Mr. Dan Wallace
The terminally ill appreciate things in life that the rest of us take for granted. Dan Wallace certainly did. The thing about Dan though, is that he was always like that. With a ridiculous appetite for life and relentless energy and ideas, he always looked for ways to improve things – to turn challenges into something fun.
His love of art and design was evident from a young age, as he scooped up prizes at colouring-in competitions and even re-designed his Scout group’s badge.
Nurturing this talent, he later studied graphic design in his home town of Brighton, surrounded by his mates and designing everyday. Life couldn’t get much better.
It was while reading a copy of Creative Review that he came across an article about the legendary Sony ‘Balls’ TV advert, where millions of colourful balls hypnotically cascade down the streets of San Francisco. It blew him away and inspired him to step out of his comfort zone, move to the big smoke and learn how to make adverts for himself.
He applied for a place at the School of Communication Arts in Vauxhall. Even as a child, he had been excited by the energy of London and when he found out he’d been accepted he danced with joy. He made an impact the moment he arrived at the school. He was loud and opinionated and as a result, ruffled a few feathers.
The first few weeks of the SCA course challenged students preconceptions, teaching them radical new ways to solve problems. Dan was in his element. His mischievous nature loved the idea of challenging the status quo.
A brief to get people to visit the furniture retailer DFS, saw Dan work on an idea that turned stores into cinemas, inviting people to watch films whilst trying out sofas. With fellow student Victoria, he worked on a Greenpeace campaign designed to encourage Volkswagon to make cleaner and more efficient cars. They proposed a stunt featuring an animatronic polar bear suffocating inside a VW Polo, like a dog in a hot car. Dan and Victoria's creative talent was officially recognised when they made it into the 2010 D&AD book for their McDonalds work.
Studying at SCA involves an enormous amount of dedication and sacrifice. On the eve of his 21st birthday, finding himself working through the night on an important pitch, he reflected on the school blog:
Despite a demanding schedule at school, Dan still found time for side projects. He rebranded a cosmetic surgery on Dover Street and collaborated with the makers of iPhone app CrossProcessed, designing a website to promote images taken by their users. Even during half term he found time to re-decorate one of the school playrooms with graffiti. Dan was never someone to let an opportunity pass him by. Dan's drive was matched only by his generosity and kindness. He loved to collaborate, even inviting other students to work on pitches he's already won on his own.
In the summer of 2011 Dan began complaining of pains in his chest and back, and in October discovered he had a very rare type of cancer – of which only 200 cases had been diagnosed since 1989. Naturally, this was considered cool by Dan. He was given a 50/50 chance of survival, but didn’t contemplate not beating it.
As Dan was young and fit, the doctors decided to hit the cancer hard, with gruelling 80-hour chemo sessions. After his treatment, he would go home, be very ill for a few days, and then return to school. Despite the toll it was taking on him, Marc and Dan’s family thought it would do Dan good to have a distraction. So, they encouraged him to have a crack at that year’s D&AD brief. Working with Sophie, they came up with an integrated launch campaign for a new Channel 4 service, winning a Best in Year award.
After his first chemo session, it emerged that the situation was worse than first thought. The chemo would probably extend his life, but was unlikely to cure him.
Following this news Dan decided to travel to Amsterdam to stay with his friend Sam, who’d studied with him at SCA. It was on this trip he met Mirella, who he fell immediately in love with, purposely missing his flight home so that he could spend more time with her. He desperately wanted to tell her then that he was seriously ill, but because she was about to finish her degree and he didn’t want to distract her, he instead waited for two months. When he did tell her they went on holiday to Italy together.
With his treatment not making progress, he was offered a trial of a new medication not yet available in the UK. These new drugs had the curious side-effect of turning his hair and beard completely white, like a kind of hip Papa Smurf. With this new treatment he began to feel stronger and the tumour stopped growing. He was overjoyed, and he and Mirella began to plan an epic motorcycle adventure across South East Asia, inspired by the Top Gear episode where they travel around Vietnam on scooters.
Ever the entrepreneur, while staying in Laos, Dan arranged to do a photo shoot for a bar, turning their creativity into free food and accommodation. After an amazing trip they returned to London, found a flat together and Dan resumed his battle against cancer.
While in hospital he would teach the old men on his ward how to use their mobile phones and fetch them their morning papers. He also still had the creative itch – a fellow patient’s son ran an overseas charity, so naturally Dan was soon hard at work redesigning their website. He even found time to rebrand a sandwich shop in the station near the hospital.
All in all Dan completed five 80-hour bouts of chemo. It was just before the 6th session that doctors told him that it there was no chance of a cure, all they could do was give him more time. He decided there and then that he’d rather spend his remaining time with his two siblings, hatching an elaborate plan to escape from hospital to spend half-term with them.
In his last few months, Dan packed in so much. He went to Paris with friends and made a short film and toured Croatia with his good friend Cooper, coming up with designs for an Olympic sailing team and a catering company.
His sense of humour and zest for life never left him. While back home with his family, Dan once made them all dress up in their Sunday best, even though they were just going round to his Grandad’s house to borrow a drill. In hospital he’d always pack pyjamas and insist on coordinated socks.
Dan’s battle against cancer finally ended on the 30th April 2013, at home in the London flat he was so very proud of. He was 22, and will always be remembered by his family and many, many friends as a man who lived life to the absolute fullest, and would have gone on to take over the world.