Over the years, we have featured many amazing, inspiring and talented people in GYone. People who go the extra mile for others. Those who overcome adversity and those that are just cool! Gary Burgess, please take the stand. You tick all of those boxes and then some. Gary has been a dear friend since his arrival in Guernsey and a respected work colleague. He had the awful diagnosis of terminal cancer last November and has been making the most of living each day ever since, something that he does oh so well. GYone asked him to share his life journey in Guernsey with us and what our islands mean to him...
It was 4.20pm on Sunday 6 July 2003, more than 18 years ago, yet I remember it like it was yesterday. My life was packed into the back of my blue Citroen Saxo, which I had just driven the length of Britain from Glasgow to the south coast ferry port, and here I was disembarking the Condor Ferry in St Peter Port Harbour.
It was a sun-kissed afternoon. My first view was of the beauty of Town as seen from North Beach. I tuned my car radio to Island FM, and DJ Sammy’s ‘Heaven’ was playing. It was one of those moments of perfection as I began my new life on a small rock in the English Channel. The rest, as they say, is history. And what a story it is. My reason for moving to Guernsey was to take up the role of programme director and Breakfast Show presenter at Island FM. Less than two months earlier I’d flown in for a long weekend for a job interview and a chance to get to know the island, meet my potential future employer and colleagues, and try to get a sense of whether I’d like to make the move. I remember vividly the moment the boss picked me up to drive me to the airport. “We’d like to offer you the job. Of course, you’ll need to go away and think about it…” “I want the job”, I replied. “Let’s just agree the deal between here and the airport and get on with it.” I probably gave away any competitive negotiating position with that response but, you know what? Who cares? It was abundantly clear to me that Guernsey was to be my new home. The contrast to living in the city of Glasgow could not have been starker. And so, to that Sunday. What you also need to remember about 6 July 2003 is that it was literally the day after the closing ceremony of the Island Games that year in Guernsey. It was like arriving late to a party the entire island population had been invited to. Everybody was on a high. There was a buzz, a sense of euphoria about it all, and I had simply no grasp of what I’d missed. I just knew I was jealous of 60- odd thousand people, and that the sense of community and pride in where people lived was palpable. Within weeks it’s precisely how I felt. Presenting the Island FM Breakfast Show is surely one of the best jobs in the island. Each morning I got to wake people up with great music, the day’s news and events, and more than a few laughs along the way. Alison, Katie and Lyndsey were in the newsroom, while Carolyn was out in her car doing the travel news. And there were listeners-galore getting in touch with mentions, dedications and birthday requests. Seriously… don’t let anybody tell you presenting a radio show is a chore. It’s a daily joy, made even better by the summertime drives into the studio along the east coast, watching the sun rise over Herm. Just heavenly. Along the way, I got to host an abundance of events – the Harbour Carnival being a particular favourite each time, and we took the Breakfast Show to Iceland, Sri Lanka, the Brit Awards in London, and Australia. Yes, seriously, presenting it from Sydney over Christmas and New Year remains a career high. My time in Guernsey lasted until the end of 2006 when I moved to the UK to run a group of radio stations across the north of England. It was a job I loved, yet something wasn’t quite right. Within a year I realised I was homesick for the first time in my life. Homesick for Guernsey. So, I returned. It was the start of 2008, and from Island FM I hopped down the road to darken the door of BBC Radio Guernsey. “Hello. Got any jobs going?” Within days I was covering the Afternoon Show while the usual presenter was on holiday. Within weeks I was appointed as the permanent presenter of the Breakfast Show following a reshuffle of the schedule. As someone who’d only presented on music radio stations until that point, to do a daily 100% speech programme was a thrill and, initially, completely terrifying. I seemed to find my stride fairly quickly and developed a reputation for my interviews with government ministers and others in power. I also got to host the Sunday Phone In – an absolute rollercoaster of a two-hour show where you needed to be across every bit of detail o
n everything making the news as you just never knew what the next call would be about, and you didn’t want your panel of political pundits to be able to pull the wool over your eyes. I absolutely loved it to pieces. In 2010 I had what, at the time, I called my midlife crisis. I decided I would go travelling so quit my job, but then never actually went travelling. Instead, for a year and a bit, I freelanced around, including shifts at both BBC Radio Guernsey AND Island FM – sometimes both on the same day – as well as writing and editing GBG Magazine, a forerunner to GYone. It was such a fun time
Every day was a new experience. And a constant juggling act with competing demands from all quarters. I was in my element. And then a call from ITV Channel Television. “Have you ever thought about being a TV reporter? Well, on that front, the rest is history. I made the hop to telly in May 2011. And the role in Guernsey took me across to (whisper it) Jersey in March 2012 – the island that’s been my home ever since. I’m often asked which island I prefer and I, diplomatically, answer that I love both for very different reasons. As well as being a sensible answer to avoid putting a nose out of joint, it happens to be true. I’m lucky to get to Guernsey to see friends or for work – co-hosting last year’s Guernsey Press Pride of Guernsey Awards was such a special night for me, and then covering the island’s first island-wide General Election for ITV Channel Television was pure adrenaline. Going on air not knowing if there’d be a result. The following night going on air just minutes after finding out there’d be a recount. It was proper seat-of-your-pants stuff. That’s the kind of broadcasting I love. Goodness, that’s a lot of reflecting. And why am I doing that? Well, you may know my health has not been the best in recent years. I was diagnosed with testicular cancer back in 1999, which, at the time, was successfully treated with surgery and chemotherapy. But, highly unusually, there was a recurrence of it as secondary tumours in my lungs in 2014 and 2016. Normally recurrences happen within a couple of years. More than a decade later is almost unheard of. But I do like to swim against the tide! Those two recurrences were fixed with surgery to remove wedges of my lungs. Both major procedures, but both did the trick. And then 2019 happened. Something just wasn’t right and it emerged the tumours had come back with a vengeance, in my lungs, by my oesophagus, trachea, heart and on my lymph nodes. Surgery wasn’t an option but what’s called salvage chemotherapy was. It’s basically last-chance saloon chemotherapy – and a particularly aggressive version that involves spending much of a three-month block as an in-patient at Southampton General. I don’t recommend it! That said, it appeared to have done the trick and either shrunk the tumours into submission or to a suitably small state as to not be of great concern. That was the good news I received in March 2020, but within six months things really weren’t right. A scan later and the news that changed my life on 2 November last year… the tumours were back, and back in style. There was no treatment left that could effectively fix me. And I was given a six-to-twelve-month prognosis. I am writing this article ten months in. I’ve also just taken early retirement. The oncologists say they think there are a couple of months where I will be well enough to do the things I want to do, so my husband Alan and I are using this time to make as many memories as we can… though doing that in a pandemic throws up logistical challenges when it comes to getting away. Oh, my timings are good, aren’t they?! And all of that is why I’m writing this now. Susie, the editor of GYone, asked if I’d like to share some thoughts and memories of my Guernsey days. I nearly ripped her arm off. Of course, I would.
I may not live in Guernsey any longer. Indeed, it’s actually nearly a decade since I did. Yet it all feels like yesterday. I still have so many friends in Guernsey. I still follow news and events and the madness of island politics with such interest. And every visit to Guernsey is simply a joy, only tinged with frustration that I simply never get enough time to see all the people I would otherwise like to see. But, hey, that’s life. Guernsey was my introduction to the Channel Islands. But it was also my introduction to so much more. To things people in the island may take for granted. The sense of community is something so special. The way people support charities and local events is just extraordinary. The simple friendliness, smiles and hellos as people wander by are not of the same order you find in other places. It’s these simple gestures that can make somebody’s day. Try it later ~ go on, say hello and smile at a complete stranger in the street! What else do I think of when I think of Guernsey? Well, I think of the whole Bailiwick of course. Weekends in Sark lost to a good red wine or to cheer the woolly jumpers on at the sheep racing. The Trident to Herm for a magical stroll to Shell Beach or just to sit outside the Mermaid and while away the day.
A short hop of a flight to Alderney for Alderney Week to see the population swell as strangers come from near and far to see the island at its entertaining best. All that stuff forms part of my virtual scrapbook of Guernsey memories. I also have friendships that are lifelong. Susie Campanella, the editor of this here magazine, who I first met when she was sales director on my arrival at Island FM, has become a constant in my life. Whether it’s been days or months since we’ve last seen each other, it always feels like yesterday. The same applies to Carolyn Le Maitre. From being the travel news reporter back in the day to a cherished friend ever since, she’s another who knows me better than most and shows endless kindness. The difficulty at this point is continuing to work through a list of names and then missing anybody off, so I’ll stop at two but – to the rest – you know who you are! Do I have a grand conclusion? Have I developed some wild clarity about the meaning of life as my own time on this mortal coil likely nears its end? Well, I’m sorry to say… no, not really. The recurring themes preying on my mind right now are about the abundance of human kindness that is all around us when we least expect it and when we most need it. But, perhaps most of all, right now I am being taught to value ‘today’. There really is only now, so do consider not waiting for your retirement before ticking off some of those things on your list. Why wait? If you can find a way to do them in the not-too-distant future, you’ll have the joy they bring and then those memories will last a lifetime. Besides, you can do them again if and when retirement comes. That’s a win. From me, for now, I simply offer a thank you. Thank you, Guernsey, for making me feel so very welcome from day one. I may have arrived the day after that big Island Games party, but you didn’t treat me as the latecomer. You welcomed me into your home and your life through the daily radio show. You put the biggest smile on my face as we got involved in community events together. And you taught me about the goodness that’s innate in most of us most of the time. That’ll do me. Will I get another trip to Guernsey? Heck, I hope so. Will I get to see all the people I want to see? Not a chance… that’s just how it goes. But whether I get to see you in person or not, thanks for being part of my Guernsey story. It means the world.