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Perth EE worker overcomes addictions to become ‘community hero’

Ian Ballie has thrived after a tough upbringing in Dundee's Hilltown that included truancy, his step-dad's suicide and school expulsion.

Ian Ballie with daughter Ruby. Image: Ian Ballie.
Ian Ballie with daughter Ruby. Image: Ian Ballie.

A Perth man has spoken of how he overcame addictions to win an award nomination.

Ian Ballie has been shortlisted in the community hero category at the Retail Week Awards 2023.

The 27-year-old’s tough upbringing in Dundee’s Hilltown included truancy, his step-dad’s suicide and expulsion from Morgan Academy after a fight on the sports field.

His late teens were spent battling drink and drug addictions that he thankfully kicked after a final purchase brought home the gravity of the situation.

As an adult, Ian began attending meetings of Andy’s Man Club (AMC) in Perth.

And it was a member of the male mental health support group who made a vital intervention in August 2020 when he stood on the edge of Friarton Bridge, ready to take his own life.

Ian Ballie with other members of Andy's Man Club.
Ian Ballie (back, right) with Andy’s Man Club members. Image: Ian Ballie.

With the help of AMC the father-of-two’s state of mind improved and he devoted himself to community work after joining EE’s Perth branch in December 2021.

Ian has organised for AMC members to visit the branch every month to encourage men to talk while also raising awareness about mental health issues.

Arrangements are now being made for other EE stores to follow, beginning with Aberdeen.

This project has put him in contention for the Retail Week award, and made him realise just how far he has come.

“I had it in my head that I wanted to take my life – I didn’t think of my kid or my family,” Ian said.

“I just wanted to end it all.

“But there is always someone you can speak to. You just need to check in on your pals.”

In this feature Ian relives his painful past while revealing which teachers and friends helped him confront and ultimately conquer his demons.

At school only for PE

Ian says his time at Dens Park Primary School was much more enjoyable than life as a pupil at Morgan Academy.

He said of the latter: “I started drinking and taking drugs and was more focused on getting high so I wasn’t really bothered about school and I just didn’t show up.”

Morgan Academy, Dundee.
Morgan Academy, Dundee.

This isn’t strictly true though.

“I wouldn’t go in but would sneak in for PE,” Ian said.

“Classes were at the Disc so I would climb over the wall and go to the PE class and then go home.

“I would go to my mates’ in the morning, or I would go to the Law, have a couple of bottles and then go to PE.

“It wasn’t a good structure.”

‘Adult conversation’ with Morgan teacher

School wasn’t all bad, however.

His PE teacher Dr Karel Rosenzweig, who retired in December 2021, was happy to let him partake in the lessons.

And modern studies teacher Luke Burton left a lasting positive impression.

Sadly this was a result of personal tragedy though.

When Ian was 14 his step-father Ian Burns took his own life.

“It was the first time I had ever heard of anyone killing themselves,” he recalled.

Ian Ballie tells of a tough upbringing in Dundee's Hilltown.
Ian Ballie tells of a tough upbringing in Dundee’s Hilltown. Image: Ian Ballie.

Mr Burton was there to talk to.

“It was the first time I had had an adult conversation with a teacher,” Ian said.

“He sat me in a room and asked me what had happened to my step-dad.

“I opened up and told him I was drinking a lot.

“We had a chat for 30 minutes and it had an impact.”

Legal high helped numb emotions

Sadly it was too late to change Ian’s course of self-destruction.

“Problems at school got worse after my step-dad died,” he said.

“You are brought up as a guy to numb emotions.

“I would hide it all by getting wrecked.

“That was my coping mechanism – to get on it, to forget about it.

“Then when you have time to think about things you realise you have problems.”

Thrown out of school after punch

Ian had just turned 16 when he was thrown out of school.

“I punched somebody in PE,” he said.

“I knew I had had enough.

“I slide-tackled the guy because I knew that would be the end of it.

“I knew that would be the last straw.

“They just told me to either get a job or go to college.”

Boozing at Soccer World

He chose to study an HND in civil engineering at Dundee and Angus College but fared little better.

For the first few months at the Kingsway campus he was a dedicated student.

Dundee & Angus College's Kingsway, Dundee building.
Dundee and Angus College’s Kingsway campus. Image: Gareth Jennings/DC Thomson.

“That was until I realised there was a bar at Soccer World right next to it,” Ian said.

“I would go there for lunch and not come back.

“I got a couple of certificates but not the grades I needed.

“That was because of me not showing up and getting steaming.”

Drug use whatever the occasion

Aside from a temporary role as a painter and decorator at Hillcrest, Ian descended into unemployment.

And also serious drunk and drug use.

“That was when it was at its worst,” he said.

“I used to go out all the time, or I would sit on my own and get on it just for something to do.

“Maybe it would be in the bedroom or I would go to the hill to take in the view, or to my friends’.

“But I would always be drinking something.”

Bag of heroin was turning point

The moment of realisation came in August 2014.

Short of money, Ian was offered a bag of heroin on the stairwell of a housing scheme for £10.

“It was all I could afford at the time,” he said.

The West Bell Street multi-storey car park.

He took it to Bell Street car park.

“That’s when I asked myself ‘what am I dong here?’

“I have seen guys go down the heroin route and they have never come out well or they are dead.

“There is a guy I know at school who died while taking heroin.

“Dundee has a lot of heroin users and they are not themselves anymore.

“Looking back I am glad I didn’t take it.

“I thought then that I needed to change. That is when I self-reflected.”

‘I am always going to be an addict’

Since then Ian has been totally clean of drink and drugs – but it hasn’t been easy.

Ian Ballie holding up his nomination for the Retail Week Award.
Ian Ballie is a finalist for the Retail Week Awards. Image: Ian Ballie.

“I went cold turkey and isolated myself for two weeks,” he said.

“I went through the pain of getting off it. It is so painful just to stop taking it.

“The first three years are the hardest as you are craving it. Now I am fine and won’t crave a drink but I am always going to be an addict.

“When my son was born we started having Monster so now I have Monster every day.

“As a kid I used to like chicken nuggets so I had to have it and nothing else.

“I have always had some addiction.”

Secret free coffees for charity members

Ian moved to Perth and had a stint working at Subway and then Costa in the Tesco superstore, off Crieff Road.

Every Monday night he would notice three men – Alex McClintock, Nicol Lumsden and Jim Mackie – wearing a wrist band, hoodie or t-shirt.

Ian Ballie (second left) with Alex McClintock (front) and other Andy’s Man Club members at the Perth EE branch. Image:Ian Ballie.

On enquiry he was informed that their gear was associated with membership of Andy’s Man Club.

They added that they were attending drop-in sessions at McDiarmid Park for men to discuss whatever problems they had.

“I loved the idea straight away,” Ian said.

“So anyone who had the wrist band would get their first round of coffees for free – the manager didn’t know this.

“It was my chance to give them something back because I believed in what they did.

“I have always had mental health issues but at that time I was actually doing alright.

“I asked if I could come to give support and advice and they said yes.”

Climbing over bannister of Friarton Bridge

In December 2017 Ian began attending AMC sessions but his presence became less regular after the birth of daughter Ruby, who is now four years old.

“I had months when I wasn’t speaking and tried to isolate myself but I couldn’t do it because I was working full-time and looking after my daughter,” said Ian, who also has nine-month-old son Rory.

“I couldn’t quite find the balance.”

Ian went into “self-destruction mode” and was saved from suicide by the timely intervention of Mike Thomson from Andy’s Man Club.

Mike Thomson. Image: Image Academy PR.

“From then we were in contact nearly every day,” Ian added.

“We would meet for a coffee and he was a support for me to get back to myself.

“I started taking time to self isolate. I was watching videos of people such as David Goggins about mindset and how the brain works and it opened my eyes and made me realise ‘I can do this’.

“Alex McClintock said the storm will pass when it runs out of rain.

“That always stuck with me and it’s true.

“It took months but once I got through it it was a totally different feeling.

“I started feeling like me again.”

‘Vodafone were just selling phones’

In December 2021 Ian got a job working as a customer adviser for EE in the Perth High Street branch.

Nine months later he was promoted to a senior adviser.

“I am not one to give myself credit,” he said. “But when I first got the job at Costa I thought I had done something with myself.

“Then to be offered that role at EE, a brilliant company, I couldn’t believe it.

“I was so shocked. It was never my plan. I just worked hard and was offered it.”

Andy's Man club members.
Andy’s Man club members. Image: Ian Ballie.

Ian’s idea was to integrate AMC into the EE branch and he received encouragement from the then-retail store manager Francis Quinn, who is now at O2 in Dundee.

Supported by branch manager Jack Andrew, Ian persuaded EE regional manager John Martin to get AMC members in every month to do awareness days.

The open days are advertised on social media and via Workplace.

“I looked at Vodafone over the road and they were just selling phones,” Ian said.

“I thought we could do something different, something for the community.

“So every month we get someone in and they give out leaflets and wrist bands, and speak to customers.

“It goes back to that conversation at school with my teacher.

“Sometimes that one person asking how you are can make your day.

“I try to do that with my customers as well. Make it a bit more personal.

“I am not just there for the sales but for the people and community as well.”

‘A member of Andy’s Man Club saved me’

The project’s ongoing success has inspired Ian to attempt new ideas.

One has been to visit barbershops and offer a one-to-one space for males to talk voice their feelings.

He planned such an event in London with EE event space manager Hannah Greensall and would like to replicate it elsewhere.

Ian Ballie with daughter Ruby.
Ian Ballie with daughter Ruby. Image: Ian Ballie.

Ian will find out if he has won the community hero category in the Retail Week Awards when he attends the ceremony in London on March 30.

Award or no award, Ian knows he has already won his biggest battles.

“I attempted to take my own life but a member of Andy’s Man Club saved me and because of that I’ve been able to watch my daughter grow and take this opportunity at EE,” he said.

“The charity is very close to me on a personal level, they’ve really helped me a lot and I wanted to connect EE to help others.”

  • For information on Andy’s Man Club click here.
  • Samaritans provides help and support 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Contact them here.