Head physics teacher Rachael Donoghue spoke to Wargamer at Warhammer Fest 2023 about discovering Warhammer 40k as an adult, raising a tournament winning gamer, and meeting her partner through the hobby.
Donoghue comes from the English port town of Grimsby and runs the physics department in a high school. She discovered Warhammer 40k together with her son, Robin, wandering into a Warhammer store when he was eight years old: “They gave him the full tutorial, taught him how to build and paint a model. It was amazing – I thought he had no attention span, but he’d sit and paint these models for hours. I was just so pleased there was something that would hold his attention”.
Robin chose evil, plague-ridden Death Guard miniatures to start with – “I think he liked all the buboes”, Donoghue says – and his mum joined in. “Eventually I didn’t want to paint buboes any more”, she says. She’s now the proud owner of several Warhammer 40k factions and fantasy Age of Sigmar armies, including: “A nice big Drukhari army, Alpha Legion Chaos Space Marines, Kharadron Overlords“. Her current project? “Seraphon with the new Contrast Paints are too much fun”.
That store was her entry point to a new community: “I’m an honorary member of the local competitive Warhammer 40k team… I even met my partner through Warhammer. He was just at the store all the time and we just started chatting. I got involved running the school Warhammer club, and when we had a school trip to Warhammer World” – the HQ and exhibition centre for Warhammer-maker Games Workshop – “He came along to advise… five years we’ve been together now”.
Donoghue is at Warhammer Fest 2023 with the Grimsby Warhammer team: when we speak, Robin is competing in the Sunday Warhammer 40k Youngbloods tournament. It’s his first tournament, and he has aspirations of joining the adults’ B-Team. Donoghue was roped into the final stages of preparation for her son’s Ork army. “I got roped in to paint his Scrapjets and grots. He’s got a vehicle heavy list, and he has the shiniest Scrapjets ever with some beautiful pinks and purples in there now. Serves him right for leaving it too late”.
With Robin competing in the tournament on Sunday, Donoghue is free to revel in the show with the other Warhammer fans. She’s met other mums who are here supporting their son, even though they don’t share the hobby. “It’s nice to have another parent to talk to about it, just like if you’re a football mum or a rugby mum… there aren’t that many of us Warhammer mums around, and I think some mums wonder if it’s normal, you know, that your son spends hours and hours reading rulebooks”.
The stories she relates from the tournament are all positive: “The Youngbloods are so excited. The kids play so nicely. I was expecting as a teacher that with lots of teenage boys there’d be a bit of testosterone, a few arguments, but they’ve been so nice to each other…” Some boys are coming out of their shells. “I was talking to some of the mums, and they’d say: He really struggles at school, he finds it hard to make friends, he’s socially awkward, but they’re here playing with sportsmanship, they’re getting more out of it than just the game”.
In Donoghue’s experience, the Warhammer hobby has a very male audience. “I never queue for the women’s bathrooms when I’m at Warhammer World. This weekend is the most women I’ve ever seen at a Warhammer event!”. She’s trying to encourage more girls to join the Warhammer club at school: “About five girls are in the club, out of thirty students who’re there regularly”.
“I don’t understand why more girls don’t do it… it’s very creative. But I have the same problem getting girls to do physics. I think it’s to do with having role models. And there are some great female characters in Warhammer now, like Lelith, and Yvraine”.
Donoghue has been fired up by her weekend at Warhammer Fest. “I want to really learn how to play the Seraphon…maybe next year I’ll be in a tournament!” After our interview, she messages me with some happy news about Robin’s final place in the Warhammer 40k Youngbloods Tournament: “He won the event, totally proud mum moment!”
If you’re a Warhammer mum or dad who wants help decoding your child’s hobby, we have a guide to Warhammer 40k for complete beginners. Wargamer has spent the weekend covering Warhammer Fest 2023, from Games Workshop’s big reveal of the Warhammer 40k 10th edition starter set, to some of the amazing artwork and models created by members of the Warhammer fandom.