EAMONN HOLMES has paid special tribute to “talk show phenomenon” Gay Byrne following the Irish presenter’s sad passing this week.
One of Ireland’s most iconic broadcasters, Byrne is best remembered for presenting The Late Late Show for more than 30 years over on RTÉ.
He died this past Monday, November 4, aged 85 after a long illness, leaving a nation bereft of one of its most enduring talents.
Speaking to The Irish Post, Holmes fondly remembers Byrne as an “Irish legend, talk show phenomenon and the presenter we all wanted to be.”
“Whoever you were on TV in Ireland you thought ‘I wish I could be like Gay Byrne, I wish I had a show like that, I wish I could learn from the master’.”
The Belfast born presenter grew up idolising Gay’s work and was a fan long before his stint on The Late Late Show.
“He was God in our house. My mother just idolised him,” Holmes says.
“One year we went to Tramore on holiday specifically just to see Gay Byrne on the RTE radio roadshow. That was 1972 and it was the most amazing thing for my mother and I to be in the crowd to see him.”
— Eamonn Holmes (@EamonnHolmes) November 4, 2019
Uncle Gay was a major influence on Holmes’ career.
“I have this saying: ‘watch the best and forget the rest’ and I watched a lot of Gay Byrne.
“When I was a young presenter on Ulster television in my early 20s, I got tickets for The Late Late Show. I came down with another presenter, Gerry Kelly, and sat in the audience just to watch Gay. Just to watch and learn.”
“He was just a natural,” Holmes explains.
“Very few presenters listen to what the interviewee is saying. Most just have a list of questions to go through those regardless of what the answer is. But Gay would listen.
"The great thing Gay did was take the formality out of a lot of TV production. He exposed the inner workings of it and created something that felt edgy and vital. That was one of the big reasons people tuned in."
“There was a beautiful relaxed charm about the way he presented. Gay was poetic in the way he said things. People regarded it as a great honour to be interviewed by him.”
Holmes has fond memories from his encounters with Byrne down the years, recalling how he was “lucky enough to be interviewed by him on The Late Late Show”.
His fondest memory of Uncle Gaybo is a little more unusual though.
“I worked with him again on BBC Northern Ireland in one of the most surreal situations in my entire life,” Holmes recalls.
“It was me, Gay and Roger Moore singing ‘Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head.’ It was incredible to stand there with the guy who was your favourite James Bond and the guy who was your role model in broadcasting. To be there was tremendous privilege.”
An exceptional talent the likes of which Ireland will never see again, Holmes has no doubt “Gay 's legacy will live on forever.”