Late Late Show: The moment Leo Varadkar forgot his homework
The episode either shows the Taoiseach didn’t know his brief, or that he cares about detail
Leo Varadkar’s relative youth means he is often portrayed – internationally, in particular – as a dynamic and forward-facing leader. But there are occasions when the Taoiseach resembles a bashful schoolboy who stayed up too late playing Fortnite rather than finishing his homework. Just such an expression flashes across his face during his Late Late Show interview.
Ryan Tubridy is quizzing Varadkar over the finer details of the five-stage plan to return Ireland to a semblance of pre-Covid normality. When, the host wonders, will family members be allowed visit loved ones over-70 coming to the end of their lives? “I’ll have to pull out my . . . I haven’t actually learned it all yet,” says Varadkar. “It’s hot off the press.”
Slowly – oh so slowly – the Taoiseach reaches for his back pocket and fishes out a sheet squished to within a centimetre of its existence. Even more deliberately, he scans the print-out for the relevant information. Over on Twitter people are amazed/incredulous/furious Varadkar doesn’t know the entire blueprint – one finalised just that afternoon – from memory. The more sympathetic view is that the moment humanises Varadkar and attests to his lack of bluster. In the same circumstances, Donald Trump or Boris Johnson might have winged it. Varadkar cares about detail. That has to mean something.
It’s a respectable performance by Tubridy, too. He is often criticised for lacking gravitas. And it’s true that if Gay Byrne was the Sean Connery of Late Late Show presenters and Pat Kenny the Roger Moore, then Tubridy is very much Montrose’s answer to Pierce Brosnan.
He can do the light stuff – but figuratively slapping interviewees about the chops doesn’t come naturally. Often, he has the giddiness of a 13 year-old trying on his dad’s suit. Which is strange considering early in his career he was accused of being an old person in disguise. Remember when everyone called Tubridy a “young fogey?” Now the process has reversed.
Still he is towards the top end of his game here. He doesn’t pin Varadkar to his collar. And wisely so, as going all rottweiler isn’t in Tubridy’s skill set. Nor should it be: the Late Late isn’t Paxman-era Newsnight.
He is persistent, however. Tubridy challenges Varadkar over the Government’s response to the wildfire devastation caused by the virus in care homes and drills into the specifics of pubs reopening, schools welcoming back students and over-70s going out for an amble.
As it’s been weeks – and feels like centuries – since the Late Late had an audience, the empty studio is by now familiar, almost reassuring. If anything it’s going to be slightly unnerving watching a future Late Late complete with flesh-and-blood punters, side by side and applauding. Part of you will wonder whether there isn’t a law against that sort of thing. And then you will catch yourself and remember that, until recently, there was.
Among the grab-bag of guests in the second half are top pop combo Picture This, who reveal they are all isolating in the same house. Viewers will sympathise with their plight. Anyone who has turned on Irish radio in the past two years will know what it’s like be constantly surrounded by Picture This.
Niall Horan, meanwhile, Skypes in from London. As does Paul Mescal, former under-age Kildare footballer and, according to website the Ringer, the new Brad Pitt. He’s still reeling from the acclaim heaped on Lenny Abrahamson’s adaptation of Sally Rooney’s Normal People, in which he plays sensitive Sligo midfielder Connell. Obviously this requires a huge leap on the part of audiences: imagine Sligo having a decent midfield.
Eyes shiny with astonishment, Mescal admits to tuning into Joe Duffy’s Liveline this week as the plain people of Ireland railed against the acres of explored flesh – most of it his – plastered across our screens. He seems shocked by the palaver, though at pains not to dismiss people’s response to Normal People.
Tubridy signs off by wishing the actor well and looking forward to the day they can speak face to face. With the Government’s plan for lifting the lockdown published, this no longer has the ring of wishful thinking. How surreal to consider that, after weeks of lockdown, the prospect of conversations with friends is suddenly something other than a pipe dream.