Former war reporter, donkey rescuer and proud ‘Mirror man’ Don Mackay has died aged 63.
Mackay left the paper in 2015 after 25 years which included covering the first Gulf War, the genocide in Rwanda and the war in Bosnia.
In 1987, whilst working on the Daily Star, he famously outwitted The Sun in the race to find and rescue a donkey which was set to be beaten and dragged through the streets as part of a Spanish fiesta. The Sun had bought “Blackie” and paid a local farmer to keep it in one of his fields before repatriating it. Mackay tracked down the animal, paid the farmer more than The Sun gave him and flew it back to the UK allowing Daily Star to taunt its rival with the front page headline “Gotcha!”.
Among those to pay tribute to Mackay today was Alyson Healey, a member of the public who said she was “grateful for his kindness”.
She explained that in 2011 her 20-year-old daughter was stranded at Bristol coach station after missing a connection. She was only able to explain to her mum where she was before her mobile went dead.
Healey said she was unable to find a number for the coach company so out of desperation phoned the newsdesk number printed in the Daily Mirror. Then night editor Mackay answered the phone.
“I explained that I didn’t have a story but I hoped they might have a contact number that wasn’t in the public domain. I explained had happened and Don was understanding. He said he was happy to help.
“He had children himself and understood. He gave me the coach company’s press officer’s personal mobile number. He said that if she didn’t help I should to tell her he was going to contact her and then ring him back and let him know. It worked. In fairness the poor woman was just about to sit down to an anniversary meal with her boyfriend but she still said she’d sort it out. I didn’t need to make any threats but I think that my opening gambit of ‘I’ve been given your number by Don Mackay’ may have been the magic words.”
The coach station manager was told to look after Healey’s daughter while her father made the four-hour journey by car to pick her up.
Mackay’s wife, the actress Nichola McAuliffe, wrote and acted in a 2011 play – A British Subject – about their efforts to save the live of Mirza Tahir Hussain, a man facing the death penalty in Pakistan.
McAuliffe told the Mirror: “He was an extraordinary man and an extraordinary journalist.
“He loved the Daily Mirror and was at his happiest when he was out on the road reporting.
“The reason I fell in love with Don and why I remained, and remain, passionately in love with him was that if he had been there at Kristallnacht he would have given the Nazis a kicking.
“He was a 4am friend. If he wasn’t your friend at 4am you were only an acquaintance.
“Prince Charles adored him and knew he had absolute integrity.”
Mirror editor Lloyd Embley told the paper: “Don was the first person I met when I joined the Mirror in 1994.
“It was quite a baptism – and it definitely involved legendary Mirror watering hole ‘The Stab’. More than once!
“He adored newspapers and was a tenacious, competitive (maybe I mean combative) reporter.
“The Mirror family has lost one of its true characters.”
Tributes on Twitter included:
Former Daily Mirror reporter Cameron Robertson: “Don Mackay could be spectacularly gruff to the crowd, but compassionate to the individual. Quite a character, and Fleet Street has lost a very good unnofficial mentor of newsroom journalists.”
Talksport radio host Mike Parry: “He didn’t waste one single day of his breath-taking life and my life was better for knowing him.”
Former Sun royal correspondent Charles Rae: “Don Mackay was a friend, colleague and a foe in Fleet Street. The roughest of diamonds and a great reporter.”
Sunday Mirror head of news Nick Owens: “Easily the toughest – and kindest – man I’ve ever met. Mirror man through and through.”
Former Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan said: “One of the greatest Fleet Street reporters of them all. Brave, bold, hilarious, abrasive, hard-drinking & ferociously loyal.
“The guy you’d always want in the newsroom trenches when flak was flying. Loved him.”
Picture, credit: Mirrorpix