Monday, December 12, 2011

A life of gratitude – a conversation with Ian (Skip) Skippen

Skippen has been with Austereo for 23 years. In September Triple M decided to cancel The Cage, a breakfast show Skippen had anchored since January 2006.

We meet, sitting in the quiet garden behind the Black Cat Bookshop.

Ian Skippen ponders a leaf that has fallen on him. “Why did that just happen?” he says in a moment of reflection, and as he faces day 45 of unemployment, he accepts whatever future his life holds for him.

“I believe everything happens for a reason. I’m so comfortable with the decision,” he says, gazing to the sky. His face shines with not only optimism, but gratitude, a daily thanks for everything around him.
“In the end, it was a job, and I’ve been in a position where I could do a lot of stuff, and help a lot of people, but it was still just a job. If that’s the worst that will happen to me; hello, no one’s died here. There are people dealing with some very heavy duty stuff in life, and all around me. Put into perspective, this is nothing.”

A radio veteran of 42 years, he sees nothing but happiness and a beckoning future for himself.

As a teenager, he sent in tapes to radio stations, reading aloud from magazines; a motivated youngster who knew what he wanted. Not for him following his father’s footsteps into the funeral industry, and not for him a life of football, although it was a great love. He could have been the original Glee character, torn between singing soprano and playing hard on the footy field. The pull of music and speaking with people were greater, and so a radio career was born. “I’ve always been a performer,” he says, “I really wanted to be a disc jockey.”

You’d find him each year at the Ekka, nose pressed against the glass booth, watching every move the DJ’s made in the broadcast caravan.
A shower singer and frustrated drummer and guitarist, radio has given Ian his career and fed his passion. As a former scout involved in the annual Gang Show, Ian attributes his appreciation of cooking, his love of people, and doing things for people; to scouting, and the people who influenced him at the time. A life of service, freely given.

“It’s just something you do, the idea of being there for others.”
Although now living on acreage, he is city bred, and occasionally daydreams of working in the country again. He loves the creative process and copywriting part of radio, but for now is enjoying his free time, staying up later each night; waking and rising at a more reasonable hour than 2.30am. Each morning he finishes his shower with a brace of cold water. Health is important. It’s the one thing he fears, illness and a failing body. His dad is 91 and in reasonable condition for a man who has just had a recent pacemaker inserted.

In his new freedom, he has loosely embraced Social Media, Facebook in particular, although he’s still not convinced it’s necessary. “Why am I doing this” he questions. He can’t see the point of Twitter: perhaps one day? He still hasn’t worked out what he wants to do when he grows up, but a tell-all book is definitely out. “There’s nothing to tell.” he says with a shrug and a smile.

As a parent he questions his skills as a father; writes his sons notes. “Oh dad, you’re such a dag,” they laugh. He beams with pride recalling when his son won a sports award. “Never bring shame on the family” is one of the mottos they live with. “Treat everyone the way you want to be treated. Always be passionate. I don’t care what you do, you have to be passionate, whether you are driving a dozer, or making a coffee. Be passionate.”

The days are filled pottering around the house, working his way through a long list. Trimming hedges, getting stuck into the garden. Painting, staining, carpentry. “Being a part of the morning. Having more time and not being always being tired, feels pretty damn good. Not being a slave to the alarm clock is a great thing.”

“I’ve been sanguine about the whole thing. I’ve no animosity towards anyone, it’s not my thing anyway; I’ve had a great run, doing what I’ve done. It’s never happened to me before. This is the first time in 42 years I haven’t had a contract to go to, and it feels okay, although I miss interacting with people the most, chatting to them on the phone and on the radio.”

“Everything happens for a reason. I was speaking with my wife Helen, and our routines are changing with our growing sons. They are off to uni, and playing sport each weekend, and suddenly here we are, Darby and Joan. All of this has happened at a time of our lives, where strange things are happening anyway. I’m very peaceful.”

Ian believes there’s something for all of us, something pushing us forward, be it God or whatever you see. He’s big on karma. “What you put out, you get back”, but not in a spiteful revengeful way. In a rewarding way. It’s his dad’s family motto: Nice to be nice.

There’s always room in Ian’s life for a God. “I speak to Him every morning - to Someone - and I have done for years and years and years.” It’s a heritage still lived by his uncle, a Methodist Minister, and his own strict Anglican/Methodist upbringing. Singing hymns can still get Ian misty eyed, especially How Great Thou Art, although his favourite song of all time would be the New Zealand National Anthem. “I just love that song! I love the words, and the melody, it’s so emotive. For a disc jockey that has spun all the latest and greatest hits for the past few decades, this comes as a surprise, but it’s the music and the words that get to him.

“As you grow in life, you come to realise there is something. People come into my life and I wonder why. Where did you come from? How did that happen? I could instance many, many things in my life, and I am grateful. Thank you.”

Living a thankful life of gratitude, Ian ponders his future. He’s not in a hurry to do anything, and yet he’s not ready to retire either. “My passion is life; I just love what is here, and what’s next. I love to get out of bed in the morning, and sniff, and look around.

“Something’s coming,” he says as he sips his coffee. “There is something there, which I now have this downtime to pursue. My grandmother always said: Don’t you worry about what others are doing. Everyone finds their nitch in life, and you’ll find yours.”

For now Ian wonders at the physics of flight, maths problems in newspapers, and the true value of spelling.


Karen Tyrrell said...

Thanks Patty for this heart-felt interview, that brought tears to my eyes. His loss of his present work and his resilient attitude is nothing but inspiring.
Puts everything into perspective doesn't it?

Beecham Motors said...

It certainly opened my eyes Karen, an open heart, indeed.

Bruce Wadd said...

Patty, somehow I just found and read this awesome interview. How wonderfully handled, and what a personal insight into a well known Brisbane radio celeb.

Thanks for recording, writing and sharing.... B