‘I have become quite a good art dealer for paintings by Afghan artists’ - Darren Ferguson of Beyond Skin

Gail Bell asks experts and people in the public eye what keeps them going. This week: Darren Ferguson, founder and chief executive of Belfast arts and peacebuilding organisation Beyond Skin

Darren Ferguson, founder and chief executive of Beyond Skin
Darren Ferguson, founder and chief executive of Belfast arts and peacebuilding organisation Beyond Skin
1. Up and at it - what is your morning routine?

When I wake up, I turn my phone off silent and check for priority messages and ones from overseas. I’ll get my daughter up for school, get her breakfast and then do the school run before meetings or events. Mornings are always chaotic and stressful. The most important part of any morning, though, is coffee - I can’t function without it.

2. What might you eat in a typical working day for...

Breakfast? This is usually a high-fibre cereal; the odd time, toast and jam.

Lunch? I don’t always manage lunch, due to a busy schedule, but, when working from home, I have an addiction to Branston Pickle sandwiches.

Evening meal? Evening meals are great, as my wife is a good cook and I am useless in the kitchen. I will, however, give things a go, using simple recipes. My wife got me a pizza oven, so when the good weather returns, I will be experimenting with some pizza evening meals.

3. Is nutrition important to you – do you take health supplements?

I take the odd fake health drink which probably has more sugar in it than Coke - if I could read the label. The font is always minuscule.

4. Ever been on a diet – if so, how did it go?

I am currently trying to lose weight with Slimming World. Eating in the evening is fine, but the rest of the day is a challenge, as I am always busy and usually running from one thing to the next. A chocolate sugar rush is always a temptation, along with a ‘garage’ sandwich.

5. Weekend treat?

Chinese or Indian food is a treat, also a kebab takeaway. And red wine.

6. How do you keep physically and mentally fit?

Due to work, my mind never switches off. I am always juggling too much and have a habit of taking on challenging projects. Physically, I really should be wafer-thin, due to all the running about, carrying equipment and jamming as many work-related activities into one day, but my body science has a different idea. For mental health regulation, I listen to music or watch music or arts documentaries.

7. Best tip for everyday fitness?

I am not a gym character and, for me, walking and enjoying music, art and green spaces works best. Also, making sure I have some conversations with people who inspire me daily is key for keeping up positive energy.

8. Were you a fan of schools sports/PE or do you have a memory from those days that you would rather forget?

Apart from long running (more of a solo sport), I hated competitive sports at school and suffering from asthma didn’t help. I was more interested in music and arts. But, interestingly, my mental strength enabled me to complete faster long distance walks and runs compared to other students who always got picked for rugby and football games.

9. Teetotal or tipple?

Tipple - whiskey or red wine.

10. Stairs or lift?

Usually the stairs, so I can tell myself I did try with some exercise on that particular day…

Darren Ferguson, founder and chief executive of Beyond Skin
Darren Ferguson, founder and chief executive of Beyond Skin
11. What book are you currently reading?

I’m more of a music/art magazine and blog reader. I am currently reading this month’s edition of Songlines Magazine.

12. Best Netflix or streaming TV?

Who Killed the KLF? on YouTube streaming and Squaring the Circle: The Story of Hipgnosis are recent favourites. I love art/music stories with comedy and ones that challenge the narrative and shift paradigms. I draw much inspiration from true story documentaries.

13. Any new skills or hobbies?

Recently, I have become quite a good art dealer for paintings by Afghan artists. With help from friends, I have got paintings out of Afghanistan and have sold them on behalf of the artist.

14. How do you relax?

Listening to music and a power nap, when I can. I also relax by watching movies with my wife, after the little one has gone to bed.

15. What would you tell your younger self?

Don’t spend your pocket money on that REO Speedwagon album and don’t lose so much sleep worrying - most things usually work out in some way at the end.

16. What are your goals for 2024?

To do more crazy, creative, fun stuff with musicians and artists, get some friends to safety and have more travel adventures with family.

17. What time do you get to bed and do you think you get enough sleep?

I am a night owl, so I usually don’t get to bed until the early hours. I have weird, inconsistent sleep patterns and never get enough sleep, so a power nap works for me. I waken up with what I can only describe as a music hunger. A tune will enter my head and the feeling will be something like, ‘I need to listen to Brian Ferry’s Avalon right now’.

18. Biggest gripe or regret?

I wish I met my wife earlier in life, but I have no real regrets. My biggest gripe is when people’s egos cause division and hold others back.

19. Have your priorities in life or perspectives changed?

Since becoming a father, I have changed a lot. I try harder now to make the world a better place for my daughter and I spend less time trying to please people who wouldn’t give me the time of day if I needed it.

20. Has coronavirus – or any health epiphany or life event - changed your attitude towards your own mortality?

I think if we are all honest, we all struggle with mental health, especially since Covid. Now that I’m over 50, I think about death every day. I have moments when I think: ‘This could be it’. I have become incredibly nostalgic in the way I process my mortality. I keep getting spam and cold calls about funeral care and coffins which doesn’t help. Despite this, I try to do what I can to enjoy life with whatever time I have left.

For more information on the work of Belfast arts and peacebuilding organisation Beyond Skin, visit