Ian Shaw

Ian Shaw

January 27th, 2002

From the tiny fishing village he now calls home, Ian Shaw looks out at the ocean where his daughter died.

In a quiet corner of Nova Scotia, the Scots entrepreneur found the one place where he can deal with his grief.

Four years ago Ian, 64, was a hugely successful businessman, living a life of luxury and privilege.

He lived in Geneva, owned another house in France, drove prestige cars, had his own horses – and a loving family around him.

Then the plane carrying his 23-year-old daughter Stephanie home from a trip to New York crashed into the sea off Canada.

All 229 passengers and crew aboard Swissair Flight 111 were killed in the disaster on September 2, 1998.

It changed the Perth-born businessman’s life into one of simplicity and solitude.

A year after his daughter died, he left his wife Gudula and son Olivier and moved to Nova Scotia.

Ian, brother of ex-Bank of Scotland governor Sir Jack Straw, gave up everything to run Shaw’s Landing, a seafood diner-cum-general-store.

It’s in West Dover, a little fishing community closest to the spot where the plane went down.

His winters are peaceful, but summers are busy. Ian cooks fresh lobster for the hundreds of tourists who flock to the pretty village.

A memorial at the water’s edge lists the names of the victims who perished in the Swissair crash.

Twelve caskets are buried nearby containing all the remains recovered from the sea.

Ian can’t explain why he had to leave his old life behind. It’s just his way of coping with the pain and, he believes, it probably saved his marriage.

“I don’t feel that I’m here watching over Stephanie’s grave,” he said. “That’s the greatest misunderstanding, that I’m here for some sense of proximity.

“Swissair ripped from me and from all of us, any perceived proximity to Stephanie. It’s gone.

“There’s not an answer to why I’m here. If Gudula had said that she didn’t want to me to come to Nova Scotia, I wouldn’t have and we would probably have reached a point of rupture.

“No two people grieve in exactly the same fashion, but we speak twice a day on the phone and we communicate throughout the day by e-mail. It’s like a romance.” Ian tells his story to Kirsty Wark in the first of her new TV series about Scots who cope with life- changing experiences, Lives Less Ordinary.

Ian has spent three years refurbishing his cafe and converted the disused warehouse space above the diner into a comfortable flat.

He first arrived in the village two days after the crash, desperate to see for himself where his daughter perished. The experience changed him forever.

“I was absolutely appalled and not just by the loss of Stephanie,” he said.

“It was the idea of the loss of so many hopes and dreams and imaginings, first communions and wedding vows and all those things that seem to make sense of what we call life.

“It was the idea that you can just take them and wipe them out. At that point I never ever wanted to see this place again. But when I returned to Geneva, things began to unravel quite badly.

“I helped the Scottish export industry by consuming at least a bottle of whisky a day.

“I said to myself, ‘Here I am, 60 years old and what an enormous empire of futility I’ve created.

“I think it’s a fact that 80 per cent of couples who lose a child also lose their marriage.

“I can understand. We were on the point of becoming part of those statistics.

“There are times when I am on my own, but it’s not a cause of any distress to me. The sophistications of urban life seem very superficial to me now.”

Lives Less Ordinary, 7.30pm, Monday February 4 on BBC2.