I first encountered today’s guest through his then 10-year-old daughter Annie. She was telling an audience of 800 about her grandma who developed Alzheimer’s at 58. Nana, she said, is still nana despite her condition – she still dances to the radio, ice-skates backwards and lets her watch TV programmes no matter how dreadful they are. “Nana forgets,” she said, “so I remember”.
Annie’s nana died two years ago. Annie Donaghy who must be in her late teens now, is a chip off the old block. And what a block. Her dad is a huge character. In fact, he’s known as Big Ian. At six foot two inches, Ian Donaghy has big ideas, all the time, huge energy and a massive Geordie heart. He also has a way with words and people, some listeners may know him by his Twitter handle @trainingcarers, because that’s one of the many things he does – though not quite like anyone else. It’s fair to say his training style is flamboyant rather than finickity, exuberant rather than measured.
He’s a musician too, and an entertainer, who’s “filled theatres for 30 years” and sung with the biggest names around, including James Blunt, Lulu and Justin Timberlake.
During lockdown last year Ian wrote his third book, A Pocketful of Kindness, when he realised that venues such as the Excel in London that he usually fills as a conference speaker (yes, that’s another one of his hats) were being converted into Nightingale hospitals. The idea is that you gift a copy of A Pocketful of Kindness to someone who, though they may not realise it, has made an impact on your life through their kindness. Inside you write why they are receiving it.
Another of his books, The Missing Peace – which Ian describes as a patchwork quilt of conversations, letters, monologues and stories to explain the survival techniques people have created to survive grief – has been adapted into a play and, all being well, will debut at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre in January.