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Tony started life in Leicester and as a young man found fame as a
member of the boy band The Dallas Boys. However, there’s more to Tony than singing.
He’s lived all over the world, and worked in restaurants and on oil rigs.
Mally Harvey meets him and discovers how
Tony has become a friend to the Kurdish community in Leeds.
Tony Day, 85, says he is a lucky man who has had a 'good life despite lots of mistakes'. Tony grew up in Leicester and started life on the stage. He has been a singer, a performer in one of the UK’s first boy bands, a restaurateur, a caterer in the North Sea oil fields, a carpet salesman in America, a model – and, due
to a chance encounter on the streets of Great Yarmouth, an altruist. He’s been involved with the Kurdish community in Leeds for over 25 years. He now regards them as his second family. We met Tony in his Burmantofts flat and he told us more about his extraordinary life, starting with his earliest musical memory and how he became a member of the hugely popular singing group The Dallas Boys.
I was on Kurdish TV
and met their Prime Minister, Nechirvan Barzani. This was the start of my affection for this proud and welcoming people.
I remember my beloved younger sister tap dancing. She was about 4. We were a very musical family. She went to America, but I used to phone her when I could. It was very expensive then, a pound a minute if I remember correctly. When I was about 13 or 14, we used to perform in the Working Men’s Clubs. I was still at school, but we went to school in the day and the Clubs at night. My older sister, she was in pantomime. But when the war started she had to come home, because of the bombing. I remember my mum saying, “She looks OK, but her neck’s filthy.” I had an older sister and brother, then me and then my younger sister, who I was closest to. All the family had theatre in their blood. I left school at 15 and went on the clubs. We sang everywhere. Engelbert Humperdinck, he was from Leicester - he was like me. I always remember being in the same queue as Englebert for the dole!
Becoming a Dallas Boy
I was working in the Working Men’s Clubs. They came up and said we need another Dallas Boy because [original member] Joe Smith had been called up. “Will you come and try out?” I said, “OK.” It wasn’t really me, but I said yes. I got on with the boys really well, but you see I had a problem with drinking. I was 17. I stayed with them four or five years and since then it’s always been my life. “Oh! You were one of the Dallas Boys!” I get, “Oh, my grandma remembers you.” I performed all over with them. The Bradford Gaumont, we did a summer season at Redcar - and Larry Grayson was in that show, although he hadn’t changed his name then. William White, I think he was. Being a Dallas Boy has followed me round all my life. People expected me to be funny and they expected me to entertain them. They’d say, “Here have a drink!” Which I did. I was the baby of the group.
After I left the Dallas Boys, I went back on the clubs, with and without my sister. I did Batley Variety and that was a big venue in those days. But here I am at 85 and still the Dallas Boys come along. I have done a lot of different jobs. It’s kept me young at heart.
Tony (far right) poses with fellow members of the Dallas Boys for a promotional photo.
Oil Rigs & Face Lifts
In the 70s and 80s I went on the oil rigs. One of my mates was working on the oil rigs and I bet him £50 that I could work on there. At the time I was freelancing and he didn’t realise I had applied to go on. When I arrived, I found him and said, “£50 please!” I was in catering; I had been in the Army catering corps. We had to do safety training - we had to be in the body of a helicopter, which they tipped over in the sea. Everyone was terrified, but it was part of the training. We had to do it twice. I never wanted to do that again. But I did it.
We were on another rig when one of them exploded - Piper Alpha. We were listening to it on the radio; it was shocking. I can’t remember how long I was on the rigs. I left to go to America to live with my sister who was there. I married my second wife there. We got married in Las Vegas. Life is complicated! My first wife was in England with our two children. I was in America for 5 or 6 years. I sold carpets. I used to say, “I don’t know anything about carpets but if you want to know anything I’ll find out!” Customers used to come in and say, “Where’s the Englishman, can we have the Englishman?” I could turn my hand to anything. One of my daughters came over for a holiday and I returned with her and got a divorce. I went back on the rigs again. I have had 3 wives. I love wedding cake.
Then there was the time I went for cosmetic surgery. My daughter worked for these people, they were
after a model and would pay for the cosmetic surgery. I went to Prague to have my teeth done and a face lift. I was 70 then and my friend came over for the weekend in Prague. We had a wonderful time.
I got my eyes done because it was free but when it came to the face lift, I passed out on the chair. I never got the face lift because I had collapsed! After that I went on Facelifts & Boob-Jobs with Richard and Judy for a makeover!
Tony spent some years living in the USA. He’s pictured above in New York City in the 1970s.
A Chance Encounter
I had an Italian restaurant in Great Yarmouth with my best friend. I saw a man in the street and I thought he was from the Turkish restaurant. I tried to talk to him but he couldn’t speak English. Aziz had dark hair and dark eyes and I thought he looked Italian, so I offered him a job as a waiter. I blagged my way, I thought the customers would think he was Italian.
The restaurant taught him English, it really was a learning curve for him. In 3 months he was taking the orders and everything. He is a bright man, very good with languages. One of Aziz’s cousins was still in Kurdistan and Aziz was helping him to apply to come over here. We came out of the restaurant and moved up to Leeds. Once they were here that was it. Leeds City Council promised me they would pay the telephone bills to Kurdistan. So I used to help them get accommodation, sort out the electricity, schools.
I signed their papers to stay here. I supported their applications. It went from helping one person to I don’t know how many. Most of the people who I helped to come here have businesses now in Leeds. They are such hard-working people. They just worked and slept. They are such lovely people. They made themselves a better life than where they had come from.
Then I started going over to Kurdistan because the boys over here couldn’t go back. This government
said they could come in but they couldn’t go back. I used to go back and let them know how their sons were doing. The stories they told me about their lives were horrendous. Saddam Hussein was chopping their heads off. I was going to Kurdistan to tell people that their husbands and sons were safe and well. I was the bearer of good news. They had all become my extended family. I was given the name of ‘Tony Barani’ or ‘Haji Tony.’ I will never forget the reception I received from all Kurdish people. There was food everywhere I went - too much for my appetite. I got very partial to a cup of ‘Chi’. They treated me as their father because they didn’t have one, because Saddam Hussein had killed them.
Kindness In Kurdistan
I travelled to Massif the hometown of Mahmood, Abdulla, and Ahmed, the brothers of Aziz. I was able to travel to places on my own using taxis although my Kurdish friends were not at ease with this. One night at 3am I was woken by drums, whistles and banging. I was afraid something bad was about to happen.
I went back to sleep when it went quiet. In the morn- ing I asked what it was. My hosts all laughed. It was only the bread man selling his wares - it was the beginning of Ramadan and he was selling breakfast. They had forgotten to warn me. They still laugh at this.
I travelled from town-to-town, city-to-city, meeting families of Bazant Kurds now residing in the UK. I was on Kurdish TV and met their Prime Minister, Nechir- van Barzani. This was the start of my affection for this proud and welcoming people. I was a father figure, an uncle. Even now they come and tell me what I did for them. They look after me. If there is a fridge broken, they mend it; if the television is broken, they mend it. All free. I’ve said they have said they have treated me a thousand times over but they say they are returning my kindness. I have known the Kurdish people for over 20 years and I have a whole extended family out there, loads and loads of them. Every week I hear from them wanting to know when I am going to Kurdistan again.
I have been 6 or 7 times and I have never felt in danger there. It’s a kindness that’s been returned dozens of times. They bring me food and they sit on the floor and we eat. They are lovely. I want to be buried in Kurdistan but it depends on cost. They look after me, keep telling me I have to eat and drink lots of water.
I have been introduced to a whole different culture just by talking to someone in the street. I was nominated to go to Harewood House when the Queen was going to a garden party there and I asked Raza, a Kurdish friend to go with me. When we got there, we were waved through. I never met the Queen but we were there. Raza had to borrow a suit but he looked good. I told someone he was a prince and the old women couldn’t get enough of him! We got him to sit on the chair the Queen had just sat on. I helped get Raza over from Kurdistan and he has never forgotten. He is a businessman now.
Tony in 2021 – he still has a winning smile.
I was never an alcoholic but I did drink a lot. I got through it. It petered out. I stopped smoking when my eldest daughter died of cancer. Cancer is a dreadful thing, my younger sister died of it too. The nurses said they had never seen anyone care for someone like I cared for her. I came off the drink because of Aziz, he doesn’t drink.
I may have dementia, I am waiting for some tests. I told my daughter I may have it and she said, “Dad, you’ve just got to live one day at a time.” She’s right, but it’s not easy to take. I’m not sure yet. I enjoy bingo, I go to the Mecca Bingo, it helps keep my brain going.
I have been a lucky man. I’ve been very lucky with the bingo. I always seem to get the right numbers! This is the happiest time in my life, with my extended family - Aziz and all the others. I think I am making up for when my daughters were younger because I wasn’t around. They are my life. I adore them. I never look back, I look forward. I think I am making up for what I lost in the early days. If I could change any- thing I would have my first wife back. On the whole my life has been very amusing. I have never been famous but I have had 15 minutes of fame, over and over. And I am still open to offers!
More Shine a Light Stories.
Older people share their memories of significant or interesting events in the history of Leeds. In partnership with Leeds Museums and Galleries.
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