AFTER a career spanning more than five decades at the forefront of Irish television and radio, it is safe to say that Gay Byrne has a story or two to tell.
The veteran broadcaster has set out to tell some of the “greatest showbiz stories never told” in a series of live stage shows developed with John McColgan of Riverdance fame, and which calls to Limerick’s Lime Tree Theatre this April.
In fact, the most surprising thing is that it has taken the 78 year old this long to take to the stage to regale us with his tales of “stars and star-makers”, but Gay - still working to this day - admits it almost never happened.
“It started out as a sort of an idea in my head, and I wondered if I would like to do a sort of an ‘evening with’ where you invite along a gang of your showbiz friends and they think up on the spot questions, which really are pretty well rehearsed and prepared in advance. Then I thought, I don’t really need that,” says the affable Byrne, host of the Late Late Show for 37 years, ‘retiring’ in 1999.
“I was simply having a conversation, this is the truth, with two fellas, one of whom was John McColgan, and we were talking about the possibility of doing a one man show.
“I went away to the bathroom safe in the knowledge that this would never come to pass, and by the time I got back they had the theatre arranged, the staff and advertising booked, and all arrangements made.
“And I found myself then walking onto the stage in the Gate Theatre thinking ‘how the hell did I get to this point and how will I get out of it’,” he laughs.
Thankfully for audiences around the country, he went ahead, and has produced a two hour show that has been greeted with rave reviews and packed houses.
The show is quite off the cuff with little production values save for a homely carpet and piano resting upon it, and Gay, in the spotlight as he ever was.
“There was nothing written, no script, no production - a bit of carpet, a radio and some lighting, everything else is in my head. That is the way it started,” he says matter-of-factly.
“I am merely talking about things that have happened to me - not knowing what it is, people think that it is a lecture on fifty years of television, or RTE, or radio, and it is none of those things. It is just me talking about people I have met on different shows, the things that happened to them and what they said, the stories they told, and my own experiences.”
The reaction has been very positive and he admits the material is “very personal” and it seems this type of format suits the Dubliner, who stared out hosting cabaret shows in his native city before the starry lights of television came calling.
“The show is full of laughter,” he explains.
“I don’t find it difficult because there is no running order or an autocue, it is all in my head and I do find it remarkably easy.
“It is very positive because people come not really knowing what they are going to see. According to all reports people are going away very happy, and I have been invited back to several places instead of being publicly stoned, so people seem to be enjoying it.”