It’s the first time I’ve done an interview sitting on a toilet. Albeit with the bowl closed. One has standards to maintain after all.
But there’s only so much standing room in a loo, even the rather posh one in the basement of John and Danielle Barnett’s Blackpool home.
If they hadn’t put so much memorabilia to look at on the walls of the smallest room, we would have been out of there and at the Blackpool Carers’ Afternoon Tea at nearby Stanley Park faster than you can say “this is Radio Wave News with Andy Mitchell.”
It was Radio Wave chairman John’s vision which established the station, put it on the map when other, bigger, commercial stations gave the Fylde tokenistic coverage.
John’s passion for the community instilled a charitable ethos from the outset – the station raising more than £1m for charity in the 21 years since Neil Sexton played the first record – Tina Turner’s Simply the Best. Back then the on-air line-up included Jon Culshaw, Basil Soper who died this month – and a fresh faced Andy Mitchell among others.
John, director of Stardream corporate event management, Tick the Publicity Box and other companies, is at heart a sound and light “imagineer”, Danielle front of house events manager.
But Radio Wave is their baby. Now owned by UTV Media (GB) it was the first of a new wave of smaller commercial stations in the UK.
Yet the charitable achievement is epic: £95,000 for the Macmillan Windmill Appeal, much the same to establish Blackpool Carers Centre, support for the Beaverbrooks 10k Fun Run, Donna’s Dream House, Brian House Children’s Hospice, the Butterfly Group, Pinpoint Prostate Cancer Appeal, NSPCC, Chloe’s Wish to Walk campaign.
It’s also worked with The Gazette on the charity frontline.
John, 63, awarded the MBE for services to broadcasting, says: “It’s the team’s MBE. It’s fantastic Radio Wave has raised more than £1m for local good causes. It was set up by local people to help local people.”
The Barnett’s do more than their share of that in their own right.
We navigate a diary like a charitable air traffic controller’s to meet – vintage car charity run one day, business improvement district meeting the next, carers’ do in the afternoon, meeting in the evening.
So, I’m sat on the bo...bowl, John looking at his watch, photographer Rob Lock eyeing the gleaming E Type Jag nearby – the rumpus room doubling as garage, cinema, charity centre – while Danielle holds forth on the smallest room’s finest moments...
It’s one of those surreal encounters gifted by journalism. Tinged with guilt as Danielle’s leaning on her walking frame evidently in pain – she’s already taken a couple of Tramadol – as a result of multiple sclerosis diagnosed at 40. She’s now 53.
To call it debilitating is a bit like saying it would hurt a little to break your ankle. It’s crippling her. One arm no longer “works right,” she says, and she needs an electric wheelchair and sundry scooters. “It’s difficult but it’s life.”
Danielle embraces life with such good grace it seems almost churlish to mention MS.
In fact, you forget it upon seeing her smile. John cautions Danielle about that smile.
“She meets her consultants and this big smile lights up her face and the room – and I say to her before please, darling, don’t play it down. Don’t ask how they are, tell them how you really feel.”
Danielle shrugs it off. She can barely walk unassisted but is determined to give us the guided tour. More pictures of royals, presentations, certificates, awards, each with a back story.
There’s a pic of Prince Charles looking pleasantly startled. Danielle had goosed him. Inadvertently. Slipped into event manager mode while hearing the media call “Sir, Sir” and moved him in the time honoured fashion accorded her husband ... the application of gentle pressure to the buttocks.
“I forget whose bum it was. Security moved in. The Prince simply said ‘ooh!’”
The Duke of Edinburgh got a glint on meeting the oldest recipient of his Gold award too, Danielle having never had her award signed off years earlier as the expedition leader had tragically died in a mini bus crash.
She was Danielle Goldberg when she bagged Silver at 17.
And Danielle Barnett, 37, when she finally got her Gold.
The Barnett’s had been invited to St James Palace to see a presentation as John was to be invited to become a speaker at a later event. Danielle took her award book along for fun.
“The Duke asked has anyone got my Gold? I said, yes, nearly. He sent his Equerry to ask what I meant. Five months later, I was called to receive my award – with John as one of the VIP speakers.
“ The Duke marched me into the middle of the room and called for a round of applause as the oldest recipient.
“As if I wasn’t dying of embarrassment enough John presented it and kissed me – then asked if he could kiss the very pretty young woman who followed.
“That was 1996. Three years before I got MS.”
Not that the couple see life in terms of Before or After MS. They talk of running three companies - Stardream the best known – and raising four children.
And making time for charity. Why? Danielle responds: “Because we’re lucky, loved, blessed in so many ways, we want to give something back.”
“It’s the right thing to do,” adds John. They start and finish each other sentences as truly close couples often do.
They produce scrapbooks, their private life’s milestones, wedding, honeymoon, John in a rabbit costume (don’t ask...), their three boys, one girl growing up, the barmitzvahs, graduations, going their own way.
Then the parties, awards, presentations, MBE, John’s Deputy Lieutenant appointment, Danielle dazzled by how handsome he looks in uniform cut from the same red cloth as Prince William’s dress uniform.
What starts as a chat about charity leads to hopes for Blackpool – and reveals the love that underpins their commitment to each other, family, friends, radio station, community and countless causes.
“Blackpool’s a fantastic place,” says John. “The pity is the locals don’t always see that. They would if they lived elsewhere.”
They married in 1982. John saw Danielle at a trade exhibition and wooed her relentlessly. Ten years her senior he was tall, dark, handsome, a ladies’ man... and that Tom Selleck moustache still tickles to this day.
Danielle, who had super model looks, recalls: “He was drop-dead gorgeous – still is.”
But it was some time before John swept her off her feet. They were friends before they married. Their move to Blackpool was forced not by a baby on the way but the gift of a snooker table. “It took up most of our living space.” Danielle, heavily pregnant, got the asking price on a run down but beautiful home near the park beaten down.
“It fell into our laps, the time, place, money. Like a fairytale,” she says. And they are living happily ever after – even within the constraints of MS.
John helps Blackpool Carers but knows Danielle is as much carer to him as he is to her.
He also knows better than to rush to her side when she struggles to get about.
But the watchfulness is there and the love within it catches at your heart.
Even when you’re sitting on a toilet bowl...