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Wow, what a journey. 28 years ago, I accepted the incredible offer from a fledgling cable network to come to work for them as a host. QVC was still in its infancy and was looking for “on air talent”. Those simple words did everything but factually describe me as a human being in 1989.
I had been on TV a few times doing standup comedy while living in San Francisco but nothing that was noteworthy or even worth remembering. Anything that might be considered “talent,” was still left up to others to decide. Today marks a milestone of having spent half of my life here at the “Q,” and my feelings of thankfulness are hard to describe.
I have been blessed beyond my credit, accomplished more than even I could have expected, and overcome obstacles that others said were insurmountable. For someone who has spent the last 28 years of their life on America’s most successful Television network I define the image of a square peg in a round hole in every way.
I am usually uncomfortable talking about myself, especially about my past, but may I share my story with you? For any of you who have been kind enough to watch me for all these years, I think you might be surprised to meet the “real Dan Hughes”. As you read this I can honestly say that I am a man with few complaints. Successes come with effort, and there are few participation trophies in the business world. I, maybe more than anyone else, am amazed at how the first half of my life has turned out. For you see, my life has long been a list of failures….
(me as a child)
As a child, I had a speech impediment that was so severe that an elementary school administrator told my parents that I was most likely “retarded.” Long before psychologist had a diagnosis for ADHD (Attention Deficit/Hyper-activity Disorder) I was simply labeled as a “problem child,” and my parents were asked to hold me out of school for one year. I started Kindergarten one year later than my friends. My friends would ask me why I wasn’t in school like they were, and I did not have the answer. I knew I struggled with things and I felt left out by my limitations.
By the age of ten I had memorized the batting averages of every single starting player in Baseball’s major leagues for the previous year but could not do simple math in my head. A teacher in that year called me “stupid,” in front of the class while I was at the chalkboard when the numbers in front of me became a blur, and my mind shut down. She was the teacher…so she must have been correct. I went back to my desk, shamed, and cried. She told the other students to ignore me, that I was only looking for attention … she was wrong. Attention has long been my biggest nightmare. I have never sought out the spotlight and the thought of standing up in front of even the smallest of crowds still makes my knees tremble even today at age 56. Every day at work requires 20 minutes of meditation before I can step in front of the cameras and do what I do.
I had never heard the term “dyslexia” before the 5th grade but at least my loving parents now had a reason to help them understand my low reading skills and my struggle with spelling. As crazy as this might sound, writing has become one of my greatest passions. When I was younger writing was a 3-headed beast that I could not slay. Even today it takes me many more hours to write and spell check the simplest of paragraphs and I am sure you have caught more than a few mistakes in my proofreading.
I still dread hitting the “send key,” wondering what my brain might have missed and worried that I might be found out. That fear does not prevent me from writing. It only inspires me to work harder and overcome. There are few roadblocks in life unless you consider them to be so… only obstacles.
I had no clue that I was color blind until my junior year in High School when a text book with pretty circles with numbers in them, showed me a number that my classmates did not see. I have since found out that 8% of males and 0.5% of women are effected by the same affliction. It never bothered me. I am an emotional guy by nature and a sunset to me is just as impactful as is might be to you. I may not see the colors you see but I feel everything you do, maybe even more. It has only been in the last few years that I have grown comfortable enough in my own skin that I have mentioned my color blindness while on air. It is the least of my afflictions and the one that could have cost me my television career at QVC.
I faked my way through my first 2 years at QVC by studying every aspect of gemstones and jewelry and using descriptive language for colors my eyes could not perceive. My plan worked well until one day when someone back stage accidently got the product line up confused and I presented an amethyst ring as the most beautiful blue topaz…oops. My boss at the time, and one who will always be a dear friend, called me into his office during a tape review and simply asked me, “Where you even paying attention …are you color blind?”
That was the first time that my limitations were ever questioned at QVC and his response to my answer of, “Yes sir…I am,” was answered with a response I will never forget. “Why didn’t you tell me that when I hired you?” I told him it was difficult to admit that I was deficient in some areas that come so easily to others and that I didn’t want to let him down or the company. He stared me straight in the eyes and said, with a smile, “You’re horrible at jewelry, but you’re good at what you do. I’m pulling you from future jewelry shows but let’s find out what you’re really good at. I didn’t hire you to be like everybody else, I hired you, just to be yourself!”
(me being myself with Paul Kelly)
I was 30 years of age at that time, and I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that I teared up in his office that day. I had spent so much wasted energy trying to “be like everyone else”. Trying to fit into a world I felt anything but comfortable in. It is hard to admit that my earlier years were fraught with half-truths and even lies to cover my limitations. This man, (his name is John and he has since moved on from QVC,) could have chastised me. He could have fired me for lying on air…but he didn’t. Instead he chose to inspire me to be better than my afflictions. John if ever read this, thank you for being a leader and not just a boss.
In simple words, he defined what QVC has always been. I am shorter than average, I have lost most of my hair over the years, my teeth are not perfectly white and straight and I do not fit the common image of what a “TV personality,” represents today in society. I am just …me. The people who have employed me over the years have always had one singular commonality. They have only asked for my best, whatever that might be. That gratitude of humanity cannot be fully expressed.
A “handicap,” is only what you believe in yourself, and a label you choose to wear, only if you listen to the negative factors around you. I have been blessed beyond my wildest dreams to have been lucky enough to have had those few people around me that decided to label me as just different… not deficient. My parents never gave up. Tutors 5 nights a week for years and a handful of incredible teachers that saw something that even I could not see….
(my parents on their wedding day, see any resemblance?)
Mr. Lee, my 7th grade science teacher at Eastwood Middle School, who felt my struggle and took the time to notice the social interactions with me and my friends, who would one day ask me to get up in front of the class each morning …. And tell a joke for extra credit. (It was those extra credit points that allowed me to pass his course.) He knew I needed the positive reinforcement that comes from making others laugh and the acceptance of others that comes from it.
A Sophomore English teacher named David Fruits should have flunked me, but instead gave me a chance at a passing grade if I accepted his challenge of joining his speech and debate team. As a teacher, he could have over looked me and spent more time on the gifted students, but he didn’t. He changed my life. The gut wrenching fear of public speaking was less than the fear of failing his class and having to again admit defeat to my parents once again. I accepted his challenge and have been accepting them every day since. I somehow passed grammar and English under his guidance and went on to win 3 national awards for original oratory.
In 2009, thirty years after my high school graduation, I received a phone call at my home from Mr. Fruits. He had long since retired from teaching but for whatever reason, he had remembered me. I was surprised. North Central High School in Indianapolis was a huge school in 1979. In the graduating class that I barely made my way through, there have been Space shuttle astronauts, a Navy Admiral, NFL stand outs, and a friend of mine who is a Harvard Law graduate and has been chief counsel to two American Vice Presidents. But David Fruits called me … We spoke for over an hour and I continually voiced to him my thankfulness for his kindness and direction. The conversation ended with him simply saying, “Well Danny, I just tried to make a difference in your life and make you see opportunities that you couldn’t see for yourself.” Four weeks later his spouse sent me his obituary by e-mail. He never mentioned his stage 4 cancer in our conversation.
Most of my skill set has been based on verbal skills and memorization. I wake up each morning at 3:00 AM so that I can devote enough time to my product research because it takes me longer to read than most people. If you look, you’ll see I rarely have note cards during my presentations. I memorize everything for that day. I ask someone back stage what colors a product is available in and memorize the colors and the order in which they are displayed. Unlike you, I have learned over the years to read in sentences and full paragraphs instead of individual words. I will never complain about the extra effort. I will always and ever be, thankful for the opportunity.
On a balance sheet, my failures far outweigh my success in life, but the failures are all forgotten if you keep striving for successes. When my daughter was born, I was very worried that my afflictions would become her own, they did not. She is a brilliant and independent woman with her master’s degree in journalism and doing all she can to change the world for the better.
(my daughter on her wedding day)
I have been happily married for 16 years to a wonderful woman who acknowledges my challenges but refuses to allow me to use them as an excuse in life.
(my wife Kelly and our beloved Murphy)
I am finally happy. I might always struggle with a feeling that I am unworthy of my own success, but my own personal score sheet is balanced heavily in favor of joy. Most of my closest friends have been in my life for 25 years or more …life is good.
You have read my rantings so far so let me finish by saying this. QVC has never been just about “products.” Those of you who have been fans over the years understand this fact. It is about people. Just simple everyday people, who have risen to the challenge of being more than ever expected. I work with inventors every day who have risked everything to achieve just a tiny slice of the “American dream.” I don’t work on commission, and none of my fellow hosts do, but I hope that my presence and my efforts have made a difference in those individuals’ lives. That is my greatest success. I have been blessed to have made a pretty good living over the years and my gratitude towards QVC for giving me that opportunity is without measure.
I hope that the message that I try my best to voice every day, inspires someone to do more than they ever thought capable of…. If I can do it, anyone can. We limit ourselves only by what we except within.
My favorite quote is, “We cannot change those things that we tolerate.” I do not know who said it, and I do not wish to plagiarize, but it has long been my mantra and a phrase I repeat in my head every day.
(me every day at the Q)
Thanks to all of you, who have allowed me to just be me, for the last 28 years. Thank you for this half of my life. Thank you for inspiring me with your kindness and thank you for inviting me into your homes. I look forward to the future and feel blessed every day.
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