His warm nature makes it easy to see why Ian Fraser enjoyed his job so much, and why he was so good at it. For nearly 24 years Ian worked on P&O cruise ships, appearing in and organising entertainment for hundreds of thousands of passengers.

He travelled the world singing, dancing and having a ball. Ian has just written and published a book about those days. It is called Lucky, Lucky Me: I Would Have Done It For Free.

“The title says it all,” says Ian. “It sounds trite. But I woke up every day thinking ‘What are we doing today?’ Something new was always happening. A new show. New places.”

Ian, 68, grew up in north east Scotland and later lived in Wigton. His younger sister is former ITV Border presenter Gilly Fraser. They worked together on the book.

“It just poured out of me,” says Ian. “I wrote it by hand. Every day I posted what I’d written to Gilly. She typed it up, and tidied it up.”

Ian was a well-established singer in Scotland. After falling out with a promoter he fired off several letters, one of them to P&O. He passed the audition and, in 1983, flew to Sydney to be an entertainments officer on the Oriana. Ian had been out of the UK only once before, on honeymoon to Ibiza.

“I always fancied the idea of travelling. But I could never see myself in a position to be able to afford it. Suddenly I was based in Sydney for three years. My first glimpse of the opera house - could anything be more fabulous?”

The Oriana carried 1,800 passengers, most of them Australian. It travelled to countries including New Zealand, China, Hong Kong and Malaysia.

Ian took keep-fit classes, ran deck quoits tournaments, was a bingo caller and quizmaster, and every evening hosted a dinner table before performing in two shows. He revelled in the long days, and nights.

“I was 32 when I first went to sea. I was late in starting out. But I had an apprenticeship of doing pubs and clubs. Dance and acting was new to me. But boy, was I like a sponge.”

He says the atmosphere for shows on ships tends to be enthusiastic. “What you have to bear in mind is, everybody’s on holiday. They’ve probably had a nice day. They’re not ‘Come on - entertain me.’ It’s ‘There’s Ian. He was doing the deck quoits with us today.’

“You have to be a people person. Be a listener, have a personality that must be unfailingly cheerful, especially once I got to be a boss. I couldn’t walk out of my cabin and be grumpy. I had to have this persona of being happy. I have to say hello to every single person. ‘Hello! Did you enjoy the show last night?’ That’s something I didn’t find difficult.

“The ship was a microcosm of the world. There were 25 to 30 different nationalities working on it. Every single religion. Yet everybody got on. It’s what the world ought to be.”

The Oriana was decommissioned in 1986. Ian was transferred to the Canberra. This had mostly British passengers. The ship was hugely popular, as it had been requisitioned by the Ministry of Defence as a troop ship during the Falklands War.

There was a three-month round-the-world cruise then trips around the Caribbean. Ian met his second wife Tammy on board. They lived in Wigton in the 1990s, some of the time. Ian was generally away from home for four months, then off for two months.

He became cruise director - in charge of onboard entertainment - on the Sea Princess, whose route took in Norway and Iceland. He then had the same role on the Canberra, giving singer and actress Claire Sweeney her first onboard cabaret spot. She is one of several former colleagues who have written forewords to Ian’s book.

In 1995 Ian became cruise director on P&O’s flagship, the new Oriana.

“As I went up the ladder I got more major parts in shows. I really loved the performing part of it. A highlight was the show A Tribute to Freddie Mercury. Who wouldn’t enjoy doing that? Pound for pound, I think it’s the best show we ever did.”

Other attractions for passengers included comedians such as Tom O’Connor and Roy Walker and musicians including Joe Longthorne and Joe Brown. “Joe’s contract had 19 different riders. We were thinking ‘Oh, a bloody diva.’ But he was one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met.

“Roy Walker has been a good pal. I go down to play golf with him. Sir Alex Ferguson was on several cruises. I see him at horseracing every now and again. I get on brilliantly with him.”

Ian would sometimes interview celebrity passengers in the ship’s theatre. One of these was Jimmy Savile. What did Ian think when the truth about Savile emerged?

“That was really weird. And so disappointing. He had that charisma that we all loved at the time. Quite extraordinary... he used to walk around the promenade deck. People joined in. I say in the book, he was like the Pied Piper. People were writing home saying ‘I’ve just done my walk with Jimmy Savile!’ How wrong we all were.

“Then you get somebody like Liz Dawn. I have never in my life seen an audience reaction better than when I introduced her. There was a thousand people-plus in the theatre. Every one gave her a standing ovation before she even opened her mouth. She was fabulous.

“Every day that fortnight you would see her and her husband sitting talking to people, having lunch with people. Which I can honestly say wasn’t always the case with a few celebrities. I won’t name names, but some weren’t interested in mixing.”

Amazing people, and places. The ships themselves were spectacular playgrounds. Then were the ports and destinations inland. Ian’s favourites included Sydney, New York, Hong Kong, and Tsavo National Park in Kenya. “By and large, every port was different. Different culture, architecture, people.”

It wasn’t always plain sailing. Ian’s book recalls a 50-foot wave breaking windows on the Oriana. On another occasion he shepherded passengers when a smoke alarm sounded. He was suitably attired. The alarm had gone off during a production of Guys and Dolls. Ian was playing a policeman.

Given how much he loved life at sea, was it ever hard to come home? “No. Home’s still home. Ask any British sailor ‘What’s your favourite port?’ and they’ll say ‘Southampton.’ You needed to get back to normality.”

He agrees that this life may have contributed to the break-up of his second marriage. “My first marriage, I was just too young. My second wife Tammy was a croupier on the ship, then entertainments officer. When we had a son she couldn’t sail anymore. Being away was probably one of the main reasons our relationship ended. I was a bit of a workaholic. Even when I came home I was working out new things. You just do what you have to do. It’s a labour of love.”

Passengers ranged from the rich to once-in-a-lifetime cruisers. Even Ian’s patience was occasionally tested. In his book he admits to once snapping at a persistently rude passenger.

In its pages he seems impatient with people who did not appreciate what they had, such as passengers complaining about not being able to use their usual restaurant for one night, despite being offered a VIP menu and a bottle of wine elsewhere.

Ian says: “When I first went on the Canberra, it was spartan. We didn’t have a proper theatre or en-suite facilities. We only had two restaurants. But somehow... we had nothing and we all shared it. Now, everybody expects so much. That’s life. It’s easy now for people to criticise things. You only have to go on Facebook.”

He thinks that people are more comfortable in their own friends and family groups now, perhaps less willing to join in the communal entertainment that was his livelihood, and his passion. This is among the reasons Ian feels he was right to retire in 2006. Another is that budget cuts led to less experienced performers and worse shows.

When he stepped down, the tributes included a This Is Your Life-style presentation on his final cruise and a letter from Sir Alex Ferguson.

Ian now enjoys a quiet life in the Scottish Borders with his wife Jackie. But he does not pretend that walking away from the job he loved was easy. “When I retired, one of the hardest things was, you miss being somebody. Does that sound really big-headed? I’d gone from being in charge, being in all the shows, working really hard, to suddenly switching off.

“I knew basically the time had come. I was 55. I was just beginning to not have enough energy. You had to give your all. If you didn’t, people would find you out. And I didn’t want people to think ‘Not him again - we had him last year.’ I wanted people to think ‘We miss Ian, he was good.’”

Writing the book has, he says, given him a new lease of life. Gilly has arranged for him to give some talks about it. A pleasant consequence of the book has been an improvement in their relationship.

“In all honesty, we’ve never been that close. I wouldn’t say we’ve been antagonistic. But we’ve always had differences. Our mum always used to worry about it. An unexpected bonus of doing the book is that we’re closer now than we’ve ever been.”

That feels appropriate for what is essentially a book about kindness, happiness and community. It’s a book about people determined to put their troubles aside, and those who help them to do it.

“If something nice happens, you can be happy. But it’s much nicer if you’re sharing it with somebody. It spreads. And it lasts longer. If you have success with a show, next day everybody’s talking about it. ‘What did you think of so and so? Wasn’t he great?’ The whole ship buzzed.”

Ian falls silent. His eyes are suddenly damp. “I’ve been lucky all my life,” he says. “Various times I’ve been at a crossroads. I picked the right one. And if I’ve picked the wrong one, it’s taken me to a better one. I’ve had a lucky life. A happy life. That job... every single box was ticked for me.”

n Lucky, Lucky Me costs £10 plus £2 postage. Email iandmfraser@hotmail.co.uk