My storied life: tales from my scrambled up world of work.
Well tomorrow I’ll be fifty (gulp!). The twenty year old Ian might be surprised where I am thirty years later. My career path has certainly taken some unanticipated twists and turns. But I know what I’ve done would please my younger self; I’ve managed to carve out a work life around the real me. And that feels good.
What success looks like is different for everyone but one thing’s for sure — I’ve harvested a bunch of great stories on my journey. Someone said that “Life is the art of drawing without an eraser.” I like that, I know I’ve had my fair share of adventures. So, just for a bit of fun, when I hit the rewind button — pretty much in chronological order — these are the stories that stand out:
- Selling records at folk festivals. Sleeping in the back of a van at night, earning one pound an hour during the day, taking breaks to see bands. I loved every minute of it.
- Being a teenage DJ. Co-presenting a Saturday evening radio show on BBC Essex, getting told off for political impartiality on my second ever interview, at the age of the 18 (I was interviewing Billy Bragg).
- Dancing in a film. During one holiday from university, getting up at the crack of dawn to travel to a nightclub in Stratford to dance as an extra in Tank Malling, a film starring Ray Winstone and Amanda Donohoe.
- Accidentally sabotaging an outside broadcast. I celebrated my nineteenth birthday sitting in a car park in Harlow, operating the radio car for BBC coverage of the 1987 general election. The broadcast was cut short when I pressed the wrong button. Oops!
- A Wonder-ful Meeting. It was my job to carry the tripod on a TV interview with Stevie Wonder. When we walked into the hotel suite at The Conrad in Chelsea Harbour, Stevie wanted to know who was there. He shook hands and said hello to all of us.
- Talking heads on the phone. Like most of us, I started out photocopying, making tea, answering the phone. But working in a TV company meant there were some perks to the mundanity: picking up the phone to David Byrne and Dudley Moore were two such occasions.
- Standing behind Prince Charles’ chair for an hour and a half. We were filming a meeting of the trustees of the National Gallery, which included Prince Charles. It was a small boardroom and only the camera operator would be allowed inside; even the Prince’s security had to remain outside. But at the last minute there was a concern a lighting stand might fall on HRH. It was my job to stand in front of it, right behind his chair. It could fall on my head instead.
- Pretending to be a busker on Kilburn High Road. The first TV series I worked on was Channel 4’s Friday at The Dome, a live show from a venue in Kilburn. I appear in the title sequence alongside a Paul Oakenfold soundtrack. I got a few funny looks, miming a guitar-playing busker on the corner of Kilburn High Road.
- Dressing up as The Beatles for a TV show sketch with comedian Craig Ferguson. That happened back in 1991. In 2016 I tweeted Craig about it, he couldn’t remember, but luckily I still have the video footage (and this is what we looked like).
- Chaperoning an oil rig worker called Status Quo. In 1991 I was in Glasgow to meet a Scottish oil rig worker who’d changed his name by deed poll to become Status Quo. It was for a Channel 4 documentary about Status Quo (and here he is).
- Earning my IMDb listing. After my debut as a film extra, in 1991 I spent a few weeks working on a production of The House of Bernarda Alba at Twickenham Film Studios starring Joan Plowright and Glenda Jackson. It was a gig that earned me a listing on the movie website IMDb.
- Working in an office with a baby and free beer. In the early 90s I worked in a small office in Camden, running a series of music events sponsored by Sol beer. It was a great team, just a handful of us. There was always a fridge full of free beer. Our colleagues had just had a baby, she came back to work when her son was just a few days old. If he started crying when someone was on the ‘phone, whoever was free would take him out for a walk in his pushchair (we didn’t feed him the beer). That baby is now one half of the singer songwriting duo Hudson Taylor.
- Standing on a chair giving a presentation to Radio 1 DJs. I was twenty three. Standing in a basement boardroom in BBC Broadcasting House giving a talk to Radio 1 DJs and introducing an acoustic set from the Barenaked Ladies. My boss was meant to be doing it, but his flight got delayed that morning. Luckily not enough time for me to get really nervous.
- Selling hats, scarves and jewellery. A few months after the Radio 1 experience, I was brought down to earth when I found myself working a Christmas shift in Accessorize, Kingston. I was in between media jobs and my friend was the shop manager.
- Making a cup of tea for Sister Sledge. In the mid 1990s I was MD of a radio studio. We had every pop star and celebrity du jour through those doors. I put the kettle on for a few of them. The tape was running when I took the drinks in for Sister Sledge. “Isn’t he cute?” one of the sisters said once I left the studio (I thought I’ll remember that anecdote for a blog post in twenty five years’ time).
- Taking Mr Blobby on the train in a giant body bag. I spent the summer of 1993 with the two stars of Saturday night prime time TV: Noel Edmonds and his sidekick Mr Blobby. Once I was returning Blobby from an event in the north of England to the BBC props department. I put him in the goods carriage on the train. “What you got in there, a dead body?” joked the train conductor. Little did he know the contents would become the artist behind the Christmas 1993 Number One.
- Restarting an interview with Patricia Arquette. I was in a Knightsbridge hotel suite for a press junket interviewing Tony Scott, Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette. Half way through my interview with Ms Arquette I realised I hadn’t pressed record on my DAT machine. Er sorry , can we start again?
- Being an accidental air traffic controller. At Noel’s Garden Party in Doncaster I found myself standing in for my boss (again!), simultaneously stage-managing celebrities on the ground and aircraft in the sky for an ambitious live show. With John Leslie’s Crinkley Bottom Olympics over-running, I had no option but to tell the Crunchie Flying Circus air display team that they’d have to fly around again (or was it all just some bizarre dream?).
- Getting a thank you in an album sleeve notes. Growing up I always got immersed in the sleeve notes, reading right down to the thank you messages in the small print. I got my own ‘thank you’ on the 40th anniversary recording of the musical Salad Days, a gig that saw me spend a day in Abbey Road Studios.
- Bundling an Aer Lingus pilot into the boot of a car. I remember very little from my brief time at business school other than the night we all went to the pub in someone’s car. There weren’t enough seats for everyone. One of my fellow students — an airline pilot — volunteered to go in the boot. I helped him in.
- Meeting Tony Blair the Sunday before he became Prime Minister. My studio was hosting a phone-in with Tony Blair for a Scottish radio station. It was the last Sunday of the 1997 general election, the sun was shining and the country sensed a change in the air. I welcomed him to the building that morning. I’ve still got his notes that he left behind in the studio.
- Watching Kylie soundcheck in Stockholm. One of my favourite projects in the late 90s was running the backstage radio room at the MTV Europe Music Awards, a gig that took me around Europe. The truth is I didn’t have much work to do apart from check my team were happy, sneak into soundchecks and look forward to the legendary after show party.
- A meeting in the House of Lords’ bar. One of my enterprising ideas in the early 2000s was teaming up with a web designer to provide parliamentarians with websites. One such project was for the late Lord Fraser of Carmyllie QC, he invited me to the bar to discuss the project.
- Getting a book deal from a YouTube video. YouTube was barely two years old when my friend uploaded a video of me, The Scrambled Up World Of Work talking about the future of work. In early 2007 I sent the link to a publisher, and secured a book deal. They told me they’d never been pitched a book idea by video before. Thanks Emma and Iain for taking a chance on me.
- At Waterstones in Piccadilly, seeing my first book out in the wild. I wrote four books on work and business. Seeing a pile of my first book ‘Leap! Ditch your job, start your own business and set yourself free’ displayed on a table in Waterstones’ flagship store was quite a moment.
- Turning some crazy ideas into a kids book. During a booze-fueled lunch, my friend Fiona and I decided to create a kids book. She was an experienced children’s writer, I had some characters I’d made up for my son. The result? ‘The Extremely Very Scrambled Up World of Little Doogs.’
- Writing stories — under a pseudonym — for a women’s magazine. Call it (another) crazy side project. I’d written my first business book, I’d co-devised a kids book. Next? I set up a hotmail account and started writing a series of stories for the women’s magazine Scarlet.
- Accidentally starting a creative agency. In 2005 a guy I knew at Benetton asked me to introduce him to an ad agency who could run an ad campaign for him. It was a Monday, he wanted to run the ad in the Evening Standard that Thursday. No agency could move that fast. I spotted an opportunity: I booked some ad space, hired a designer and set up my own agency OHM London. We worked for the brand for the next 12 months.
- A party on a billionaire’s yacht. I wasn’t planning on going to the Cannes Film Festival until I got an invitation that sounded too good to miss. Paul Allen’s party on board his 414 foot mega yacht Octopus. There were some stars on board that night, including some guy called George Lucas. That was worth the trip.
- From glitzy Cannes to a sweaty basement. An old friend asked me to join him in a music industry start-up. We didn’t know much about managing bands but we gave it a shot. Sometimes it got pretty hands-on, like the time at The Hope & Anchor pub when I had to hold the crowd back from jumping the stage. Fun times.
- Writing for The Financial Times. I’m not a journalist, but thanks to Ravi Mattu I got a great gig writing features about work and business for the FT. It led me down some interesting paths. I loved that opportunity to tell stories in a global newspaper. Thank you Ravi.
- A tweet that got me to Austin, Texas. In 2008 I was sitting at my kitchen table wondering aloud on Twitter whether to go to South By South West the next year. Serendipity struck! Melissa Pierce in Chicago saw my tweet and invited me to host a session with her in Austin the next year. Thanks Melissa.
- A volcanic eruption that led to a meeting with a Eurythmic. A random series of events: an Icelandic volcano closed European airspace, stranding the musician and entrepreneur Dave Stewart in London; I happened to see him walking down Wardour Street and sent him a tweet; a few tweets, emails and weeks later I met him at The Soho Hotel for a chat. This is what happened.
- Live-blogging President Hollande and US Secretary of State John Kerry. In 2015 I worked in the digital media command centre at the World Economic Forum annual meeting in the Swiss Alps. Backstage at Davos wasn’t quite the same as my experience backstage at the MTV Awards. We all had to wear suits, and I didn’t see Kylie.
- Interviewing Billy Bragg twice. Twenty seven years after I first interviewed him at the National Ballroom in Kilburn, I went to Brighton to interview The Bard of Barking for a feature I was writing for the Financial Times. He didn’t remember me.
- Getting emotional on stage . In 2015 I gave a talk at the Do Lectures in Wales, “Finding your story, your purpose & your compass”. I got quite emotional (you can watch it here). It was actually a game-changer for me, I’m forever grateful to David Hieatt for asking me to speak. Cheers David.
- Inspiring students to follow their dreams. When I’d told my school headmaster I wanted to work in broadcasting he told me to forget it. It would be too competitive. Ten years later I was asked back to give advice to students at a careers fair. My table had the longest queues. In the last few years I’ve really enjoyed guest lecturing at places such as the University of East London and Ravensbourne College.
I won’t lie, it’s not been easy. But looking back now, I’m proud that I’ve always done things my way. I’ve carved out my own unique work life and changed a few other lives along the way. And that’s enough for me!
So what comes next in the Ian Sanders story? Who knows? I never had much of a plan and I’m going to stay open minded about what the next chapter will bring.
I’ll leave you with the words of the late John W Gardner:
“Life isn’t a mountain that has a summit, Nor is it — as some suppose — a riddle that has an answer. Nor a game that has a final score. Life is an endless unfolding, and if we wish it to be, an endless process of self-discovery, an endless and unpredictable dialogue between our own potentialities and the life situations in which we find ourselves.”