Lottie Ryan has never been happier. She talks to Liadan Hynes about coming to terms with the loss of her father, learning to not care what people think, picking her family as friends, and how Dancing with the Stars is taking her outside her comfort zone
‘I felt it was time to push myself a little bit. Not that I’m completely comfortable in radio, but it’s my everyday life; it’s all I know and all I’ve done for a long time. I definitely felt it was time to do something different.” Lottie Ryan is one week into rehearsals for Dancing with the Stars when we meet in the RTE radio centre, where she works Monday to Friday as the entertainment reporter for 2FM.
She starts at nine, finishing just before five, when she now goes straight to rehearsals until ten o’clock. So far, she says, preparation for the show is far more difficult than she anticipated.
The last time I interviewed Lottie was almost ten years ago, the year her adored father Gerry Ryan died. She was just embarking on her media career, having studied for five years at Colaiste Dhulaigh and Griffith College, before spending time in New York, working in production on The Good Wife. At the time, she was focused on TV; radio was not in her sights.
“I really didn’t want to get into radio,” she recalls now. “In college I had made a conscious effort to focus on journalism and television.” This was entirely to do with her father being the country’s most legendary broadcaster, she reflects. “100 per cent. I was terrified. And I was still at a phase in my life where I really cared about what other people thought. And I’m just so out of that now. I really felt I would never be given a chance to just be my own person, and develop my own personality. So I tried really hard to stay away from it, and just develop my own thing.”
But radio kept finding its way into her life, she says. Colm Hayes and his producer Alice O’Sullivan approached her about doing a radio version of the entertainment slot she was doing for TV’s The Today Show. “I just went ‘this keeps showing its head in my life, so I’m going to give it a go’.” And as is sometimes the way when you hit on the right thing, everything fell into place rather smoothly. She rapidly went from a weekly slot to every-day reports, to hourly. There was her own weekend breakfast show, and then the weekday Breakfast Republic.
“It kind of all happened really organically, and I was suddenly in a much happier place within myself, because it just felt right. It felt like I wasn’t fighting against it; it was a very comfortable, natural place to be. I think radio was always the right thing, and I probably wasted a lot of time. But that was my journey for some reason.”
She’s 33 now. Was the not caring what other people think a result of getting a bit older, a bit more sure of herself? “It took me a really long time. It’s not easy. I think after my dad died, there was so much stuff that went on around that, that I had to develop these coping mechanisms of not caring about other people’s opinions. That really helped me to realise ‘d’you know what? My family and my friends know me, and know when I’m happy and know when I’m sad, and really that’s all that matters.’ I just had to stop caring, because otherwise I’d never have been happy. I’d never be myself. You have to just get to a stage where you go, ‘you know what, I understand you guys want to put me in this box, but that’s not actually who I am’.
“It’s my job to come into work every day and try to put a smile on people’s faces, entertain them, or give them information that they didn’t have when they woke up that morning — and that person that I’m speaking to in my mind on the other end of the radio is the person I care about. Not the person who doesn’t listen to me on a daily basis. So I just had to take the time to get to that place in my own head.”
It’s stuff everyone goes through in a way, learning to get comfortable in your own skin. But Lottie had a particularly rough time of it at one point, when she was bullied as a teenager, in first year of secondary school. How did she cope with it? “I don’t know if I did cope with it, to be honest. It was pretty shit. It’s one of those ages… I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy again. You’re figuring yourself out.”
The school had a primary school that she hadn’t attended, meaning she started as something of an outsider. “A lot of them were already really well knitted and I was just very different. And at the time, different wasn’t cool. I wanted to be anything but different, I wanted to fit in and be the same as everybody else.”
Her parents were instrumental in getting her through that time. “I didn’t even have to tell them, they knew there was something wrong. They encouraged me to try and get through for quite a while, which was important to try and build that courage and resilience. But it just got to the point where they were the ones who said ‘D’you know what, enough is enough. We’re done with this.’” Before she changed schools, her father would drive her to the door every morning. “At five to nine, when he was on air four minutes later, pep-talking me up to get me through the day… There’s no way he was on time for his show, for months. And I’d say he never said a word to anyone about why he was late. So I’m hugely grateful for the help I got going through that. But it shapes you as a person.”
She reflects now that it can be a dangerous time. “You can get such a lack of confidence in yourself. Not embracing being different because you’re just like ‘being different is making me stick out so badly and I don’t want to stick out’. And it’s your differences that are what make you. When you’re that age it can feel like ‘is this it? Is this the way it’s going to be now for the next few years? This is my life and I don’t fit in with these people.’”
It was the first time that she had come up against the fact of the Ryans being in a way public property. “I definitely don’t think it helped,” Lottie reflects. “It probably made me an easier target. I had grown up in such a lovely bubble of ignorance and then I went somewhere where my family was a deal to people. It was just such a shock to the system for me. Because I was like ‘I don’t understand what the difference between you and me is’. Everybody else made a difference. So that took a really long time for me to process. I found that really difficult. And I just didn’t understand it.”
She has spoken in the past about the weight of expectation that can come with being the daughter of Gerry Ryan, in the same profession as her father. Now, it’s no longer something that concerns her.
“I don’t think I am conscious of it at all. I’m so over what somebody else’s opinion is. Particularly if it’s somebody who is just being nasty for the sake of being nasty. I don’t relate to that. I don’t come from that place in my life. I try to come from a place of positivity. I don’t judge people unless I’ve walked in their shoes; I expect the same from others.”
Can she see the resilience in herself earned from what she has gone through in losing her father? “Oh I think it changes you as a person completely. And it’s very hard to describe to anyone who hasn’t gone through it. But it absolutely does. And I don’t know if that’s the way I went through it, or the age I was. Or being the oldest in my family. I think there were many different factors going on at that time in my life that probably did make me very resilient.”
Lottie is the eldest of the five Ryan children.“I think the oldest, you’re always a particular way. Kind of a pseudo-mother. Growing up there were people going through so many stages of their lives at different times. Being the oldest, you feel a responsibility sometimes to manage all that. And you’re definitely the one that people feel they can come to with a problem, or for advice. I love that responsibility. I love being that person for my brother and sisters.”
You always get the sense with the Ryan siblings of a particularly strongly knit tribe. “They’re SO my people,” Lottie says of her brothers and sisters, adding that her mother is the person to whom she turns for advice. “If they weren’t related I’d pick them as my friends.” They get each other, she explains, adding with a laugh: “We’re very weird. But weird in the best possible way; in the same way. We’ve a very dark sense of humour.”
Her parents were big into family traditions, she explains, that to this day they maintain. You get a sense that this was important, and helpful, in coming to terms with the loss of their father. “Now, because we still have those traditions we’re able to sit around and reminisce on amazing memories that we would have. And I think that’s really important, especially for my family. There were so many young kids in the house; for them to still hear the old memories and to have them was really important to us.”
Moving out from the family home to the home she shares with her husband, Fabio Aprile, was tough, she says. “I went from such a busy home to quietness, that took me so long to get used to. But now I value my peace and quiet so much,” she says with her infectious laugh. The couple met on a night out when they were teenagers. “In a club,” she smiles, “I was 18, he was 19. There was no Tinder, it was good old-fashioned he-came-up-to-me-in-a-club.”
Fabio owns a fish and chip shop in Ballyfermot, “so he’s nothing to do with the industry. I love that. And he owns a chipper, it doesn’t really get any better than that,” she laughs.
There has been some speculation over how experienced a dancer Lottie was before joining Dancing with the Stars. She went to performing arts schools at the weekend as a child she says, was really into hip-hop, taught it at one point. “I don’t want to say naïve, but it’s a very generalised statement to say that because somebody did hip-hop classes as a child, they know how to do what I’m about to embark on,” she reflects. “It would be kind of like saying a footballer should be able to pick up a hurl, and play hurling. Yes, the basics are there, in terms of fitness, stamina and an understanding of the sport, but this is a whole other discipline. My body is not used to what it’s being asked to do at the moment.”
In fact, she wanted to do the show in order to push herself outside her comfort zone. “I lost my mind,” she says with a laugh of when they called her. “I’m not going to play it cool. I wanted it so badly. I knew it was going to be out of my comfort zone, it was going to be something that would push me as a person to do stuff that I wouldn’t normally do.”
In fact, she reflects, the hip-hop is working against her somewhat; her learned postures are contrary to what she is now being asked to do. “The idea of putting myself out there doing something I’ve never done before, dancing with a partner, ballroom and Latin, which are such technically difficult things to master, and dancing in front of people — it’s quite daunting.”
Her teaching experience isn’t helping. “I just think it’s so different when it’s yourself. You get such a lack of confidence when something isn’t clicking. And having confidence in yourself is different to having confidence in other people. I’m confident in my daily life and what I do for a living. But that’s why this is going to be such a challenge for me, because it’s so different and new. I want to develop that confidence. So when I’m struggling during the week, I have to keep reminding myself this is one of the reasons why I wanted to do this. I have to accept the struggle and keep rejigging my brain to get there.”
Right now, it’s like having two full-time jobs. That’s fine though, she thrives on being busy. “I like pushing myself. I’m constantly setting goals. Sometimes I have to teach myself to pull back. Be in the moment a bit more.”
That said, she has clear goals for the future. “I definitely feel a connection with the listeners, which I didn’t have in the early days. I feel like I have an understanding with the people I’m speaking to.” She’s ten years in radio now, and you get the sense of a woman who knows she has earned her professional stripes.“I want my own radio show, sooner rather than later. I want to do well in the competition. Not just in terms of how far I get but in terms of personal growth and confidence. I want to come out of myself a bit more, and I want to push myself, you know?” Ten years ago, Lottie was reluctant even to admit to a desire to go into radio. Now, she knows exactly what she wants. “I would love to do a talk radio show. I’m obsessed with talking to people, with understanding people’s motives. I feel it’s on the road, I just don’t know where on the road it is.”
She seems really happy, and settled in herself, I venture. “I think I am for the first time in a long time. I think it’s taken a long time.” That’s probably due to a mixture of things, she reflects. Coming to terms with the loss of her father.
Growing up. “I think I’ve just become very comfortable with making decisions for me. And the decision to do Dancing… I’m proud and confident in myself for taking that jump, the leap, to do it. And I’m just really happy at the moment. I’m just in a good place.”
Dancing With The Stars starts tonight on RTE 1 at 6.30pm