- Where are you from and how did you end up in London?
I was born and grew up in Dublin. My family moved to Sussex when I was 19 and I remained at art college in my home city. I joined my family and attended art college in Worthing. My burning ambition was to be an art director in a London advertising agency and that’s what I did. I eventually became a creative director in a large multi-national advertising agency with headquarters in Madison Avenue, New York. It was rather like the advertising agency in ‘Madmen’. The London office was in leafy St James’s Square. My office looked out over a large statue of William of Orange which was an early Dutch connection. My wife, Ditte, worked for the Amsterdam office. Advertising brought us together. I have worked and lived in London for over 45 years. London as we know it developed as a collection of villages and in many ways it still is. There is always something fascinating to discover about the city’s past and present. I agree with Doctor Johnson who said, in 1777, that ‘A man who is tired of London, is tired of life.’
- Did the church play an important role in your youth?
In the 1950s and 1960s, the Roman Catholic Church played an important role in life in Dublin. My family was Roman Catholic. We lived in an area with many Anglicans, Methodists and Presbyterians so there were opportunities to hear other views. I parted company with the Roman Church aged 16 but always kept a lively interest in religion and kept the Christian faith, sometimes more strongly than at other times. My mother was mildly religious but my father said that he ‘had no need of religion’. As a teenager I was encouraged to read the Bible by a Methodist friend, not in a pious way but in an investigative way regarding how one thinks about existence, the world and humanity. This I found interesting and helpful.
- And how would you describe your belief now and your link to the church?
After years in the religious doldrums, the major force in bringing me closer to belief and religion was the births of Esther and Robert. Ditte and I regarded our children as miraculous and they re-ignited and burnished our Christian faith. I turned to the Anglican Church for a number of reasons. The Church and its members matched my concept of Christianity in today’s world. I felt at home in it culturally and I was attracted to its general tolerance and non-reliance on dogma. I have been deeply involved with the Parish of Putney for more than twenty years. I am a Parish Warden in that ancient parish.
- What is your link with the Dutch Church?
Ditte introduced me to the Dutch Church almost 30 years ago. We have been involved with it in various ways ever since. Our children, Esther and Robert, were christened there. We have made a lot of friends in the Dutch Church over the years and continue to make new friends today. There is a strong feeling of Christian fellowship. Ditte is the editor of Kerknieuws and I am the designer. Being involved with Kerknieuws has polished my skills on various computer programmes and it’s very interesting to work on. The opening of the successful Dutch Centre has given us even more reasons to make the trip, like Thomas Cromwell, from Putney to Austin Friars.
Paul Donnelly was interviewed by Joost Röselaers