Anne Doyle: ‘Do I miss RTÉ? It sounds kind of rude to say no’
Almost two years after leaving our screens, the former newsreader is returning to host a new quiz show. What else has she been up to since she left the RTÉ newsroom?
Anne Doyle: ‘I’ve had streaks of depression. I know what it is, and it’s a bitch. It can be crippling.’ Photograph: David Cantwell. Styled by Grace Moore
Anne Doyle arrives for our interview at precisely the arranged time, down to the second. When your job as a newsreader obliged you to live by the clock for many years, punctuality must become part of your DNA.
“I get very anxious about time, and I suffer from punctuality,” she says, in that distinctive, beautifully clear voice that resonates with gravitas, confidence and professionalism. In fact, I associate Doyle’s voice so much with news broadcasts that it’s with mild confusion I hear her order a cappuccino. That’s not something she ever announced on the Nine O’Clock News.
On Christmas Day it will be exactly two years since Doyle read her final broadcast for RTÉ. She had been with the station for 33 years, and decided to retire at 60, much to the dismay of the viewing public.
On leaving, she turned down all media requests for interviews. Why was that? “I didn’t see any great point,” she explains now, thinking carefully about her reply. “Quite a lot of my colleagues were leaving at the same time, and I didn’t think it was appropriate for me to be giving interviews, just because people knew my face from television. I don’t mean to sound either humble or obsequious, but my fellow departing colleagues would have given more sterling service than I.”
Does she miss RTÉ? “It sounds kind of rude to say no,” she says crisply, and then grins. “I still see my friends, but the actual work, no. I had no idea what the future would be like when I left RTÉ, but as a woman who enjoys spending her time in quite a hedonistic kind of way, I thought it would be all right and it has been.”
On December 1st, Doyle will be returning to RTÉ television to host a new quiz show, Division. The show is a pilot, and just one has been recorded to date, but if it’s commissioned we will be seeing more of Doyle on prime-time television again.
In the two years since retiring, Doyle has had a number of offers, most of which she has turned down.
“I was asked to go on Celebrity Masterchef, and as anyone who knows me can tell you, I don’t cook at all,” she laughs. The approach from Vision Independent Productions to host a quiz show intrigued her. “I quite like quizzes, and I’ve hosted the odd one over the years for charity,” she says.
Division uses a knock-out format. There will be two teams of 16 people, none of whom previously know each other, in a red or blue team. “The contestants are in things that look like sheds, with Perspex fronts, but we can hear and see what they’re saying,” Doyle explains. In the end, two contestants face off against each other to win €5,000.
Sample question? “Which province hasn’t produced a taoiseach? I remember that one, because I’m interested in politics.”
Stamp of approval
One of the questions that might turn up is: which RTÉ personalities appeared on postage stamps in 2011 to mark the station’s 50th anniversary? There were three, and one of them was Doyle.
Did she go out and buy some stamps of herself? She laughs. “I didn’t buy them myself, because for a start I’d be mortified; imagine going into a post office, and asking for sheets of stamps with myself on them. An Post sent me out some, and friends bought me some. I don’t think I have any left now. I tended to stick them on presents for friends, because I knew they’d get a laugh out of it.”
Doyle says there were certain news items she found difficult to read out on air. “The awful thing about news is that it’s often a catalogue of horrible things. Over 30 years, there were a lot of terrible stories from the Northern Troubles.
“And for some reason, losses at sea – I mean fishing tragedies – always upset me.”
She was “very surprised” to learn about Pat Kenny going from RTÉ to Newstalk. “I wish him very well. I think he’s a superb broadcaster, and they were very lucky to get him. I find myself hopping between himself and Seán O’Rourke now in the mornings.”
What has she been up to since retirement? Among other undertakings, including being a Wexford ambassador for the Gathering this year, she has been a long-time supporter of Aware, the charity that offers support for depression.
“I’ve been associated with them for maybe 20 years now, and I remember back then, being told that they had had a very hard time getting someone in the public eye to support them. At that time, people were chary of having their names associated with depression. In the 20 years since, the need for the services that Aware offer has increased, and the associated stigma has disappeared. I’ve had streaks of depression. I know what it is, and it’s a bitch. It can be crippling, and it’s very hard on the people around you.”
The other thing that’s been keeping her busy is writing fiction. “I write longhand, and I haven’t shown any of it to anyone, not even my partner [Dan McGrattan, of the restaurant and bar trade]. I’ve written maybe eight stories now. When I wrote the first one, I felt quite pleased. Then, when I went back and read it again a few months later, I was considerably less pleased.”
When pressed, she explains what the story, entitled Three Blazers was about. “I’m the youngest of seven, and when I was about 14, there were three of us still in secondary school, myself and two brothers. My mother was a very indomitable woman, but by a horrible fluke she got two letters one summer from our two schools. Both schools were changing blazers, and the two letters arrived the same day, and so three new blazers were going to have to be bought. When she opened the letters, it’s the only time I think I ever saw her show panic. I remember that flash of understanding something when she opened the second letter, and she realised all that money had to be found. So the story is about how she got them for us.”
Would she consider writing a memoir? She looks embarrassed at the idea. “I don’t think so. I’ve never had any wish to. I’m disinclined to think that what’s of great interest to yourself is of great interest to anyone else. I’m not John McGahern.”
Division airs on Sunday, December 1st, on RTÉ One at 6.30pm
FINGERS READY: THE ANNE DOYLE QUIZ
1 What’s the new quiz master’s favourite quizshow? Mastermind.
2 What county is she from? Wexford.
3 What’s her Twitter account name? She doesn’t have one. “I’d be afraid I’d lose the run of myself.”
4 What’s her most unusual interest? Lighthouses.
5 What does she think Wexford should establish to attract tourists? A literary festival, to reflect the fact so many well-known Irish writers, including John Banville, Colm Tóibín, Eoin Colfer, Billy Roche and Katie Donovan come from the county.