WHEN Tony Gadd reflects on his life, there’s no need to resort to poetic licence – the truth is extraordinary enough.

From Prime Minister’s bodyguard to professional poet – with baker, podium dancer, bouncer, ice hockey star, martial arts black belt, restaurateur, and cancer survivor squeezed in between – it’s been quite an adventure.

These days, he’s counting his blessings, living life to the full in his beloved County Durham, and entertaining audiences with lyrical tales from his eventful 57 years.

“If someone had said I’d end up as a poet, I’d have questioned their sanity,” he says, relaxing in his cosy studio amid the magnificent setting of Ushaw, near Durham.

The Northern Echo: Poet Tony Gadd in his studio at UshawPoet Tony Gadd in his studio at Ushaw

Starting this Friday, he’ll be launching a series of poetry events at the historic building – for centuries a place where priests were trained, and now a blossoming cultural centre.

The aim is to bring some of Britain’s finest poets to Durham, and Tony will also be giving would-be wordsmiths the chance to find their voice – just like he’s done in this latest chapter of his life.

It began when he was born into the pit community of Seaham Harbour in 1962. His family tree is rooted in coal-dust: both his great-grandfathers died from “The Pitman’s Death – pneumoconiosis; and his dad, Bob, worked at Seaham Colliery, known locally as The Nack.

When Bob could stand the pit no more, he saw his escape route as signing-up for the military but joined Durham Constabulary instead, with the family moving to a police house on Redhills Bank, in Durham City.

Having failed the eleven-plus, Tony went to Whinney Hill Secondary Modern and, at 16, became an apprentice at Luke’s Bakery, beneath Durham Viaduct, before dusting himself down in 1980 and following in his dad’s footsteps by joining the police.

His time in Durham Police just happened to coincide with the North-East becoming a hotbed of British politics, with Sedgefield MP Tony Blair serving as Prime Minister, and the Government run by the so-called “Geordie Mafia” of ministers based in the region: Peter Mandelson, Mo Mowlam, Alan Milburn, Stephen Byers, Jack Cunningham, Hilary Armstrong and David Miliband.

Having specialised as a firearms operations planning officer, Tony found himself serving as Blair’s bodyguard when he was in his County Durham constituency, as well as protecting other Cabinet members.

Highlights included being planning officer for President George Bush’s flying visit to Trimdon in November 2003, and the County Durham leg of The Queen’s Golden Jubilee tour in May 2002.

“It was all a bit surreal,” he smiles. “When I left school, I couldn’t have imagined that 20 years later I’d be walking through Darlington, alongside The Queen, with 20,000 people waving flags.”

Tony also carried out support work in London and was on duty for The Queen Mother’s funeral.

With so many memories behind him, he wanted to embark on fresh challenges, so took retirement from the force after 32 years’ service.

Sport played a big part in his life, including being a member of the successful Durham Wasps ice hockey team. Tony also became a martial arts instructor and, in 2011, he and his wife, Roz, set up the Wabi-Sabi Martial Arts academy in an old industrial building in Coxhoe, quickly building up to 100 students. The academy was complemented by an Asian tearoom and café with the same name.

Three years later, Tony was suddenly facing the biggest battle of his life when he was diagnosed with head and neck cancer. Radiotherapy and chemotherapy followed, and he bears the scars of a life-saving neck dissection.

“They gave me a 50-50 chance but I’m still here five years down the road,” he says.

Around the same time, his teenage daughter Jade was diagnosed with a chronic genetic condition, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome

What Tony didn’t know was that she’d found strength through a love of poetry. Jade took him along to see her perform in a competition at The Cumberland Arms, in Byker, and he was inspired to give poetry a try himself.

He signed up for a poetry retreat in the Scottish Highlands, trying his hand at writing material on the seven-hour train journey, and discovered a talent he didn’t know he had. A month later, he performed stand-up poetry for the first time at an open mic night in Durham and he hasn’t looked back.

With a growing body of work, mined from the depths of his experiences – including his time as a cop and his cancer fight – his reputation spread, and bookings flooded in.

This year, he’s proud to be poet in residence for the centenary of legendary Spennymoor artist Norman Cornish.

The move into Ushaw is the latest stage in his development as a poet, and the studio is shared with wife Roz who now works as an artist.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity to come to an amazing, peaceful space, with so much heritage, and be creative,” he says. “It’s so welcoming to artists and is becoming a really important cultural hub.”

This Friday, starting at 8pm, Tony and daughter Jade will host a “Gong Fu Poets” event at Ushaw, featuring two of the country’s leading performers, Mike Garry and Toria Garbutt. Performance poetry events will become a monthly feature at Ushaw, as will “Stanza” and “Page To Stage”  workshops on Saturday mornings.

Meanwhile, Tony will be performing at The Sage, Gateshead, during the International Words Weekend on December 7.

“Regardless of the roles I’ve had in my life, it’s always been about connecting with the community, and that now happens to be poetry. Who’d have thought it, eh?” he adds.