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Saturday, April 03, 2010

Mr Saturday Night

My interview with Craig Doyle in today's Weekend magazine in the Irish Independent

It’s 11am on a Thursday, and Craig Doyle is feeling dizzy and a tad unsteady on his feet. Knowing these showbiz types, Weekend greets this news with a cynical arched eyebrow, but, alas, it turns out that his condition this morning isn’t due to some heady rock and roll lifestyle. “I have vertigo,” the 39-year-old explains pouring out cups of coffee in Dublin’s Shelbourne Hotel. “I woke up last weekend, got up out of bed, and fell straight down to the ground. I’m on medication for it, but just standing up is a weird sensation at the moment.”

That aside, as the dad-of-three points out, he’s the least likely person to be indulging in wild socialising anymore. “I was up at 6.30 this morning with the kids,” he laughs, referring to Quinn (7), Muireann (5) and Milo (2). What’s more, he seems more than content with this; he’s very much aware that being a father and husband (to Doon, since 2002) now informs every aspect of his life. He even half-jokingly asks if he can still pull off the look he’s working today – jeans, and a cardigan over a neat shirt and tie. “I’m doing this for thirty-something dads everywhere,” he quips as our photographer puts him through his paces.

The Dublin-born presenter is talking to Weekend in advance of the start of his eight-week run hosting The Saturday Night Show on RTE1, taking over from Brendan O’Connor who solidly anchored the slot for the last two months. Having spent the best part of the last decade working mainly in sport for BBC and later ITV, this new gig gives Irish viewers the chance to get reacquainted with Craig in a very different setting, though, as the man says himself, he won’t be attempting to reinvent the wheel during his tenure.

“I’ve never seen a very experimental chat show being commissioned,” he says. “I find that particularly in Ireland we’re an interested and astute nation, and we just like to hear people talk. That’s what a chat show is. You can dress it up, and ice the cake, but at the end of the day, you have to give people cake.”

The game plan for Craig’s show is to put the emphasis on entertainment, mainly music and comedy. “I’ve always felt like the Saturday night slot should complement the Friday night,” he says. “The Late Late Show is very much a forum for the country, and it should reflect what’s happened in the country and the world over the course of a week, but I think Saturday night should be pure, feel-good escapism.”

Of course, the age-old criticism of Irish television is that this is simply too small an island with too-limited access to major guests and stars to sustain two chat shows on consecutive nights. “It’s a fair shout isn’t it? But I think the success of The Late Late Show during Pat’s reign, and of Tubridy Tonight during Ryan’s shows that there is room for both.

“I do think you have to approach it from a slightly different angle though. If I were offered three movie stars as guests, I’d take one of them. There has to be Irish interest. It’s not solely because of availability that talk shows do that. And if it happens to be someone who is very familiar to people, maybe you want someone who isn’t as familiar. It’s a fine balance.”

Prepping for this chat show has meant that Craig has had an office desk in Dublin for the first time in his life. Born in Stillorgan in 1970, Craig was schooled in Blackrock College, which fuelled the crazed passion for sport on which he has built a broadcasting career.

After studying in Maynooth, Craig followed his journalist brother Keith to London to study broadcasting at the London College of Printing. Before he’d even graduated, Craig had secured a contract job with the BBC (after being refused a free work placement in RTE along the way).

Starting on BBC Radio Suffolk, Craig segued to TV as presenter on UTV’s Disney Club, and then on BBC’s Tomorrow’s World. Following Jill Dando’s murder in 1999, Craig was drafted in to take over her slot on the BBC’s long-running travel show Holiday, on which he became a popular fixture with his amiable manner, good looks, and, of course, his Irish accent.
Craig stayed in that job for almost six years, traveling 200 days a year, and visiting some 120 countries in total. In 2004 he moved full-time to the BBC sport department, working on its legendary jewel-in-the-sports-scheduling crown Grandstand.

That same year, Craig made his first venture into Irish TV presenting with The Craig Doyle Show, a part travelogue/part celeb talk show made by his own Boxer production company.

“That was shite,” he admits frankly. “I didn’t enjoy that experience. It came at a very bad time for me. I was really busy, and just wasn’t really in a good place. The show wasn’t what I wanted it to be, which is ridiculous because I made it, but it was very early days for us. It just wasn’t right, and I kind of knew at the time. I don’t think I watched any of it go out.”

On top of – if not at the root of - that unhappy period was the critical pummeling Craig received in his first few months at BBC sport co-hosting the 2004 Athens Olympics. One British paper blasted him for being ‘out of his depth’, while Labour MP Chris Bryant even felt moved to comment, ‘You get the experts who know everything about sport but can't put it into English, and then you get Craig Doyle’. That’s gotta hurt.

“That was awful,” he recalls. “I was learning how to do the job at that stage. That’s a really tough thing about this business. Most of this business isn’t tough: it’s a pretty sweet job and that’s why you have to take all that shit. I remember Gary Lineker telling me, ‘You’re going to get a hard time because it’s your rites of passage’. And it was.

“I was very down after that. It was a real low because I didn’t understand it. Now I understand it, and it doesn’t mean anything. I thought at the time it was largely unfair. But I’m a lot stronger from it. I copped on. I just grew up a bit, and parked the ego. I’m more comfortable in my own skin. I’m a hugely different bloke now.”

In early 2008, Craig left BBC television after 13 years to join ITV Sport. “It was a massive decision to make, but it wasn’t a quick one,” he says. “They made three approaches to me over the course of two years, and at the end of the day it came down to the money. The money is so much better, I can’t lie about it.

“I had been thinking for a while that I was in the wrong place, and it was just a better deal. I’m the rugby guy in ITV now. It’s pretty full on at the moment, as we’re in the middle of the domestic rugby season. But it’s not a chore, I love it.”

The nature of the work means Craig spends 2-3 days a week – mainly weekends - in London (alternating between staying in hotels and with his brother), and the rest of the time at home with Doon and the kids in Wicklow. Does he feel the guilt of being a working parent spending time away from home?

“I don’t ever want to ever leave them, but it’s not out of guilt: I just love being with them,” he replies. “I get homesick after a day now. I hate that I’m not there on weekends to take my son to rugby, which he loves.

“Doon and I share the parenting role. I’m around during the week so I do the collecting and dropping off. People are used to seeing me going around in my wellies in Enniskerry. My hands are torn to bits because I’m working in the garden a lot. I’m re-doing the vegetable patch at the moment. I love cleaning out the chicken coop. That’s a holiday for me now.”

It probably won’t come as surprise that Craig and Doon get little time to themselves. “We had a night out a Fridays ago – we went to Ikea,” he laughs. “We needed a new cheap sofa that the kids could destroy. It wasn’t even about us! But you give up that right when you have kids.”

For now, Craig has just about enough time to devote to work and his family, but he still finds that life has a way of reminding
him of his top priorities lest he ever forget. “I was determined to start training to do a triathalon this year,” he says. “So about three weeks ago I was on the way out to do a 2-3k swimming training night, and Quinn said to me, ‘Daddy do you want to play Star Wars?’

“He had all the stuff laid out. And I was like, ‘No, I have to go swimming’, and I got out to the car and thought, ‘What the f*ck am I doing?’ I chucked the bag in the boot and went back inside and said to myself, ‘That’s it; that’s the end of it. I’ll wait for another few years to do that stuff’. It really hit me that day: this life aint about me anymore.”

*The Saturday Night Show starts next Saturday, April 10, on RTE 1.

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