When I meet Patrick Kielty in a room in RTÉ’s Donnybrook headquarters, the first thing I notice is the table he’s sitting at.
It’s an old wooden table, reminiscent of the kind you might find yourself behind at the annual parent-teacher meeting as you wait to hear how your child has been doing this term. Kielty might feel he’s facing a similar catch-up.
I am the third journalist to sit opposite him today to quiz him on how he’s navigated The Late Late Show so far — and to ask how he’s preparing for his biggest challenge yet, The Late Late Toy Show.
Traditionally the country’s most-watched television programme, last year over 1.5m of us tuned in to watch Ryan Tubridy sing and dance his way around The Wizard of Oz-themed set. I wonder can we expect to see Kielty embracing his inner Judy Garland next Friday?
“I’m wondering are we going to be seeing Kielty singing and dancing too,” he says with a laugh.
“The plan is to be decided. You get to see how talented all of the kids are and then you kind of have to make the decision to remotely share a stage with them. I think… let’s see where that ends up,” he says, a twinkle in his eye.
For the Dundrum, Co Down native, comparisons to his predecessors have been an unavoidable part of the gig since he was first announced as the new host back in May.
He has continually been asked whether he’s been in touch with Tubridy, or indeed Pat Kenny, asking for advice or guidance, and has repeatedly answered no.
When it comes to preparations ahead of The Late Late Toy Show, his answer remains unchanged.
“I think you’ve got to do your own show. I think it’s very much a thing of everyone has a different personality and everybody’s got a different way of doing things. And you’re the person who knows best what your skills are, what you’re good at, what you’re bad at, so I think you have just got to be yourself,” he says.
If there is anyone he is taking guidance from, it’s the late Gay Byrne, the only previous host he mentions of his own accord throughout our chat.
“The lovely thing about when I was growing up and watching The Toy Show was that he treated the kids the way he treated the adults,” he says.
“I don’t think you can play The Toy Show. Kids smell people that are playing them. That doesn’t work. I am lucky enough to have two young kids. And you know, I think you have just got to be yourself. You can’t go in with too much planned, thinking that this is how something is going to play out, because on a live show on a Friday night with grown-ups, a lot of the time it doesn’t play out the way you think. So if you want to add kids into the mix…
“I think it’s about enjoying it. And if you can enjoy it yourself, then hopefully other people will [too].”
Today, I get the sense that Kielty is enjoying the ride, even if, by all accounts, it hasn’t been the easiest.
Coming in at the height of RTÉ’s payments scandal, his hand was as good as forced to reveal the details of his own pay package before he’d even set foot on the set.
And, despite a successful first show that appeared to please both critics and the general public, the difficulties haven’t gone away.
Just four shows in, The Late Late’s most senior producer had departed the show, with the Irish Examiner reporting “tensions” behind the scenes.
“It really hasn’t had much of an impact,” Kielty says, poker face intact, when I ask what impact the disruption around and, seemingly within, the show has had on his hosting experience.
“I’ve made a lot of shows,” he continues, leaning back in his chair, “People come and go. It’s a lot more normal in our business than people maybe think. That sort of stuff doesn’t really bother me one way or the other.”
What might be of more concern to the host, is, of course, the guests.
The variety and calibre of the guests on The Late Late Show has always been a topic of conversation, with the oft-repeated joke about the RTÉ canteen being the source of too many, but many viewers and critics were hopeful that Kielty might bring some A-List contacts along with his tenure. This doesn’t seem to have come to fruition.
Has Kielty been happy with the guests so far this season, I wonder?
“I have been happy with the quality of the guests we’ve got [so far],” he says.
“We’re a live show on a Friday night on an island…” he says, leaving the sentence hanging in the air before he goes on.
“The idea that you’re sitting there going ‘let’s have him, let’s have her’… every week you’re trying to put together the best show you can.
“When you’re launching a new show, I think a lot of people have this expectation, but…” he trails off.
“I think coming on air with the actors’ strike hasn’t helped,” he offers.
“I am looking forward to getting bedded in a bit further down the road and getting that out of the way.”
On the topic of guests, one thing some viewers have suspected the Dundrum native may have a hand in is the number of Northern Irish guests on the couch in recent weeks, which has become something of a discussion point.
“That sort of stuff makes me smile,” he says, a smirk growing at the corner of his lips.
“I was intrigued to find out for my first show I got these Northern guests and apparently then you realise that one of them was a two-time President of Ireland voted for by people in Ireland and another had 100 caps for Ireland and has been cheered at the Aviva for 10 years.
“So, it’s interesting. If Mary McAleese and James McClean had been interviewed by somebody else, I don’t think they’d have been classed as Northern.
“I kind of just smile slightly bemused when I think about that, because I don’t really view it in terms of North and South.”
Another thing the audience has picked up on is the Graham Norton-esque embrace of multiple guests on the couch at once. Was that something that came from Kielty?
“One of the joys for me, growing up watching The Late Late was that a guest came out, and a guest stayed. Graham didn’t invent that,” he says. “That’s The Late Late going back to the roots of the show itself.
“The brilliant thing about this show is that people have opinions. And strong opinions. I think that’s healthy. And the other thing about it, is, everybody’s not gonna like what you do. That’s just life. The idea that you’re going to get everything right and please everybody, that doesn’t happen in life, it’s not gonna happen here either.”
At this point, it has to be acknowledged that, by and large, there has been nothing but kind words for Kielty’s own performance on the show. Has he read any of the reviews?
“Ach, not really,” he says, “stuff is never as good as you think it is and it’s never as bad as you think it is. None of that changes the fact that when you wake up Monday, you’re trying to make a show as good as the one the week before if not better.”
Of course with next week’s show, there might be even more pressure than usual, with Kielty’s sons Milo, seven, and James, five, tuning in, not just for their first Late Late Show, but to see their dad on TV for the first time ever.
“They haven’t watched any shows that Cat [Deeley, his wife] and I have hosted,” he says, explaining why a place in the live audience has been decided against for his little ones (and not just because their bedtime is 8pm).
“The plan is to break them in gradually. Coming into the studio to watch The Toy Show might blow their tiny minds. And there may not be any ammo left to bribe them with if you let them come to The Toy Show straight out the gap.”
At this stage, the two have little idea of what Kielty and Deeley do, although that’s unlikely to be the case for much longer. Days after we talk, Deeley is announced as a new host on UK flagship This Morning, following Holly Willoughby’s departure.
“That is an entire world that they will discover,” Kielty says. “[But], to be honest with you, at this stage, they’re much more interested in watching cartoons.
“When you live in a world where mum and dad are on a screen on a phone, the idea that mum and dad being on a bigger screen is impressive… that doesn’t really… they’re much more interested in their own programmes,” he says with a laugh.
As we wrap up our conversation, I comment that he appears pretty unfazed by the challenge of The Toy Show, and by all the noise around The Late Late Show in general.
Viewing figures that come in after our interview suggest the show, for the most part, has been on a steady decline since the high of 830,000 for his first show. The most recent show we have the viewing figures for, November 10, brought in just 445,000.
“There’s stuff you can change and stuff you can’t,” he says. “As I’ve gotten older I’ve realised, chilling out is the best policy when it comes to most stuff.”
Perhaps we all need to take a page out of the Kielty handbook.
Although, with recent news that one in five jobs are to be cut at the broadcaster, one suspects the RTÉ bosses aren’t quite as blasé, and will no doubt be hoping for a Christmas miracle when it comes to viewing figures for the rest of the season.
The Late Late Toy Show may just deliver.
- The Late Late Toy Show airs Friday, November 24 at 9:35pm on RTÉ One and RTÉ Player
- Photographer: Evan Doherty
- Wardrobe: Helen McCusker
- Hair & Make Up: Fiona Hogan
- Set Design: Marcella Power/Deborah Dunne
- Staging: Tommy Lundy