“People my age might remember... but my daughter wouldn’t have a clue what I was talking about.” Donna Air is talking about Byker Grove, the show that launched her early acting career at the age of ten alongside presenting duo, and fellow Geordies, Ant & Dec. It’s over 20 years since Byker Grove and Donna is set return to our TV screens, albeit in sequins, for Torvill and Dean’s Dancing On Ice show in the New Year. It’s not surprising Donna has her skates on, she’s drawn to tasks which challenge her and loves packing her day full of action which she balances with a cool head for business. Smart, clever and very funny, we met up with the London based star to chat about the charms of the Belgravia area, working with start-ups, life on the ice rink and being the ‘other Donna’.
DONNA IDA: Where are you from and where did you grow up?
Donna Air: I grew up in Newcastle upon Tyne and then I moved to London because I was travelling for various acting parts. London has been my stomping ground and neighbourhood for about 24 years. It’s funny because my daughter has only known life in London, and I have a lot of memories from her growing up in Belgravia as this has been our home and hangout area for about 20 years.
DONNA IDA: How did you get to know you and Donna Ida Thornton meet?
Donna Air: Donna’s got her boutique in Belgravia and I live in the area so it was just from the neighbourhood. Usually you’re lucky if you get one Donna in a neighbourhood never mind two so whenever we go to restaurants , they often mix up our reservations. We make a joke about it though, I say no, I’m the ‘other’ Donna and she’s like I’m the ‘other’ Donna. I was the only Donna on the block until Donna moved in and now I have to share! The world is definitely big enough for two Donna’s.
DONNA IDA: What do you like about Belgravia?
Donna Air: There’s a real sense of community- I love that. London is such a great place, there is always something. It’s just a collection of lots of different villages. There are real senses of communities, it's a big jigsaw of all these little pockets of communities and they are all very different, which is the think I like about London.
DONNA IDA: What’s your favourite restaurant?
Donna Air: I eat in a lot of restaurants near to the Donna Ida store in Belgravia so I eat a lot at Olivocarne, Oliveto, Olivomare, La Famiglia. Food is my biggest enjoyment and privilege. I have probably spent more on good food than I do on anything else!
Donna wears Dolly Flight Suit
DONNA IDA: Do you both have a lot on common?
Donna Air: I think we are quite similar in the fact that we are always see each other whizzing by. I am not sure which one of us works the hardest but I always see her online at like 5am like me. Also she’s from Sydney, and the Newcastle and Aussie girls both have a quite good ethic and a sense of humour. We are both whizzing around the neighbourhood in a hurry from meeting to meeting. We have been planning to have tea and lunch forever but we aren’t the sort of girls who have time to lunch.
DONNA IDA: Are you an early riser? Do you like to get a head start on the day?
Donna Air: I would like to stay in bed longer if I could but to be honest but there is just so much to do in the day. Now obviously other than running two businesses and fitting in a schedule for Dancing On Ice training and it all very busy.
DONNA IDA: Tell us about your businesses?
Donna Air: I work for a tech company called Wistla looking after commercial and corporate development for them. It’s a new sociable network which is coming in the New Year which is about crowds and will change the way people will meet up. It’s a positive sociable platform which is really what social networks started as but now they are designed to keep people online. Wistla is very much around finding fun activities you like to do around you and joining in and actually having real connectivity. I also advise on different companies and have various property projects. Plus I have Dancing On Ice skating for fun!
DONNA IDA: Tell us about Dancing on Ice
Donna Air: Actually it’s very hard and really frustrating as it is quite technical. It’s not necessarily that I am physically tired, but mentally it can be hard as I have a lot of other things to juggle in the day as well. Sometimes it is so hard to remember and I want to scream it can be so frustrating! But it’s also incredibly fun so having, like most women today, a busy life, those couple of hours every day when I am on the ice is actually quite meditative because there is not a lot else you can do when you are out there. When your brain is taking in lots of information your brain switches off from all the other stuff you have to organise in your day to day life so it’s like my meditation now that couple of hours on the ice and I really like it.
DONNA IDA: How did it come about in the first place? Have you always fancied doing Dancing On Ice?
Donna Air: No, I was really unsure but I always loved fun physical things like this, especially as it is learning a new skill. I have never been a gym bunny, but if you ask me to learn sword fighting or horse riding, I love the sound of that! I know I need to do more to get core strength but I am too lazy to go to the gym plus I feel guilty taking time out of my day for the gym so ice-skating is ideal plus this is considered work!
DONNA IDA: Are you excited about the costumes?
Donna Air: They are all ready with hair curlers tongs, shellac, fake tan – they are all ready to get their hands on me and go bananas. Bring it on, more is more!
DONNA IDA: How do you feel about the lifts?
Donna Air: I don’t like heights so this will be interesting.
DONNA IDA: Tell me about jeans, how do you wear your jeans?
Donna Air: I live in jeans, honestly. Jeans are great. Weirdly working in fashion the last thing I want to think about are clothes and fashion. When you have done a 15-hour day the thought of having to put an outfit together for myself is really hard work so I just have real basics that look really comfortable and effortless. So denim, I have four or five favourite pairs of jeans and I love Donna’s cashmere too. Last Christmas I bought them in every colour as they are really good basic colours that just go with any denim, any skirt, any trouser and you don’t have to think about them. Basically, you put them on a 5am and you are out the door.
DONNA IDA: What style of jeans do you like to wear?
Donna Air: I do occasionally wear a skinny but I always feel a bit self conscious that my legs are too skinny for skinnies. So I wear a straight leg, I like a straight or a culotte, a boot cut or a boyfriend, that’s my style.
DONNA IDA: What are your style highs and lows?
Donna Air: The 90s were pretty wacky for me. I was going out too much, sleep deprived so too much rock and roll. I look back at some of those pictures of me and I just looked absolutely mad. As for style highs, I think I am much more comfortable in my recent style. I don’t buy massively high fashion; I buy bits that I know will work. I have a length of skirt I am comfortable in day or night which is a ¾ length skirt and I also like tight pencil skirts and cashmere. I maybe should shake it up a bit more.
DONNA IDA: Do you have any magazines you read that you are inspired by?
Donna Air: I love Hello Fashion Monthly and obviously Hello as I am a contributing style editor. I am really proud of my page and I honestly put in there what I love as I want people to look at my page and say, ‘I want that’. I like adding brands in their incubation days, for example I was one of the people to first write about Malone Soulliers before they were really everywhere.
DONNA IDA: What are your tips for surviving London Fashion Week?
Donna Air: First of all, stay calm! I don’t go mad, mad and go to every show as it can be exhausting. Secondly, I’d say take some little snacks, I hate going hungry so I’m like a child; I have snacks in my bag! Wear something warm and also it is a good idea to carry flats with you. I wear trainers more these days because I don’t want to suffer for my art anymore! Long gone are the days where we had to totter around in heels!
DONNA IDA: Do you think we’re seeing a shift for women?
Donna Air: I think it’s very liberating being a woman today because we don’t really have to prove ourselves. Women seem to be ruling the world right now, I think when we watch the Oscars this year, women will sweep the board as we have so many female director’s. It’s definitely a good time to be a women and we are getting balanced more in business too so it’s great.
Dancing On Ice starts on Sunday 7th January on ITV.