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The Bookshelf: Ryan Tubridy’s new podcast may be the best vehicle to date for this one-time Jack of all RTÉ

Podcast review: The former RTÉ broadcaster’s new show plays to his strengths with David Walliams as his guest – but it’ll need to push him out of his comfort zone

Well whaddaya know? Ryan Tubridy is back! Again! And in a format that plays so deftly to his strengths you’d swear it was his own idea. Which, it turns out, it was, at least according to what he said in the run-up to its launch. “This has been a passion project of mine for a couple of years now, but I could never quite find enough time to put it all together,” he says of his new podcast, The Bookshelf with Ryan Tubridy. And thanks to the RTÉ news bombs of last summer and Tubs’s departure from our national airwaves, he’s found himself quite enough time after all, and landed comfortably in his own personal sweet spot. Who’s got two thumbs, loves books, and has oodles of interview experience and an ease on the airwaves? The Bookshelf was made for, as well as by, Ryan Tubridy.

The podcast – also available in video form on YouTube, which to my mind is cheating – burst online in the wee hours of this morning with its first episode, a 49-minuter with the astronomically successful and prolific children’s author and comedian David Walliams. (He’s billed as the bestselling children’s author to have started writing since 2000, a modifier presumably created to deal with the JK Rowling in the room.)

The concept is a canny one: set up just enough structure to give the guest a compass point from which to range in wide and graceful arcs. As Tubridy explains straight off, we’ll be hearing about the lives of each interviewee through the prism of three books they’re asked to select: a childhood favourite, one that made them cry and one that changed their life. It’s also skilfully produced (by NK Productions, which also makes Path to Power, with Matt Cooper and Ivan Yates), with seamless edits, warm audio, Walliams’s measured baritone playing counterpoint to Tubridy’s lickety tenor.

Walliams offers a surprising and eclectic little bookshelf. Through his childhood choice of Dr Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham, he shares stories of absorbing the terrifying, phantasmagorical magic of Dr Seuss with his head against his father’s chest. From there to the joys of reading to his son, Alfred, performing the voices in Julia Donaldson’s classics – who knew the character of the Gruffalo is best voiced with a strong Ray Winstone inflection?


The conversation makes its way into the emotional terrain explored and uncovered through reading, and the strange finality of death while the world refuses to stop spinning, before getting back to life and the book that changed Walliams’s being, The Complete Poems of Philip Larkin. The why is a little harder to pin down, and Tubridy gives his guest the space to walk around themes of language and precision, emotional honesty and dark subject matter. The charm here is in the tales that spin from each of these specific choices, which Tubridy elicits with follow-ups that lead us into the company of former Russian presidents and Nobel Prize winners. (Really: Walliams met Kazuo Ishiguro, his choice for a book that changed his life being The Unconsoled, at a small dinner party with Mikhail Gorbachev.)

There’s so much more in The Bookshelf than three questions and affability, especially for anyone already under the spell of books and the worlds built in and around them. In fact – and I say this even as someone who fell on the pro-Tubs side of the Great Toy Show Divide – The Bookshelf may be the best vehicle to date for this one-time Jack of all RTÉ, its specificity and intimacy relying less on patter and speedy transitions and more on, well, listening. Which doesn’t mean I don’t hope to see Tubs push things a little further out of the comfort zone with his next guest: paging anyone who’s not a fiftysomething white man wearing practically the same outfit as the host, really. I’ll be tuning in.

Fiona McCann

Fiona McCann, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer, journalist and cohost of the We Can’t Print This podcast