As the famous song goes: “It’s our problem-free philosophy – Hakuna Matata.” We could all use some of that right now, so the Late Late Toy Show tonight, with its theme of The Lion King, has hit a nerve before even going on air.
he Serengeti, complete with gushing waterfall and lush, trailing vines, is in place. The 50 lucky audience members, who won their spot for the hottest night of the y ear in a lottery, are guarding their invitations with their lives.
The talented, ebullient youngsters have been rehearsing for weeks. The mystery guests remain… a mystery.
“But there will be stars,” Ryan Tubridy revealed.
All that’s left is for the host to appear in a lion’s mane performing an unashamedly ridiculous dance – and the uncorking of that unique Toy Show spirit that can neither be translated nor explained. And don’t forget the goodies. Lots and lots of goodies.
At a press event to view the set, there was a smell of fresh paint in the air and an already ramped-up atmosphere, as Tubs zoomed up on a miniature Vespa. “Ready for some messing?” he asked.
They had chosen The Lion King as the theme of this year’s show because it’s “fun, it’s goofy, it’s silly and it’s a problem-free philosophy”, he explained.
With no audience at all last year, Tubridy admitted it was difficult trying to keep the show on the road. He did not know how things were going. “I had to ask ‘are we still on air’ because it was so quiet,” he revealed.
So while the 50 guests allowed in this year is not quite the lively audience of 220 during pre-Covid times, he will take it.
He has been “bowled over” by the resilience of the nation’s children during the pandemic. Toy Show night is their time to cut loose and have some fun, he said, adding: “It is like a very benign Lord of the Flies.”
“Children, you’re in charge. You’re the boss now, for this night and one night only,” he said, speaking directly to his core audience.
”Your parents are your slaves. You do what you want to do. You eat what you want to eat. You say what you want to say and you stay up for as long as you want to stay up.
“And when the parents of Ireland are peeling their children from the ceilings and walls, I say to them, ‘You’re welcome’.”
He won’t trawl through the verdicts on social media afterwards. “No, I’m not one of those,” he said, shocked. “I have a life.”
But Tubridy will decant with “a few beers” because the adrenalin afterwards is high – he mimed with an exaggerated hand aloft.
And when it comes to getting in the Christmassy mood, it’s “Motown Christmas hits” all the way, with a heavy lacing of sugary treats. “If you cut me, I bleed sweets,” he revealed.
Shopping local is something else he feels passionate about. Local businesses are the “heartbeat of the community” – and while he understands it’s “convenient and even a little cheaper” to buy online, he asked people to give business to “the shops and the family businesses that have been there for decades and decades”.
“I would urge people to get the toys, or their books and whatever they can from there (locally), because they need it in a way that Jeff Bezos doesn’t,” he said of the Amazon founder.
Big multinational firms are “strangling the lifeblood” from the towns and villages of Ireland, he added.
“Shop local, people. I do it myself. So I practice what I preach.”
Asked if it was unfortunate that some families had to share their personal stories for the Toy Show appeal in order to make waves, he said ‘no’, because they came in voluntarily to tell their story.
Last year, the Toy Show appeal raised €6.5 million for charity over the course of an hour an a half.
For some children, he said, those donations meant having a meal before school in the morning while for others, it meant a new book in their hands.
“I think it was a beautiful story last year,” he said.
“It stopped being just a TV show; it became a lifeblood for a lot of charities around the country.”
Among the talented children taking part is Sophie Lennon (12) from Newry, Co Down, who has been rehearsing “for weeks”.
She could not reveal what she will be singing – only saying that she is not nervous. “I just love the buzz,” said Sophie.
Realising the dream of a lifetime tonight will be Orla McDermott (14) from Drogheda, Co Louth. Orla will also be singing, after six years of trying out for the show.
“We always put up the tree and then watch the show with popcorn, crisps and everything,” she said. “This is so exciting but I will miss watching at home, too.”