A self-proclaimed “scrawny kid with a really big head”, Colin Nolan has gone from cooking school dropout to dining with royalty.
However, despite being “a massive royalist”, the 39-year-old still insists that sharing a scone with Princess Anne still doesn’t come close to his what he believes to be his biggest honour – saving a stranger’s life.
He told reporter Ian Johnson about his life and times.
THE grandeur of Buckingham Palace is a million miles away from Colin Nolan’s beginnings.
Born in Harrogate, he moved to Scarborough aged three due to his father Brian’s job as a policeman and attended Newby and Cayton Primary School, enjoying what he says was an “idealistic childhood”.
“It was really, really healthy. I got to spend a lot of time outdoors and I loved my childhood, I was raised properly.”
He enjoyed school as well, although he admits a lifetime of academia was probably never on the cards.
“I liked school, but I was never the cleverest, although I wasn’t stupid by any sense of the imagination. I also never inherited my father’s sporty gene. Instead I played in the school band on the tuba, which to be fair, you didn’t have to have any real skill to play.”
Much of his time as a young man was also taken up caring for his mother, who suffered from multiple sclerosis. However, he said that rather than it being a burden growing up, it helped to develop his relationship with his mother and “best friend”.
“My mam was the most important person in the world to me. I loved her to pieces. People ask if it hard having to care for your mother at such an early age, but I didn’t know anything else, so it was never really a big issue.”
After leaving school, he attended college to study cooking, but with little success.
“I shared a work station with a guy who eventually went on to be a top chef. He would make these incredible dishes. When it came to getting them tasted and marked, I would ask to borrow his that had only just got glowing praise. The teacher would then give me a terrible mark for the same food.
“I used to think that they had it in for me, but now I realize that they knew that I couldn’t cook. That, and the fact that they could clearly see that I was using someone else’s food!”
After his brief adventure into the culinary world, he tried his hand at a variety of different jobs.
He was the first man in Scarborough to work at the Body Shop, back at a time in which the store “was really exciting and very radical in what it did.” He then tried his hand at accountancy, a move that he states was more a panic move to not having any concrete career path in mind.
“I knew I was never going to cut it as an accountant, purely because I just didn’t care about it.
You would get all these rich people coming in complaining about having to pay their tax. I would have loved to have been able to pay that much tax!”
After giving up on numbers, he started working for the housing charity Foundation, eventually becoming a project manager, a position he had until May this year.
In the role, he helped to reduce the number of repeat offences in incidents of domestic abuse. He worked with the offenders in order to work out ways that they can be stopped from reoffending, in order to offer protection to the victim.
When he started off with the charity, the number stood at 50 per cent. However, he and his team managed to help reduce the figure to 11 per cent. It was this achievement that lead to his dinner date at the palace.
“I was invited down to the palace to be honoured by Princess Anne. I’m a massive royalist, and I love her, as she’s probably the hardest working of the lot of them.
“When I met her, I was shaking like a leaf, I just couldn’t believe it. We ended up getting taken up to a room where even the people who receive knighthoods don’t get to go. We ate lunch with Princess Anne and she chatted to all of us.
“If I’m being honest, it was probably the most surreal moment of my life.
However, arguably the most remarkable event of his life was yet to come. A life-long blood donor, Mr Nolan registered to donate blood stem cells at a recruitment drive for the Anthony Nolan Trust at Scarborough Fire Station about three years ago.
The Trust, which shares his surname by coincidence only, manages and recruits donors for blood stem cell and bone marrow transplants.
A few years later, much to his shock and delight, he found out that he was a perfect match for a patient who was suffering from an unspecified, but deadly, illness.
The donation was put back after the patient fell ill. However, after a recovery he was asked to travel down to London last Christmas to make the donation, and on Christmas Day he started the treatment.
What makes the story even more remarkable is that Mr Nolan has never met the recipient of his Christmas gift of life. He is able to meet up after two years, but until then all he gets is sporadic updates on the health of the recipient, who he knows is a woman of approximately the same age as himself.
“When I made the donation, the doctors said that I needed to give five million cells. I ended up giving twenty-seven million, which the staff told me was the largest amount that they could ever remember anybody giving so many in one go.”
“I didn’t have to think twice about doing it. The only downside was that I couldn’t drink over Christmas, but I didn’t care at all. It was my way of helping to give life to somebody. I would do it again in a heartbeat.”
Sadly for Colin, it would also be the last Christmas with his father Brian, who died in July.
Despite the loss of his dad, who Colin believes “was pretty much the best bloke ever”, he doesn’t regret not getting to spend that last Christmas with him.
“My dad was proud of what I had done. As much as I miss him loads, the one good thing is that I never forgot to tell him everything that I wanted to tell him.
“One piece of advice I give to people is for them to make sure that they tell the people that they love everything they want to tell them before they go. I did that with my dad, so I have absolutely no regrets, and only amazing memories of him.”
After a difficult few months, the eternally cheery Mr Nolan recently received some unexpected news from the Anthony Nolan Trust as he has been nominated by the charity to carry the Olympic torch through the town next year.
Although a decision is not expected to be made until around December, he is still in the running for the honour, having made it on to one of the final shortlists.
Naturally, he takes the news with a pinch of salt, and pokes fun at it with the same self-deprecating wit and cheerfulness that has made him such a popular figure in the town. “The thought of me running that mile just cracks up everybody I tell. I know it isn’t that far, but if I do get selected, I’ll have to do some serious training, just so I don’t embarrass myself!”