For a man best known as the grumpy judge on Aus­tralian TV tal­ent shows, Ian “Dicko” Dick­son is re­mark­ably bub­bly.

It’s amaz­ing what can hap­pen when you chuck it all in and move to Queens­land.

Dicko has lived at Maleny in the Sun­shine Coast hin­ter­land for three years but, for the past few months, has been do­ing some se­ri­ous surf­ing on the Gold Coast.

It’s not what you think. The English-born for­mer record in­dus­try exec is not too flash in the waves but has found hap­pi­ness and pur­pose couch surf­ing with his Gold Coast mates while he pulls to­gether his life-af­firm­ing pas­sion pro­ject.

Dicko is the mas­ter­mind be­hind live mu­sic spec­tac­u­lar Al­most the Great­est Gig on Earth, a 10-hour concert at the Broad­wa­ter Park­lands in Au­gust fea­tur­ing the best of the best ’80s trib­ute acts from around the coun­try.

To say it has put a spring in his step is an un­der­state­ment.

“I feel like a spring chicken again with this pro­ject,” he says. “I bounce out of bed ev­ery morn­ing. I’m lov­ing life. It’s been the best thing ever for me.”

Dicko left his TV ca­reer be­hind in Syd­ney, jaded and cyn­i­cal with where he found him­self at mid­dle age and need­ing a seachange.

“I was just tired of be­ing that guy, of be­ing who I thought I was,” he says.

He and his wife Me­lanie set­tled at Maleny with an ul­te­rior plan of be­ing empty nesters for good.

“We went some­where we thought our two daugh­ters would never move back in with us again,” he jokes (maybe).

“But we love it. There’s no ego, no one watches the telly. All the things that were im­por­tant in the city are unim­por­tant.

“It’s a bit of a pas­toral life. It’s a big com­mu­nity up there. There’s wildlife care and a bowls and a football club. It’s an easy place to get in­volved. It’s one of those places where it takes you half an hour to buy your morn­ing pa­per.”

Dicko doesn’t mind ad­mit­ting he lost his way with his TV ca­reer and the whole fame thing.

Born in Birm­ing­ham, he got his first job in the mu­sic in­dus­try as a press and pro­mo­tions man­ager for Cre­ation Records in the late


He’s lost none of his old skills. His re­lent­less pro­mo­tion of his Al­most the Great­est Gig is a master­class in good old-fash­ioned PR, com­plete with made-for-me­dia one-lin­ers and unashamed tor­rents of spruik­ing.

It’s plain to see how he climbed the lad­der of the UK record­ing in­dus­try, work­ing with the who’s who of ’90s mu­sic be­fore mov­ing to Syd­ney as gen­eral man­ager of Sony BMG Australia in 2001.

His first TV gig was on Aus­tralian Idol’s first and sec­ond sea­sons in 2003-2004. Per­haps Aus­tralian tele­vi­sion wasn’t quite ready for some­one who told it as they saw it but, by the end of his ten­ure, Dicko had be­come a house­hold name for his can­did per­for­mance as­sess­ments.

Such was his pop­u­lar­ity, he was poached by the Seven net­work, launch­ing a 16-year me­dia ca­reer in which he veered from the tal­ent con­test for­mat to re­al­ity TV host, celebrity con­tes­tant, panel show reg­u­lar,

break­fast ra­dio, even a one-off stint in the­atre.

But some­thing had to give.

Life was fast. He was, by his own ad­mis­sion, prob­a­bly an al­co­holic and, at 53, he walked away – al­most.

His ven­ture back into the mu­sic in­dus­try came as a sur­prise even to him.

“It came about one night when I was hav­ing drinks with a few mates and we got into the big­gest ar­gu­ment about what would be the great­est gig ever,” he says.

“It raged on and on and when the sun came up, we had a new playlist and I thought, we could do this with trib­ute artists. It’s been burn­ing in my soul for the past three years.”

The re­sult is what Dicko prom­ises will be an ex­trav­a­ganza of 35 trib­ute artists, play­ing in five sets of seven artists, from about noon–10pm at a venue back­dropped by the Broad­wa­ter and lux­ury-yachted ma­rina on Au­gust 10.

Dicko has signed his dream line-up on the dot­ted line, told them which hit songs he wants them to per­form and is spend­ing the com­ing months fine-tun­ing the stage pro­duc­tion so, he prom­ises, “there won’t be a dry seat in the house”.

Don’t say you weren’t warned about the one-lin­ers. Cau­tion: there are more ahead.

“I guar­an­tee you will know ev­ery sin­gle song,” he says. “It won’t be one of those con­certs killed by those 11 fate­ful words:

‘We’d like to play a few songs from our new al­bum’. It will be all killer, no filler.

“I’ll let you in on the best known dirty lit­tle se­cret in the mu­sic in­dus­try – it’s so much more fun with­out the artists. They’re too up their own back­sides to play what peo­ple want to hear.

“We’ve got the peo­ple who want to hon­our th­ese artists and they’re amaz­ing tal­ents in their own right. Our key­words for this show are qual­ity and joy.”

Dicko says the pro­ject has brought home to him how much he’s missed the mu­sic in­dus­try.

“It’s like hook­ing up with the love of your live who you dumped 15 years ago,” he says. “At the age of 56, to have an­other crack at mu­sic has been a source of hope and in­spi­ra­tion.

“I’d lost my am­bi­tion on TV. Even just think­ing about this pro­ject, it’s like my bea­con of hope. It’s the best thing ever.”

But he’s been around long enough to keep it real.

“I’m not get­ting all misty-eyed about fol­low­ing your dreams and all that,” he says. “At 56 in mu­sic, you’re ped­alling three times harder. It’s great to be young and fear­less but that’s not my do­main any more. I’m that id­iot off TV.

“But if you chase some­thing down that you ab­so­lutely love, you can never lose. Will it pay any div­i­dends? Would I re­gret it? I love do­ing it and that’s one of the great­est gifts ever. To be driven at this age, mu­sic’s given me that.”

It sounds like he’s found the elixir to midlife – so how’s his re­la­tion­ship with alcohol th­ese days? As an old PR hack, he knows the ques­tion is al­ways go­ing to be on the ta­ble.

“When I talked about my drink­ing, I didn’t think it was that big a deal,” he says. “It’s like chips to seag­ulls. Ev­ery jour­nal­ist al­ways asks.

“I’m still en­joy­ing a drink. I’m ei­ther on or I’m off. I can have months off but one thing I know about my­self is that I don’t like to drink moder­ately.

“Aus­tralians are fun when Melbourne Cup to Christ­mas is party time but when I’m in the mid­dle of it, I can’t wait to get on the wagon again.

“When I’m not drink­ing I’m so pro­duc­tive. (Drink­ing is) like pour­ing stu­pid­ity into your body. When I’m off it, I feel like a bloody ge­nius, like I could change the world.

“When I drink, it slows me right down.

Last year I didn’t drink for six months but it de­rails. What did it was want­ing to have a sun­downer with my wife when we were on hol­i­day. I have a strange re­la­tion­ship with it.” No so with his wife how­ever.

Dicko is full of praise for the woman who has stuck by him for the past 33 years, the mother of his two daugh­ters.

“She’s a saint,” he says.

“I wouldn’t have done it with­out her. To get back into mu­sic is what I was do­ing when the kids were very young.

“I wasn’t there for them then and it’s one of my big­gest re­grets. It re­ally is. The tim­ing is much bet­ter now.”

Dicko is keep­ing a ten­ta­tive toe in the TV camp too. The in­de­pen­dent tele­vi­sion pro­duc­tion com­pany he founded with a mate more than a decade ago is still pitch­ing ideas.

And, hang on, what’s Dicko do­ing go­ing down to Syd­ney to tape shows for Grant Denyer’s new game show Celebrity Name Game on the 10 net­work?

“That’s such good fun,” he says. “If some­thing’s fun, I do it. There’s no rea­son to say ‘No’. I still get of­fered TV gigs but most of it doesn’t mean any­thing. I’ve run out of rea­sons to do it. It drives my man­ager up the wall.”

In the mean­time, be pre­pared to see

Dicko’s face and hear his dis­tinctly ac­cented voice flog­ging tick­ets for his ’80s ex­trav­a­ganza, a decade he says was all pos­i­tivism with­out the irony – a bit like

Dicko th­ese days.

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