Spotlight on Ian Donaghy

by Marianne Long
Published: Updated:

…the frontman of York-based band HUGE, keynote speaker, host and author of three books: A Pocketful of Kindness, Dear Dementia and The Missing Peace.

Q What is your background?

I was born and bred in County Durham in Tow Law. I was like Billy Elliott who couldn’t dance!

Q How did ‘Huge’ come about?

It started at York St. John’s University when two brothers approached me: “Eyup mate your band are terrible but you’re mint…shall we start a band?” So we did 32 years ago!

Q We see ‘Huge’ headlining all over York and beyond. What makes the Band so popular?

We have some phenomenal musicians who happen to be a top group of lads who get on and have a laugh. We work hard and have thrown our adult lives into it. We are always striving to improve and make audiences part of the show not just spectators!

Q What’s the biggest venue that you have played?

Headingley Stadium when Leeds Rhinos won the Challenge Cup. We were terrified!

Q You work tirelessly to raise dementia awareness and to combat loneliness. What was your motivation to become a Dementia Campaigner?

My Nana had it, my mother-in-law Liz, and my Dad. I want to fight the corner for people who may not have a voice, through no fault of their own

Q What dementia projects are you currently working on?

I am working on a series of films and events called DEMENTIA IS A TEAM GAME. We also have A NIGHT TO REMEMBER on September 8th at York Barbican.

Rev. Richard Coles with Ian’s books

Q What inspired you to start writing?

I’ve always told stories. I spoke at the UK Dementia congress and a publisher came up to me and said: ‘If you can turn that talk into a book, I’ll publish it tomorrow”. That became Dear Dementia, now sold in 24 countries and in every library. I then wrote a book to help people who have lost loved ones called The Missing Peace. During lockdown I wrote A Pocketful of Kindness.

Q What is the most difficult part of the writing process, and do you have plans for another book?

You need to be honest with yourself. It can’t be okay. Good enough isn’t good enough, so you need an honest editor. I’m writing a new book to combat loneliness about the most life-changing word of all…HELLO.

Q What was the idea behind your book and play The Missing Peace?

It was to share experience of how people have somehow survived losing the people they couldn’t live without. It shows how to be a better friend.

Q A Pocketful of Kindness?

It’s a series of short stories each lasting a cup of tea, about the impact small acts of kindness can have on us all. It has been the surprise lockdown hit with companies buying batches for their workforce to show how appreciated they are.

Q During the pandemic, the entertainment industry was completely decimated. How did you cope?

At one point I considered stopping singing forever. I quite enjoyed having weekends with the family eating takeaways and watching Strictly! But then I realised how much I missed playing with the band. It really is an addiction.

We used the time wisely. The band pre-lockdown to now is almost unrecognisable. Arrangements have become more ambitious, and everything is on another level to what you’d hear—no corners are cut. It’s a 9-piece band with a 4-piece brass section and 4 of us sing harmonies—very little is off limits.

Q You are a very busy man. What does the future hold for Big Ian?

In my many guises…lots of conference speaking and hosting in the UK and Europe, writing my fourth book HELLO. Then with HUGE, we have festivals like Staxtonbury on 2nd July, Meadowfest on 30th July and we’re wanting to tour all Yorkshire villages with our big top. If you’d like us to come to you, please visit

For information about Ian’s speaking work, head to

Q & A

Q Owl or Lark? Bit of both. I’m often up at ridiculous hours be that early or late.

Q What did you want to be when you grow up? It hasn’t happened in the first 50 years so it’s looking unlikely…I’ve always only wanted one thing…to be HAPPY and keep people entertained.

Q Who would you have at a dinner party, and why? Keep your Gandhis, Muhammad Ali and Marilyn Monroes…I’d love to have my Mam back and my Dad before dementia stole so much of him in a room with my kids Annie and Billy now.

Q Meal in or Meal out? I love both as long as the food and company are right.

Q Favourite song to sing, and why? A ballad would be ‘I can’t make you love me’ but for a more aggressive Northern Soul tune Al Wilson’s ‘The Snake’.

Q Who would be your dream musical collaboration? George Michael.

Q What would be a good theme song for your life? I’m still standing (i’ve seen a lot come and go in 32 years).

Q What would be your superpower? Time travel…it is a no brainer. Time travel would end sadness, grief, loss and hurt. We’d never miss anyone because we could go and visit them anytime.

Q What is your proudest moment? Other than becoming a Dad, I won York Press Person of the Year for community stuff in York leading Xmas Presence and A Night to Remember. As a lad who came here from a small village in the north-east that was a very big deal to me.

Marianne Long
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