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How rumour mill turned a friendship into a torrid affair

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THE REPORTER'S BEAT: Larissa Nolan has met many well-known figures in the course of doing her job including (clockwise from top left) Michael Flatley, Ulick O'Connor, Louis Walsh and Duncan Stewart

THE REPORTER'S BEAT: Larissa Nolan has met many well-known figures in the course of doing her job including (clockwise from top left) Michael Flatley, Ulick O'Connor, Louis Walsh and Duncan Stewart

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THE story of Ryan Tubridy's marriage break-up didn't just happen last weekend. Rumours of Ryan Tubridy's fling with a "female Dublin journalist" have been echoing for months around those refined places where the chattering classes and social columnists gather for a free lunch or evening drinks.

It first appeared in print as a nasty little one-liner in the gossip page of the Evening Herald, asking who was the showbiz celebrity enjoying the company of a lady hack?

This was the kind of teaser designed to cause fluttering in the dovecotes, giving the impression that the author was "in the know" and would tell all if not for the laws of libel. As a piece of mischief-making, it succeeded.

Like all rumours, this one had a grain of truth as its genesis, but as time went by, everyone who passed it on seemed to add their own spin to it. Thus Ryan Tubridy's long-standing friendship with Sunday Independent journalist Larissa Nolan grew into a passionate sexual affair as the story took off.

Ryan Tubridy and Larissa Nolan have been friends for many years and worked together on The Full Irish breakfast show on RTE Radio 2 in 2004. With the Rose of Tralee, his television series, Tubridy Tonight and a primetime radio show, Ryan Tubridy joined Gay Byrne and Pat Kenny in that elite club of RTE cross-over successes.

And with success came the inevitable interest from the gossip columnists and showbiz writers who have now become a fixture of the Dublin media.

In the meantime, Larissa Nolan went to work for the Daily Mirror and the Sunday Mirror, then the Sunday World and latterly, the Sunday Independent. She has written about, and met, many top entertainment figures in the course of her work, including Michael Flatley, Ulick O'Connor, Frank McCourt and . . . Ryan Tubridy.

Naturally, their paths continued to cross as they both attended some of the dozens of media events that go on every week in Dublin. It was at some such function that their friendship caught the eye of a well-known gossip monger.

Not known for his intellectual insights or subtlety, he had seen the original Herald teaser and had decided first, that it referred to Ryan and Larissa, and second, that it was true.

Maybe he was encouraged by the newspaper's files. If he had looked back at Larissa's piece on Ryan Tubridy, he would have found that she thought he was the "charming and cheeky host of what is surely one of the best programmes on Irish radio". He has "a refined face, good hair and intelligent, twinkly eyes - and, in fact, he is rather handsome."

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Ireland on Sunday devoted considerable resources into turning the rumour into a scoop. Larissa Nolan and Ryan Tubridy were individually spied upon and stalked over a lengthy period. But nothing could be found to stand up the rumour. So it went away.

Then, last week, the news that Ryan and his wife, Anne Marie Power, a producer in RTE, had split up began to circulate. The story grew in intensity on Friday and Saturday, and by Saturday afternoon, the Sunday Independent had confirmed that his marriage was over. His wife was in Paris and they planned to issue a joint statement on her return.

Then, late on Saturday evening, the word came from London that the News of the World was going to run a story that would suggest Ryan had been involved with another woman. In fact, they did not run that line, but it was enough to spook Tubridy into declaring, through his agent, Noel Kelly, that there was "nobody else involved".

The story broke in the Saturday night edition of the Sunday Independent, and some of the other Sunday papers also carried it the next morning.

Then Larissa was dragged back into the affair. Throughout Saturday, Jason O'Callaghan of Ireland on Sunday had been trying without success to speak to Larissa, as she tried to get on with her business as best she could. She vehemently denied the rumours to friends and colleagues, inside the Sunday Independent and outside it. And she was adamant about one thing - she was not going to speak publicly about this to anyone.

But by Sunday, the pressure began to mount. The marriage split was no longer the story. The story all the journalists were after now was the supposed "affair" between Larissa and Ryan that had led to the split.

Larissa went home for the weekend to her family in Wicklow. Reporters from the Daily Mail followed her and banged on her door and talked to the neighbours. An old friend and former Sunday World colleague of Larissa's, Mike McNiff, who is now the Irish Editor of the Sun, had joined the chase.

According to Monday's Herald, the Mail was threatening to publish a story saying that Larissa and Ryan were now lovers. This appeared to be nothing more than an attempt to flush her out. It was hardly credible that just after the breakdown of his marriage, Tubridy would suddenly begin an affair with the woman with whom he was alleged to have been having an affair all along.

The story was just not true.

The reporter who said they were planning to use the story that Ryan and Larissa were lovers probably knew it would have portrayed Larissa as a heartless woman who would move in on a celebrity while he was still raw from the break-up of his marriage.

Then the Irish Sun decided they would do a "Larissa denies" story, but they would not quote Larissa directly. Instead, they would quote things Larissa was alleged to have said to "friends".

Thus it was that the Sun's "world exclusive" on Monday morning was headlined, "I'm not Ryan's secret lover: Writer denies she had affair with TV star," with page one pictures of Larissa and Ryan.

Larissa, "stunning" and "pretty", was said to "devastated" and "very, very angry" over the "wild rumours". A "close friend" added: "Larissa is an absolutely beautiful girl. There's no way she was ever involved with Ryan Tubridy. It's absolute and total rubbish and has left Larissa and her family close to tears."

The "friend" was also quoted as saying that the friendship which began on The Full Irish, was "nothing other than a professional friendship.

"That's they way it was then. That's the way it is now. Journalists like Ryan and Larissa meet up in media circles through work. That's all their relationship ever was. They were just friends. I don't think she's met him for ages. The whole thing started when some scandalmonger made the whole thing up. The entire thing is very distressing to Larissa. She is a very professional journalist and just wants to get on with the job and not be the focus of a story like this."

In an accompanying story, the Sun told us what we already knew, that Ryan Tubridy had confirmed the marriage was over, that he had moved out of his the family bungalow in Dalkey into a city centre apartment leaving his wife and two children, one-year-old Julia and six-year-old Ella. The Sun quoted Tubridy's statement that "there is nobody else involved".

Later Tubridy would be quoted as saying: "I have many women friends. That's all they are."

That afternoon, pictures of Ryan and Larissa appeared in the Evening Herald. "Larissa hurt over Tubridy affair slur," said the headline. It was more of the same with the additional information from yet another "friend" that Daily Mail reporters "were virtually stalking the family. All their neighbours were called on. It was terrible. It was pure gutter journalism".

On Tuesday, the pressure on Larissa continued. The Daily Mail described how she "wept" and said: "I'm not to blame".

They also revealed that Larissa had a French boyfriend with whom she was "very much in love" and "there was even talk of their moving to France together".

Someone from the Herald had tracked down her French boyfriend, described breathlessly as a "handsome Frenchman," and a "gorgeous Parisian". This time, "pals" were quoted as saying she was "totally smitten with her beau" for the past three months, "totally in love with this guy and can't stop talking about him. She has never felt this serious about anyone . . . She is completely devoted to her Frenchman and hasn't even looked at anyone else since meeting him."

On Wednesday, murder detective turned columnist, Gerry O'Carroll, penned a paean of support to Larissa. "I know Larissa Nolan," Gerry declared in his Herald column, "and I am proud to count her among my friends. No more upstanding, level-headed and honest a person could you meet." Encouraging, but probably embarrassing.

By now virtually everything she said to "friends" was turning up in one newspaper or another. And, unlike Ryan, she did not have an agent to take the flak.

On Thursday, Larissa decided to take herself out of the limelight and lie low for a while, taking the rest of the week off, probably to await the weekend, the Sunday papers and a possible further barrage of publicity.

These days you don't have to spend week upon uncomfortable week in the Big Brother household to become known. You just have to be friends with someone famous of the opposite sex whose marriage breaks down. And you need to have the kind of "friends" who just can't stop talking.


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