Blog: Reflecting on a decade of friendship

The qualities that made Gary a special journalist - an inquiring mind, a passion for people, a cheeky sense of humour and a way with words - also made him a special friend.

Our presenter, Jess Dunsdon, reflects on their decade of friendship.

I first clapped eyes on Gary during his first ever ITV Channel report about a bomb hoax in Guernsey. While watching him, I turned to my then co-presenter, Mark Mcquillan and said: "Oooo, he's good isn't he? He has a real presence about him."

It was abundantly clear how excited he was just to be on the telly and I couldn't help but be drawn to his boundless energy and enthusiasm. Our friendship really took root when he moved to Jersey.

I remember him asking me about the places to go and sites to see, and he cheekily asked if I could 'take him up Devil's Hole'. I snorted out a puerile giggle and we became instant friends.

Indeed if I had a pound for every innuendo that emanated from his mouth, I'd be a millionaire! He could make the naughtiest quip out of the most innocuous thing. That combined with his razor sharp wit, cutting comments and observational humour would have me bent over double howling with laughter.

He was one of the few people who could make me properly belly laugh, even in the darkest of times. That takes a special talent. And I know he enriched the lives of so many with his humour.

Another quality was his positivity in the face of adversity. I know this has been well documented in his public battle with cancer - so courageously facing up to his impending death -  but optimism really was ingrained in his character.

I remember one day, an outside broadcast didn't quite go to plan and a number of our team were feeling very upset about it. So, being a Friday night, we went out to town to drown our sorrows. Gary was typically upbeat, cracking jokes and reminding us that it's only telly and if we mess up, at least no one dies.

We ended up at the Portuguese food festival and Gary took one look at the karaoke stage and dragged me up there (granted, I didn't need much persuasion). We did a duet: 'Don't go breaking my heart' by Elton John and Kiki Dee. He was Elton. I was Kiki. But instead of singing the lyrics, Gary just adlibbed a comedic commentary over the whole thing. We both thought it was hilarious, although clearly no one at the festival did, because the crowd parted like the red sea! 

Many islanders loved Gary's subversive nature too - the fact he was never scared to probe, challenge or poke fun. And the reason Gary could often get away with it was that he delivered this audaciousness with a side order of impishness.

I can fondly remember a couple of examples that made me laugh. During a report on Shrove Tuesday, he was having a pancake flipping contest with a vicar (definitely Gary's idea!). When Gary’s promptly fell on the floor, he looked directly into the camera and quipped: "God 1, Gary nil."

Another time, out of work, Gary came round to my house to take me out for lunch. Those who know us will know that I'm notoriously late, and Gary was respectfully early. As he arrived, I'd just stepped out of the shower, so I called down and told him to let himself in while I got dressed.

Little did I know that he was on the phone to another prankster - his best friend Alastair - who dared him to take a picture of me in my towel. Next thing I know, Gary bursts into my bathroom - snaps a shot and shrieks "Alastair told me to do it...  but at least you'll never be late for me again!"... I never was after that!

As well as the comedy, Gary had a serious side and what I treasured about our friendship was how we could share our vulnerabilities. I was one of the privileged few to be allowed to see past the showman you all know and love, and get to know an insecure soul who had worries like the rest of us.

He'd often say to me... "I keep waiting to be found out Jess, I mean, why are they still letting me loose on the telly?" and I'd say... "Because Gary, you're AMAZING at what you do". He worried way too much about what people thought of him.

Despite all the adoration and public affection, he still could not believe how loved he was. He asked me several times this past year... "Have I done enough Jess? I feel there's always more I could be doing". I think you'd agree when I told him that he'd not only done enough, he WAS enough. I hope he made peace with that in the end.I guess that relentless thirst for information and desire to tell stories, combined with his humility, was central to his charm. I loved how his brilliant brain worked. It was truly fascinating to witness the man at work.

What would take most of us mortals hours to accomplish, Gary could complete in a matter of minutes. I would often joke how Gary could be a one man show (if our boss would have let him).

He could be a little impatient at times and get frustrated with others when they couldn't keep up, or work at his pace. But this was not out of malice, rather a genuine inability to appreciate just how extraordinary he was. And he really was.

Although he wasn't always good at heeding his own advice, he was always there to dispense it. Anytime I needed a sense check, a moral compass or a sounding board, Gary was my man. He helped me in some really difficult times.

When I first struggled with anxiety in 2013 he generously shared his own experiences and helped guide me to find my own solutions.

Years later, I wrote an article about my mental health wobble and he was the first person I showed it to, as I was so worried about how I might be perceived and if it was going to damage my reputation. He read it and persuaded me that it would be enormously helpful to share it with others and that I should put my fears aside and be brave.

When it was received with kindness, encouragement and praise, he just sent a text that said "told you Dunny".

But while Gary was a wise old owl, he also possessed an endearing childlike naivety. He loved continually learning and I sometimes thought he was having me on when he confessed his ignorance about certain things.

I used the word 'discombobulated' in conversation once and he genuinely thought I made the word up, until I showed it to him in an online dictionary.

He would marvel at my stories about living in Russia as he'd never been there but wanted to know everything about the place.

I even remember when he came round to my house for lunch one day, I made him a warm goat's cheese salad with a balsamic glaze. Nothing ground-breaking but he’d never tasted it before and he was so effusive about it you’d think it was a Michelin starred dish!

Mind you Gary was not overly adventurous with food. If I ventured out to get him a snack from the shop, I'd often return with cheese strings, a pepperami and an iced latte. He also HATED tomatoes, and any derivative of the red fruit, so going to an Italian restaurant with him was a nightmare!

Gary: "I'll have the margarita pizza without the tomato sauce please..."  Me: "So what you want is cheese on toast?" Gary: "Basically yeah".

While I smile at the memories, it's weird to think, we'll never have those encounters again.

Times when we take the mick out of each other. Exchanging banter and views about the news. Twitter is eerily quiet without him. So is my phone. I keep reaching for it... checking WhatsApp and his social media accounts... only to be reminded that, no, he really is gone. 

Death is so final. But I take comfort from the fact that Gary died, a happy man. He spent many happy years with his wonderful husband Alan, a happy career doing what he loved, with people he loved, for an island he loved. His only regret, I'm sure, is that he couldn't do it for longer.

So to Gary I say thank you for giving me a decade of your friendship. It's been an honour. Time to rest easy now. You did do enough. You did us all proud. And most importantly, you did it your way.