herald

Tuesday 21 November 2017

The private Gerry I knew was just as charming, just as witty

Mere words cannot describe the level of grief and loss felt following the untimely and shocking death of the man deservedly described as the King of Chat.

A larger-than-life character, it's impossible to succinctly describe the impact he had on Irish broadcasting or how important he was to the Irish nation as a whole.

Charismatic, irreverent, honest to a fault and with a razor-sharp wit to boot, he was a national institution and rightly so, and one of the country's best-known personalities.



CHARMS

Listening to all the tributes pouring in from all over the country, it was clear than even those who had never met Gerry Ryan still felt like they knew him thanks to his morning chat show.

Unlike other stars in the public eye, he loved sharing intimate details of his life and would wax lyrical at length about all kinds of personal experiences that most celebrities would baulk about ever revealing.

Thanks to his outspoken manner and 'everyman' touch, he touched a deep chord with his listeners.

It's little wonder they are speaking out in their thousands, heartbroken, about how their mornings will never be the same again and how their going to miss "their best friend" on their kitchen radio.

As a long-term fan of his show, I too fell victim to his inimitable charms. I liked to think I had a special connection with him, given that we had been neighbours and grew up on the same road in Clontarf.

It was a fact I often like to remind him of during interviews, in the hope of getting some extra information, but wily Gerry was always to canny enough not to fall for it.

He was one of the celebrities that most intrigued the Irish people and I was often asked by nosy taxi drivers 'what's he really like?'



TIPPLE

And while I could never say I was friends with him, I would usually tell them the truth as I saw it -- he was a true gent and an absolute professional to the core.

I had the pleasure of having dinner with him at a function during the Galway Races last year and found him charming, gregarious and great craic. Nursing his favourite tipple of whiskey, he was the ultimate dinner companion as he kept the whole table riveted with his salacious anecdotes and hilarious asides.

Even when asked awkward questions, he would do his best to answer them and give me a good 'soundbite' for this newspaper. He was never afraid to put his foot in it and would always articulately back up his opinions with sound facts and common sense. His honesty was often the trait that landed him in hot water but he remained wholly unrepentant about that and was happy to stand by what he felt was true.

The last time I met him was at the Invictus premiere in the Savoy last February. Looking dashing in his black tuxedo and accompanied by his partner Melanie Verwoerd, he arrived late -- but still made time to give me an interview lasting 20 minutes.

All smiles, he spoke about how much he was looking forward to the movie and his fondness for South Africa, a country he had visited with Melanie only last summer.

At the end of our chat, he added: "Have you got enough? Are you sure you're okay?" After I reassured him I had more than enough material from him, he dashed up the stairs to watch the premiere.

The void that he has left in Irish life this weekend is immeasurable and it will take some time before we, as a nation, come to terms with such a huge loss.

He was a legendary broadcaster, had a wonderful wit and the silence he has left on our airwaves will be impossible to fill.

Gerry Ryan, RIP.

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