Radio: Tubridy and D’Arcy are both dab hands at the crying game

Lacking celebrity guests, the RTÉ host goes for the emotions, but his Today FM rival produces stars as well as tears

Ryan Tubridy. Photograph: Frank Miller

Ryan Tubridy. Photograph: Frank Miller

Sat, May 3, 2014, 01:00

Surrounded by the screeching comedians and hyperactive pop stars who populate the new-look 2FM, Ryan Tubridy appears to undergo a transformation of his own this week and shed his nice-guy image. For consecutive days on his show (Tubridy, 2FM, Monday-Friday) he brings women to the brink of tears.

Anyone worried that the face of RTÉ light entertainment is reinventing himself as an attack dog can relax. Tubridy coaxes the waterworks by shamelessly tugging at the heartstrings. In the case of the model Vogue Williams he can be forgiven for his emotive approach: the conversation consists of bland fluff about life with her husband, Bryan McFadden, the former Westlife singer, until talk turns to his guest’s late father.

When the host asks Williams how she felt when her dad died, her response is swift: “Are you trying to make me cry?” But it is not a gratuitous tactic. Since the death of his own father, last year, he says, he feels an understanding for those “in the same boat”. His empathy even extends to indulging Williams as she outlines her hopes to contact her father by using a medium. “People might think I sound absolutely insane,” she says. “No, not at all,” replies the presenter, underlining just what a polite chap he remains.

Mercifully, however, he admits to some scepticism about Williams’s attempts to get in touch with her deceased father. “If it makes us feel better to think they are okay, it’s a win all round,” he says, as though he’s trying to convince himself.

He sounds more comfortable during his encounter with the mental-health campaigner Ciara McCullough, which may seem odd given the difficult nature of the material. McCullough talks about her bouts of depression and her attempted suicide, her experiences given extra piquancy by the fact that her father killed himself when she was a toddler. Tubridy treats his guest with respect and sensitivity while still raising potentially tricky issues. “Forgive me for sounding like I’m diminishing what you did,” he says of her suicide attempt, “but was it a cry for help or a bid for death?”

“I wouldn’t say I wanted to die. I just wanted to end what I was feeling: not my life but my pain,” McCullough replies, in a poignant and, one suspects, all too accurate description of the unfathomable agony of depression. Given the emotionally charged atmosphere, it is no surprise that as Tubridy reads a supportive text from one of McCullough’s friends she starts to weep. “Well, good, you’re allowed to cry,” says Tubridy.

His show seems increasingly dependent on such moments. That Vogue Williams should be one of his more stellar guests this week underlines the air of stagnation and irrelevance that stubbornly (if somewhat unjustly) lingers around his 2FM slot, compared to which the D-list line-ups of The Late Late Show look like the Oscars red carpet.

It’s a different story on The Ray D’Arcy Show (Today FM), which has a vintage week of interviews with marquee names. Monday sees D’Arcy broadcasting from the Irish Guide Dogs headquarters, in Cork, where, between much joshing about the brilliance or otherwise of the rebel county, he talks to Roy Keane.

It says much about the aura still surrounding the famously combative midfielder that D’Arcy seems more tentative than usual, certainly when compared with his jocular chats with the rugby players Donncha O’Callaghan and Ronan O’Gara. Keane comes across well, self-aware and wry, but is typically forthright too, particularly when he says he doesn’t expect a reconciliation with Alex Ferguson, his former boss at Manchester United. This statement makes the news pages – an object lesson in the way the right guest can buoy a show’s profile, even if the host has to sweat a bit. “That was painless enough for me,” says a relieved-sounding D’Arcy. “All that worry,” replies Keane drily.

The giddy atmosphere that often prevails in D’Arcy’s studio means that his encounters sometimes threaten to tip into chaos. When the comedian David McSavage arrives on Tuesday to promote his new RTÉ TV series, he spends much of his time slagging off the State broadcaster as “a horrible gymnasium of hopelessness” and criticising those who told him to drop sketches as “little grey feckers”. It is awkward at times – D’Arcy again sounds uncharacteristically nonplussed – but compelling in a car-crash way.

But for all that his show thrives on such bad behaviour, the presenter proves he can handle emotionally loaded material in an accessible but admirably nonsensational way. When he talks to Philomena Lee, the subject of the acclaimed Steve Coogan film Philomena, the host allows his guest the space to tell, with understated but devastating clarity, the story of her attempts to find the son who was adopted in the 1950s.

She recalls how, having lived with her son in a convent since becoming pregnant, she was told that he was being taken away. “There were no hugs, no nothing whatsoever,” she says. “Can you imagine that?” It is riveting radio, but D’Arcy doesn’t milk it. He doesn’t need to. It’s enough to make anyone cry.


radioreview@irishtimes.com

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