Ian Douglas - how two weeks became 45 years...

20 May 2022

This year, not only do we celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee but also our Company Manager, Ian Douglas’s Sapphire Anniversary with Welsh National Opera. Ian began his career with us in a very inauspicious way, initially on board for just two weeks as a casual stagehand, hired to support our 1977 Summer Season in Llandudno the weekend of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. 45 years later, after performances in 61 venues – from theatres to school halls and even gardens – and 131 Seasons, including tours to 12 different countries; at the end of our Spring 2022 Season, Ian will hang up his bow tie and retire from WNO. As he himself acknowledges 

…my life changed that fortnight. I fell in love with theatre.’

Having progressed to Company Management via a period as Shop Steward, there are many staff members – past and present - who remember Ian in various roles, but always with the time, humour, and willingness to help, no matter who you were. As Ian puts it: ‘in this job you need broad shoulders, a big smile and lots of patience!

Ian’s presence – always replete with a seemingly never-ending supply of bow ties – seems for many to be one and the same as WNO the Company. For many of our audience he is the public face of WNO, out in the foyers to welcome people, helping with any issues or problems that might arise, or offering directions, information, or advice. Having made friends across our touring schedule with venue staff as well as with guest artists who return to WNO again and again, such longevity as Ian’s time at WNO, provides the perfect foundation for such comradery to begin and thrive and it doesn’t end at stage door either.

Ian’s day-to-day responsibilities have been varied to say the least and so much more than his simple description: ‘to get a show on no matter what the challenges – a mixture of forward planning and crisis management.’ He has a myriad of stories he is more than happy to share, for example, his recollection of the last act of a Wagner opera being played under the stars when the dome above the auditorium in The Bristol Hippodrome was opened by a manual winch on the roof as it was so hot inside. 

Or a visit to Paris when he had to persuade the Company to leave the hotel via the kitchens because the plate glass windows of the foyer were being smashed by a passing riot. Or how, on another occasion, again in Paris, Ian learnt that you could jump start a fully laden coach with only four to five people – knowledge he thankfully never had to call on again.

In 2009, when asked how he prepared for work, he responded: ‘Strong coffee in the morning. Putting on DJ, shin-pads and big smile in the evening.’ So here at WNO we wholeheartedly wish Ian a fabulous retirement – he fully deserves to relax and enjoy a slower pace of life having dealt with an ongoing saga of challenges ever since.

The first time I was left on charge of a show, the Tosca came off stage at the end of Act 1, to tell me that she wasn’t going to continue because there had been too much smoke on stage. I think I promised to get those responsible sacked in order for her to agree to continue. (I didn’t.)

Ian Douglas, WNO stalwart between June 1977 and May 2022: thank you!