan. The audience adored him. I love to see comedians succeeding and I hate to see them die on their feet.

Sometimes doing all these different things can be a bit frustrating because it gets in the way of me doing what I want to do. I like to have time to walk and I like to have time to cycle -- I have a pushbike -- and I like to ride my motorbike. I don't cycle on the pushbike as much as I used to, but I often put the bike in the car and drive to a scenic route. I'd do about 25 miles. I potter.

Not many people know this, but sometimes when I'm on my motorbike I go out to Dublin airport to the perimeter fence road where all the plane watchers are and I sit there and look at the planes coming in and out and listen to them on the radio. I would be familiar with most planes and look at every plane flying over. I learnt how to fly 35 years ago -- I have my Private Pilot's Licence -- and I love to see plane movements. I love airports and even the smell of aerofuel.

Kathleen and I usually have our dinner together in the evening. We spend an awful lot of time together, especially since I retired. I think that's a particularly important point for people of our age. For years and years, he's gone all day and she rules the roost. And suddenly he's under her feet saying, 'You don't peel a carrot that way.' When she wants me to do something but I'm otherwise engaged, I'll often say to her, 'All those years when I was out working, what would you have done if I wasn't here? Well, do that.' If you're there, you'll be used. That's what I resent. All those years I wasn't there, you got through the day without me, so take it that I'm not here now. So we have these domestic arguments but they don't add up to much. She makes me laugh and I can make her laugh, too.

I used to read in bed till 2am, trying to get the gist of a book for the show because I would be talking about it the next day -- we used to review three books a week on the radio show -- but now, for the first time, I can read a book and if I like a paragraph, I can go back and read it four times. That's a joy. Now I read before I go to bed. I love William Trevor's books. We're in bed by midnight. If I have the radio on in bed it would annoy Kathleen, but if she's already asleep a 747 warming up outside the window wouldn't wake her up. Recently I dreamt that I was in bed with the Queen. We were both sitting up reading newspapers. There were courtiers all around. I'm not prepared to say if she had her crown on. All I'll say is that she was very nice and never laid a finger on me.

'Gaybo Laughs Back', €19.95, available nationwide

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