The suit's upstairs: Ryan Tubridy pictured above the set of 'The Late Late Show'

It's a year since Ryan Tubridy was announced as the new host for the Late Late Show, and in that time a lot has happened in the life of the television presenter, radio broadcaster and soon-to-be-published writer. He's lost a close friend in Gerry Ryan, for whom he once acted as runner and tea-boy; he's written a book about John F Kennedy's visits to Ireland; he's about to complete his first season at the helm of RTE's flagship chat show; and in the process he says he has both "grown up" and learned to be more accepting of the public nature of his life.

"There's a myth that Irish people don't come up to you in the street," he says, relaxing in the Late Late Show green room after his radio show. "Well that's not true. They come up in their droves. And when Gerry died, for a few weeks after I got more hugs than I've ever received in my life," he pauses and seems moved even thinking about it, "and it was one of the loveliest experiences in my working life – strangers coming up to physically embrace you. It was a bit odd and a bit weird but... it felt good. And it felt like there was a shift."

A shift from what to what? He thinks for a moment. "From 'There's your man off the telly' to 'There's our mate'."

But wasn't it difficult balancing his own personal grief, still palpable whenever he talks about Gerry, with his role helping the public mourn on a Late Late Show special the day of Gerry's death? "I don't have a great recollection of that evening," he says. "I know I was there and I know we did the job, but I was on autopilot. I was grief struck. The Late Late Show is... well, it was described by a producer friend as 'the nation's parlour'. People wanted to go somewhere to talk about Gerry and that night we provided that. I don't know how life works but I happened to be the guy who inherited the Late Late Show and I happened to be Gerry's friend, and I had interviewed him for Ryan Confidential [a specially edited version of this aired the following week] and that's how the cards fell. I was pleased to do all that, and I know he'd have done it for me. And on that Late Late Show the audience and the cameras just drifted away and it was really just a bunch of people who'd lost someone they loved shooting the breeze."

In some ways, this seems like a natural response to trauma for someone whose broadcasting career began at the tender age of 12 doing book reviews for Radio 2. The studio is where he feels safe, he says. In his Ryan Confidential interview with Ryan, he even refers to it as "the womb". "It's so true," he says. "I said to Gerry: 'No one can get you in the studio'. It's like when I watch my own kids playing chasing – once they get to 'den' they're untouchable. I suppose that the TV studio and radio studio are my den. I feel good there. It feels like being slightly intoxicated. I often come out to this very room after the show, after I've changed my clothes. I have a bottle of beer and thank people for coming in and I feel mildly embarrassed. I'm almost saying 'sorry for all that out there' to the guest I've just interviewed. Because when I get out there on front of the cameras or the microphone – it's a strange existence – It's like when you've had a few drinks."

What was it like discovering he'd been chosen for the big job? "It was mindboggling," he admits. "It was like being asked to play for your country - wearing the green. I was suddenly in a different league entirely. I knew there was a legacy. I knew there were expectations and I knew there were snipers in the long grass. And I also knew that I'd done five years of this sort of thing with Tubridy Tonight and this was just slightly more grown-up. So I decided to tweak it and enjoy it."

And did he enjoy it? "Oh, yes. From the moment I got out there, I knew we'd be okay. That's not to say I don't get nervous. Every single Friday night I get a little clammy and I pace. I walk along the back of the stage. I jump up and down a couple of times to loosen up a bit. I talk to the audience before the show starts; I do three minutes of chat; I ask them how they're doing – that means they're not freaked out to see me when the show starts. Then the band will do a song for them, I come out properly and we're off."

What have been his favourite Late Late moments been so far? "I thought Alastair Campbell was really engaging, because I love British politics. There are some quiet moments I loved – holding the Benhaffaf twins [the recently separated conjoined twins from Cork] was really something special. I tried describing that to someone recently and I just couldn't do it. We had a great laugh going drinking with Benicio del Toro after his interview. There have been some great nights out like that – there was another memorable one with Kathleen Turner after Tubridy Tonight. Chris Evans was great too. He just has an innate love of broadcasting." He pauses. "Actually Chris gave me a present of an unused Beatles ticket. I went to see Paul McCartney in December and met Gerry and told him I'd brought the ticket in the hope of getting close to McCartney. We couldn't get near. So Gerry took the ticket, gave it to Peter Aiken the promoter, who gave it to McCartney who signed it, and then Gerry gave it back to me. So from Chris Evans to me to Gerry Ryan to Paul McCartney and then back to me. I love that loop."

Given the public nature of his job and the fact that it involves asking personal questions of others, he has been very reticent about discussing his own private life, either his year-long relationship with former Rose of Tralee Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin, or the end of his marriage to Ann Marie Power. This time last year, for example, he responded angrily to what he saw as an invasion of his privacy when he was photographed out for a stroll with Ní Shúilleabháin. "I did feel hounded around that time," he says with a sigh. "But in hindsight I think 'it's just a photograph. Get over yourself'. I'm probably fair game. This is the life I've chosen. But I do respect other people's privacy. People I've been in relationships with deserve the dignity of silence, and that respect is something that I will take to my grave. I think there are limits to what people should know... about everyone."

And is that something he takes into account when he interviews others? "I do. And I'll tell you how I do that. Our researchers talk to the people we interview and say 'we're going to go 'here', 'here' and 'here' with the interview. It would be very unusual for a guest to be taken by surprise. The tone or timing might surprise them, but we never set out to upset people."

Is there anything he regrets asking? There's a long silence. "Maybe asking the Taoiseach if he drank too much," he says, before back-tracking slightly. "But it had been in the public domain at the time. People were talking about it, so I said 'Okay, I'll throw it to him' and it probably suited his purposes to get it out there. That interview was broadcasting catharsis for me, really. I was asking a very important person in the country some very pertinent questions... and the odd impertinent question. Some people said we were too hard on him, but I think he did well and I did well. With some people, like the leader of this country or the leaders of political parties, everything is up for grabs."

Tubridy is genetically a political animal. His mother's family, the Andrews, are a Fianna Fáil political dynasty and while Tubridy himself steers clear of affiliating himself, an obsession with American politics has just culminated in the final draft of a book on JFK's visits to Ireland (he visited three times before the presidential visit of 1963). "The publishers are just waiting for three or four queries to be answered and then it's done. The book was planned when me hosting the Late Late Show was just a twinkle in someone's eye, so it's been very difficult to find time, but I loved working on it. I was in the National Archive yesterday looking for to get a scan of a letter from Kennedy to Dev. Catriona Crowe went and got me a copy and I felt like Indiana Jones with a gem. And you can see that a lot in the National Library – that look on other people's faces when they find something special in an old folder."

This love of history is something he'd like to pursue further when his life slows down, he says. And slowing down is something he's been contemplating a lot in recent times. "Gerry's passing has definitely given me a wake-up call," he says. "I love doing what I do, so I'm not working in misery or in chains, but I'm very busy all the time and there'll come a time I'll have to say stop. After Gerry died, I spent a day on the Corrib fishing. I was catching nothing and not caring. I could see the Twelve Pins. There was birdsong – a curlew, a cuckoo, some rooks. The odd fish was jumping. I stopped briefly for a pot of tea and a sandwich and watched Galway playing Cork on the Alliance hurling final on TG4. It was amazing. As soon as I get some time off I'm going back there. I love bringing my kids down there. I say: 'This is it. This is really what matters. It's not the glamour and the glitz' and the kids, particularly the older one, just sigh. That's where I'll bring them this summer. I'd decentralise to Galway if I could. It's not a makey-uppy thing. It's a real love affair with the place."

So will he retire early and move down there? He smiles. "Absolutely. I don't see myself as a lifer. I won't do this forever. I want to do as much as I can as soon as I can, and maybe even start saving with a view to getting out a little earlier."

Care to name a date? I ask, looking for a scoop, but it's clear that Ryan Tubridy is in no major hurry to leave RTE or the Late Late Show. "Oh, I might still be here in 10 years' time," he says. "While I'm easily bored and I like to keep moving, that's why this job is perfect for me. You only have to talk to someone for 20 minutes before someone else comes along."