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'Ivan wasn't bothered who took over,' says TV successor Ciara Doherty


The Tonight Show presenter Ciara Doherty Pic: Brian McEvoy

The Tonight Show presenter Ciara Doherty Pic: Brian McEvoy

The Tonight Show presenter Ciara Doherty Pic: Brian McEvoy

It's hard, at first, to get past Ciara Doherty's irresistible Donegal accent. It's shaped her career at key junctures so last week, as she took over hosting duties on The Tonight Show, it was like a soothing balm in the plummy world of Irish current affairs.

Her style of presenting is notably less confrontational than predecessors Matt Cooper or Ivan Yates - it's more an Emily Maitlis-type approach she's going for, she says - and she was warmly praised online for her incisive, intelligent interviews.

"I was surprised at that," she says. "Broadcasters are often vilified, social media is often a forum for people to vent. I was relieved. So maybe it's time to bow out right now."

For some it might seem like a huge leap to move from the sofa of Ireland AM to the sleek and futuristic Tonight Show set but she says the distance between the two has always been smaller than people think.

"Ireland AM also covers current affairs. I'd get frustrated when someone would ask me, 'Are Ireland AM covering the presidential race?' and I'd have to say, 'Yes, Michael D was on the couch this morning.' There might be a bit of a snobbery about it [the programme]."

Doherty grew up in Letterkenny and did a law degree in UCD. After college, rather than qualifying as a lawyer, she decided to pursue a career in media. She moved to London and tried to find work. "The first six months were a bit of a nightmare. I was desperately homesick and lonely. I didn't know where to start and the whole thing had been a bit of a leap of faith."

After bombarding production companies and the BBC with application letters, she got an interview for a job at ITV. "I didn't get it and I was walking out of the building and I bumped into a guy called Andy Harries, who was the producer of The Crown (and The Royle Family and the film The Queen). He knew someone who was looking to hire in the press department there. So that was how I started. God bless the Donegal accent."

She moved into the factual department at ITV and worked on reality shows including Airline and an especially bargain-basement series of Celebrity Love Island. She went back to college to study broadcast journalism in London but, after getting some dispiriting advice, decided to come back to Ireland. "I had been told it would be difficult to get a start in London with my accent, which was quite thick at that point," she recalls. "There was no way I was changing it. I think even at the time they were wrong."

In Dublin she worked on Newstalk Breakfast before Ireland AM.

In her 30s she went back to college to do her barrister exams. "I wouldn't rule out going back to it; I'm only 38. I'll probably work until I'm 70 so who knows."

She met Richard Stern while both were working at TV3, now Virgin Media. They were married just outside Barcelona in 2017 and their daughter Renee was born in December 2018.

Ivan Yates was not among those congratulating her on her debut last week, she says. "I haven't heard from Ivan, no point in lying. But while he hasn't contacted me directly I know he wishes me well.

"I would say he couldn't care less. He's moved on and he wasn't too bothered who took over from him. He's utterly unsentimental."

The Tonight Show airs Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 10pm on Virgin Media One

Sunday Independent