Out last night for a speaking engagement at an event for ‘exceptional people’ organised by executive search company McSherry Brown.
If I am being very frank with you, the speaking circuit can be a bit soul-destroying from time to time, but this was a really nice event, well organised, well attended, well paid (before anyone asks), really nice mood and atmosphere and they also bought loads of my books, with the mark up going to Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research. And don’t forget, if you haven’t already, to check out a great fundraiser we have planned for October 3 with Kevin Spacey
The other nice thing was that rather than just asking me to turn up and say what I liked, Claire-Louise McSherry (the boss) gave me a specific brief – to select twelve exceptional people I had worked with or come into contact with, and use each to give one or two indicators as to why they were exceptional, and how those qualities might be applied by others.
I went for Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Nelson Mandela, Martin McGuinness, Bono and Bob Geldof (I counted them as one), Princess Diana, Cathy Gilman, Tim Berners-Lee, Bill Gates, Alex Ferguson, Lance Armstrong and Diego Maradona, who narrowly squeezed out Haile Gebreselassie for my final sporting slot. Cathy Gilman, by the way, is the chief executive of Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research, having risen to that position from being a tin-rattling volunteer a few years back.
I’d be here all day if I went through the reasons I gave for each choice, though many will be obvious. But even as I drew up the list – good fun by the way, and I recommend it for your next long journey – I was conscious of how few women there were on there. Diana for her beauty, and how she used it, along with her innate understanding of other people, Cathy because I wanted to show that exceptional did not always mean famous or powerful in the conventional sense.
Unsurprisingly, the gender imbalance came up in the q and a. Why wasn’t Mrs Thatcher in there, I was asked? Well, it is my list and though I accept she is an exceptional person, there are many such, and if I am having three former PMs and Presidents, there is no way she is getting in ahead of TB, BC and NM, is there? What about Mary Queen of Scots or Queen Victoria, someone suggested. But my brief had been LIVING people, (thanks to commenter VR for pointing out this would also exclude Diana – I meant living sufficient for me to have met them!) so they were automatically excluded even if I had wanted to consider them, which I probably wouldn’t have.
But I found myself making a broader point, which didn’t go down well with the women in the room, but has a ring of truth to it. Whether you look at history, or the current day, most of the people who would be defined as the best and most exceptional in their field tend to be men. If I had been asked to do a list of 12 exceptional woman, I could have done so, and there are plenty to choose from. But there are more men to choose from, and contrary to the observation of one woman at the event, I don’t think it is sexist to say so. I did concede that the Queen is pretty much the best Monarch around these days, JK Rowling the most commercially successful current author, but I’ve only met the Queen a couple of times, and only ever communicated with JKR by email, so it would have been pure name-dropping to put them in there … not like Maradona, Mandela or Diana eh…
Anyway, Claire-Louise is a woman and she put together the nicest City event I have been at in a while, and given my observation seemed to take off as a rather hot talking point, I thought I would put it on here too. Lists welcome.