TV personality Dan Walker talks to Tony Yorke about the wonderful stories and many inspiring people who are at the heart of his latest best-selling book.
Dan Walker enjoys a fairytale-like existence as a cherished national TV personality. And he deserves every plaudit he gets.
Whether he is fronting the BBC’s hugely popular Breakfast show, sitting on the Football Focus couch with a host of footballers from yester-year, or bringing gridiron to our screens, the 43-year-old oozes professionalism and warmth in whatever he does.
Grandmothers love him. Mothers and daughters fancy him. And scores of blokes wish they could be him, after warming to the positive style he has been bringing to our TV and radio sets for the last 21 years.
‘I just try my best to be me,’ he says after completing yet another day’s graft at the Beeb’s state-of-the-art studios in Salford, where its national sports operations are hosted. ‘There are no gimmicks or daft catchphrases, I just try and do my job as well as I can.’
Brightening up the lives of others is one of Walker’s key goals in life.
His 183,000 followers on Facebook are treated to a daily diet of short video clips of him sporting colourful tie and sock combinations that have been singled out by his children, the latest culinary delights on offer in the Walker house – and occasional bigger picture musings, such as those recently posted about Meghan and Harry. But whatever the offering, there is always a positive message behind the words.
And it’s this positivity he has brought into his latest book – Remarkable People.
‘I meet so many people who ooze creativity and have stories that offer real encouragement,’ he says, as he drives home to Sheffield across the Pennines on a bitterly cold Saturday afternoon, after enduring a busy schedule of filming.
His desire to be reunited with his wife, Sarah, their three children and Winnie the dog is evident in his voice, yet he is still more than happy to spare me half an hour of his time.
Strength and comfort
He continues: ‘We live in a age where there is a lot of negativity, so I hope the book will act as an antidote to many of the feelings that seem to be dragging people down.
‘Reaction to it has been incredibly positive. Many people tell me they have got a lot out of it, and that is really pleasing to hear. That was the intention from the outset: for readers to draw strength and comfort from the endeavours of others.’
At just a shade over 350 pages, the book explores themes such as deprivation, inequality, loneliness and mental health, and highlights and celebrates significant pockets of heartening altruism, benevolence and self-sacrifice.
In one chapter, we are introduced to Tony Foulds, who is an elderly gentleman.
As a youngster, Tony witnessed a B-17 Flying Fortress, known as Mi Amigo, crash at Endcliffe Park in Sheffield during the latter stages of the Second World War. The plane had been severely damaged by shelling during a raid on an enemy airbase and was flying low searching for a place to make an emergency landing. Because children, including Tony, were playing in the park, the pilot crashed the plane into woods and there were no survivors. It was an act of courage and selflessness that saw him awarded a posthumous Distinguished Flying Cross.
We learn that throughout his entire life, Tony has been tormented by overwhelming guilt around the sacrifice those men made to safe those children that day, and as a result, Tony made a commitment to tend to the memorial of these 10 men and make it the most cared for memorial in the UK.
Another chapter examines the story of John Sutherland, who spent 25 years serving as a police officer until he had to retire on medical grounds (See the article in the January-February 2020 issue of Sorted magazine).
John has worked tirelessly to make a difference in our society, and Dan gives the former copper all the credit he deserves, reminding readers that we severely under-value many of our police officers.
Since retiring in 2018, John has used his incredible gift of storytelling to speak and write about the policing issues and he is a voice that we could all benefit from listening to.
The last story to share is about a woman called Ilse Steyaert.
Ilse lost her three-year-old daughter, Georgia, a few years back when the toddler suffered from a brain aneurysm while playing on a beach in Egypt. While going through the most horrendously difficult situation, Ilse made the brave decision to donate Georgia’s organs. This decision resulted in them saving the lives of four children and the eyesight of two others.
Ever since Georgia’s death, Ilse has been committed to raising awareness about organ donation, and this is a section everyone who values life must read – albeit you need to have a king-size box of tissues close by, as it really is an emotional rollercoaster.
These are less than a handful of the stories Dan shares about the remarkable people whose heartache, grief and trauma have touched him. Why? Because they have gone on to use their suffering as a catalyst for something truly remarkable.
‘It can sound a bit clichéd to call a book Remarkable People,’ he reflects. ‘But I really think it is an appropriate title for something that sets out on every page to lift up the wonderful works of others, and cast a spotlight on what is possible if someone sets their heart and mind to achieving it.
‘I have huge respect for everyone featured in the book, and I am just grateful to have been able to tell some of their stories, albeit I can’t really do them justice. Words rarely can. But I hope they give a flavour of what so many people have been through and how they have turned these experiences into truly positive outcomes.’
It is the third time Dan has committed his thoughts to paper, and judging by the reaction to his latest tome, there will be an appetite for him to write more in the months and years ahead.
‘I enjoy it,’ he admits. ‘It is a nice outlet, something that gets me thinking in a different way. When I am in broadcast mode, I rarely get the chance to explore such subjects in the kind of depth I want.’
Dan’s motivation revolves around his Christian life.
He is unashamed by his faith and has structured his working life around Church and a value set that supports living his life in a wholesome way. By way of example, you will never find him working on a Sunday.
‘That is family time and for doing other, important things,’ he admits. ‘My faith is a very personal thing. I don’t shout about it. I don’t pretend I don’t have a strong belief system, because I do. It is just part of who I am, and it influences just about everything I do.
‘And that is how it should be. I can’t imagine living any other way.’