This year’s Christmas extra- vaganza will take on the theme of children’s classic The Wizard of Ozas Ryan Tubridy takes centre stage on the Yellow Brick Road and revels in all that Technicolor glory.
He revealed that the team on the long-running RTÉ show started planning the event during the summer as they tried to “gauge the mood of the country.”
“We thought in July that by the time we get to November there will be a problem in terms of cost of living and bills and so forth, so we projected that, we tried to think of the theme, and with that in mind we said we’d go back to basics,” he said.
“So The Wizard of Oz is pure Christmas to me. It’s that lovely dream of ‘No place like home’. It’s simplicity, it’s nostalgia, it’s colourful and it’s romantic in its ideals and we think it’s perfect.
“It’s the idea that there’s no place like home, that despite everything, with the Toy Show, all roads lead to the couch, really.
“Unfortunately, there’s not too many TV shows left where people will put their phone down for a couple of hours and will come and join everyone else. So we’re going to follow the Yellow Brick Road all the way home. That’s the plan.”
Tubridy believes the country needs a lift this year, because despite Ireland moving into the post-pandemic era, it’s “still quite gloomy for people”.
“We’re coming out of the pandemic and there’s post-pandemic stress disorder, where we haven’t really processed what the hell happened there because we’ve just kept going and lurched on to another crisis. I think it’s really, really needed now,” he said.
Speaking about the lavish set, which takes months to plan, Tubridy compared it to a rainbow.
“It’s going to be that sense of Technicolor,” he said. “It feels like, maybe, Ireland and the world is a bit Kansas at the moment – and we’re like Oz, so it’s really bright and colourful.”
Although he is tasked with ensuring the show runs smoothly and will be central to events (even taking part in the tightly choreographed opening number, he confirmed), he insisted the limelight will be firmly focused on the talented youngsters sharing the studio floor.
“My role has been reduced to such insignificance, if you blink for long enough you’ll miss it,” Tubridy said. “But I’m all in for this. I’ll do whatever they require – you have to buy in fully. And that’s why I’m excited and really nervous.”
He said there may be one celebrity guest coming on the show and there will be an extra-special performance mid-way through the programme.
“There’s a song in the middle of the show that’s pure Christmas. We felt it needed more Christmas so we got this song and it goes back to the Dean Martin-Bing Crosby vibe. So I disappear and emerge into a winter wonderland, but there’s a song involved there,” he said.
Tonight’s extravaganza will see a cast of more than 200 young performers and toy testers taking part, with the youngest aged just four. Last year the show was the most popular programme of 2021, with 1.56 million viewers tuning in live – 1.8 million watched it at some point during the weekend.
Asked if he felt any pressure ahead of this year’s show – his 14th year fronting it – Tubridy said there were “great expectations for the Toy Show every year”.
“I don’t compete with myself, but I always strive to be the best with the show,” he said. “Last year, that was great. Then it’s like, ‘What can we do next year, not to do it not necessarily better but certainly a little different.
“When the Toy Show isn’t on and I’m walking around Clifden or Dublin or wherever and you’re ‘the toy man’ to children all year around, it’s one of the greatest, weirdest gifts I’ve ever been given.
“I went to a brilliant school in Finglas this week, St Finian’s, with extraordinary teachers. They wanted to know three things in each class. One, what age are you? Two, what are you doing in our school? Three, do you like Fanta?
“But the point is, there are expectations when you are the ‘toy man’ and it’s huge, so this show is really important. It’s important to me, and to us, and to children in the country. More recently, people have suggested the adults are enjoying it as much as the children, which I think is a disgrace as it’s not for them. It’s great fun, it’s such a buzz.”
As viewers of last year’s show will recall, given the Fanta incident with Tubridy, he said the spectacle itself is “utterly unpredictable”.
“The children are six, they’re live, they’re manic, they’ve got jellies coming out their ears and I don’t know what’s coming next,” he said, describing the atmosphere.
“It’s cutting the brakes on a car and rolling down a very long hill. It’s terrifying Why do I do this?”
Tonight, he said, parents should give in to their youngsters when it comes to indulging them in their favourite treats while they stay up to watch the show.
“Jellies, pizzas and soft drinks, multiplied by six gazillion,” he said. “I want parents to be driven demented. I want them to hate me so much. That’s part of my job – I’m an ally for the kids.”
As for how he unwinds after such a high-intensity experience, he has booked time off after learning from the mistakes of the past.
“Last year, I took one day off – that was really stupid. It’s exhausting,” he said.
“This year, I’m taking three days off and that allows for a full recovery. I’m going to go see Christy Moore with my sisters, and that will be a nice thing to do, just to come down.”
As for plans to continue fronting the show, he said: “Who knows? I don’t know myself. I’m here now and I’m not thinking too far ahead, but so far, so good.”