Ryan Hand: Mum was a real joker - it's her energy that helps me in my new gig as warm-up guy on TV's Loose Women
It's Newcastle comic Ryan Hand's job to get the audience warmed up for one of ITV’s most talked about shows, Loose Women. He tells Lee Henry how his late mother Pauline is his inspiration and is to thank for his bubbly and entertaining personality.
Ryan Hand is beaming, and well he might. In recent days, the 28-year-old from Co Down has been kissed by Bond girl Britt Ekland, shared a dressing room with Katie Price and had hundreds of tipsy middle-aged women hanging on his every word.
Having relocated to London a matter of weeks ago, the ambitious comic and presenter has only gone and bagged the biggest gig of his career as warm up act on Loose Women.
"It's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it," he says.
Several days a week, he rubs shoulders with regular hosts Ruth Langsford - aka Mrs Eamonn Holmes - Coleen Nolan and Janet Street-Porter, as well as a host of household name guests from the worlds of stage, screen, sport and song.
"I moved to London to pursue my dreams, and now I'm living them," adds Ryan.
"Every day I have to pinch myself to make sure it's all real. I mean, my dad's generation spent countless sleepless nights fantasising over Britt Ekland, and I've already made it to first base with her," he quips.
"It's a career high for me. I wonder if she feels the same?"
Having cut his teeth performing comedy gigs, hosting charity events, presenting radio shows and MC-ing the Tall Ships festival in Belfast over the past few years, Ryan's hard work and relentless optimism is beginning to pay off.
He puts his trajectory from BBC Northern Ireland runner to behind-the-scenes ringmaster on arguably the UK's most popular daytime television show down to "one per cent inspiration, 99% perspiration".
"I've always been good at networking and in April 2015 I had a little stint working on ITV's This Morning," he explains.
"So when I moved to London a year later, I touched base with an old ITV contact, who put me in touch with the producer of Loose Women. I bagged a meeting with her, played the metrosexual card - mentioning that I had three older sisters, loved a bit of flirting and couldn't think of anything better than being trapped in a room with a bunch of loose women - and the rest, as they say, is history."
Friends and family have not at all been surprised at Ryan's remarkable rise through the showbiz ranks. Having lost his mother, Pauline, to ovarian cancer when he was just 20, he was determined to make the most of life.
Naturally witty and gregarious, he set up the hugely successful LOL Comedy gig series with friends in his native Newcastle - welcoming the likes of Ardal O'Hanlon, Rich Hall and personal hero Patrick Kielty to the seaside resort town, which otherwise becomes quite quiet out of season - and took on every job he could get.
"My life goal has always been to have a career in showbiz, as a television or radio presenter because I just love being on a stage and entertaining people," he adds.
"I began this journey seven years ago, starting out at the same time as the likes of emerging comedians Shane Todd and Sean Hegarty (from Holywood and Drumaness respectively), and watched those lads work tirelessly, do the hard graft, perfect their material and ultimately enjoy the fruits of their labour.
"Since then, there have been a lot of shows I would have loved to bring my mum to, people I would've liked her to meet, but at least she saw me make a t** of myself as Pudsey The Bear during Children In Need many moons ago.
"Anytime I bump into my mum's old friends on the street, they always say 'Pauline would be so proud', and that fills me with confidence.
"Mum was super energetic, a real joker and a character, and I like to think that it's her energy and charisma that I bring to the stage when I'm performing."
In the Loose Women studio - where lesser men, faced with an audience of boisterous women, might break out in a cold sweat - the Co Down comic is in his element.
Charged with setting the tone before the red lights blink on and the cameras start rolling, he has developed a routine centred on crowd interaction and lots of singing and dancing.
"I make both sides of the audience compete against each other and give their team captains tasks and challenges to get the laughter going," he reveals.
"It's always great fun, a bit of a free-for-all. This week a middle-aged woman groped my bum and I pulled out my old party trick of walking on my hands. Anything can happen.
"For me, it's the dream audience - like being at a hen do without the inflatable willies.
"The ratio of women to men is 15/1, so it's the perfect opportunity to get some of the men up to make eejits of themselves.
"I have to practice the oohs, ahhs and boos with the audience beforehand so that they are as vocal during the show, otherwise the broadcast can seem flat and lifeless, and the Loose Women feed off the energy from the crowd."
The familiar faces who front the show are now firm friends of Ryan's, colleagues who quickly warmed to his infectious Northern Irish charm over the past numbers of weeks.
He describes some of them with a mischievous twinkle in his eye.
"Andrea McClean is beautiful, like a porcelain doll. Vicky Pattinson and I have become good mates - she narrated a programme I appeared on a few months ago, Strip Date, and did a double take when she saw me backstage.
"Coleen Nolan is hilarious, very cute, a bit like your best friend's mum who you really secretly fancy. And then there's Janet Street-Porter. Absolutely hilarious. There are no cutting corners with her. She says it how it is. I love them all.
"Ruth Langsford was incredibly nice to me when I was the warm up act for her last two Loose Women shows, before she left for the summer to host This Morning with Eamonn Holmes.
"Eamonn and Ruth are as they appear on TV, funny, generous, welcoming and clearly in love.
"I regard Eamonn as a broadcasting legend, an absolute pro who makes presenting appear seamless, as if the cameras aren't there. He's a national treasure and I'd love to emulate his success."
The Newcastle funnyman has been lucky to count on friends and family as he begins his new life in London.
He is currently sharing a flat with childhood friends in Twickenham, and is pleased to be able to spend more time with his sister, Jacqueline, who has been living in the city for the past 15 years.
"She'd make a good gravedigger because she's always digging me out of holes," he jokes.
"I also get to be a part of my three little nieces' lives - Kaya, Leah and Maya - being Uncle Ryan, taking them out for ice-cream and watching them do their stuff at gymnastics competitions, and that's just fantastic. They are adorable and I can guarantee one of them will be a famous pop singer one day."
The London life certainly suits him - the spontaneity of stumbling into street theatre productions, riverfront fashion shows, famous faces shopping for groceries and, of course, the dating scene.
"I like the excitement of London," he contends.
"I actually find it a fairly friendly place. The city is buzzing, the eateries are incredible, the social scene is awash with colour. Londoners like a bit of cheekiness and charm, and that's something I have in abundance.
"Tinder here is far better than it is at home - guess who's single? I've found that the Irish accent goes down well.
"I keep getting tagged in Facebook posts to appear on dating shows, although honestly, I would like to find someone to settle down with. Summer is ending, after all, and everyone needs a good snuggly cuddle in the winter months."
With LOL Comedy gigs upcoming, and plenty of professional dates in the diary on the other side of the Irish Sea, however, it's unlikely that Ryan will stay away too long.
"I do miss the Mourne Mountains," he admits.
"Being able to walk on Murlough Beach. I miss Newcastle harbour, my family and friends and the local Chinese restaurant. I was served raw chicken at the weekend from a Chinese in Twickenham - it's hard to beat your local.
"But I'm in London for the long haul, and I'm very happy with that. ITV is an incredibly exciting place to work. You bump into the likes of Harry Redknapp and Piers Morgan in the corridors, you joke on set with the people like Brian McFadden, Stacey Solomon and Olly Murs. It's a bizarre never-ending highlight.
"Personally, I don't think my big break has come just yet, but I firmly belief that it's just around the corner. The ultimate ambition is to have my own chat show, like Graham Norton or Alan Carr, but equally I would love to host big shows like The X Factor or Britain's Got Talent. I love the atmosphere of a live stage."
Not that he is pigeonholing himself into any particular arena. Having fronted stints on Q Radio back home, he has his sights set firmly on 'the big one'.
"I have always wanted be a Radio 1 presenter and would love to join fellow Northern Irishman Phil Taggart on the station.
"It's refreshing because the head of the UK's most listened to station has replied to all of my emails but as yet there's no opportunities - this is the part when lots of people in Northern Ireland lights a candle and prays for Handy."