We were prepared to try anything in our efforts to raise both profile and money (the old adage of ‘friends-raising before fundraising’) for a heritage attraction that should have been more popular than it was. I might discuss my personal foray into Crufts-territory on another occasion, but in the early days of campaigning we took the decision to mount some particularly extravagant parties. I had a couple of drinks on the way there.
The first of two events in one week was an Indian Extravaganza. It was the height of everyone’s ‘we have to cultivate rich Indians’ period. Bangalore was the new Silicon Valley, incoming Indian tourism was at an extraordinary height and bespectacled brothers were flanking politicians and royalty at every available opportunity.
We had been approached by an Indian Toiletries Magnate who ranked particularly highly on both the Sunday Times and Forbes spectrums and who had convinced us that both his talent for party planning and his extensive connections were going to be the dual cure of all our ills.
In tandem, a West End and Broadway Producer had rolled out a similar patter and told some convincing if slightly tall stories about the gazillions that he had raised to put rock musicals on stage and about how the principals of fundraising were exactly the same. We all knew it wasn’t the same but we were fond of his perma-tan and highlighted tips.
So two occasions of similarly immersive and over-wrought scale were assembled. In the same week.
In organising the Indian Extravaganza I seemed to have developed a rather questionable subcontinental accent in my dealings with The Toiletries Magnate. It bordered on both the Welsh and the inappropriate. In my defence, I continue to have a particularly sponge-like tendency when it comes to accents. The Toiletries Magnate’s thrice-daily telephone calls were having their osmosis-like effect. By way of Cardiff.
He wanted Keralan Dancing, Indian food, lashings of whiskey and a quartet of tenors who had recently come third in the latest TV talent show. He wanted this all squeezing into a two hour window because everyone was going to want to attend this event in addition to all of the other engagements that they will have accepted invitations for that same evening.
The Theatrical Extravaganza’s organisation had me name-dropping liberally and with leaky abandon whilst using ‘darling’ at the end of every sentence, whether it was contextually or grammatically correct or not.
This occasion demanded tap-dancing, cocktail pianists, ‘happenings’ in corners of the property that re-created moments from the building’s history but which applied a dash or two of twenty-first century West End flair. And lashings of champagne.
In fairness, we weren’t paying for any of the above. Various dodgy in-kind deals had been done. Apart from for my time, of course. I was working on nothing else at all. And having a blast.
It was becoming quickly apparent that both events were going to be delivering a disproportionately low return on my personal investment. The majority of the hosts’ effort was going into ‘design’ and into calling me on a thrice-daily basis. And not on the previously-promised deep-pocketed connections that were supposed to be attending.
The Indian Extravaganza’s guest list was being weighed down by family members of The Toiletries Magnate’s and by suppliers who had donated everything from free invitation cards through to free samosas and free whiskey. The Theatrical Extravaganza was being attended almost entirely by C-List celebrities and West End Wendys who The Producer was trying to engage for his latest regional tour, which was starting out soon at the Theatre Royal Windsor.
It was time for me to start covering my tracks. And start drinking.
I had slowly but incrementally started standing down members of my Team, Board, Advisory Board and Senior Management on the understanding that we were well ‘staffed’ for the occasion and that they could ‘take the night off’. None of them bothered to check my story with each other and they disappeared with a spring in their step that they weren’t going to have to be involved.
My only personal mission was to deliver the events as smoothly as possible, drawing as little attention or criticism to myself as feasible. And get as drunk as I possibly could in the process.
The first and last objectives were delivered with sharp precision. The middle one was more challenging. The thrice-daily telephone calls were now peppered with loud ‘sweetie’s, in one instance, and weird head waggles in the case of the other. My high volume, high affectation fixation with the forthcoming occasions was the talk of the office and corridor. But, in fairness, the interest levels were only focussed upon my own advanced idiosyncrasies rather than anything else.
The daytimes of each event saw the telephone calls and the idiosyncrasies ramp up to an almost hyperactive degree. In taking phonecalls from the hosts on the days in question, my quirks had merged from one to the other. I was using my offensive Delhi-by-way-of-Cardiff accent to the Theatrical Producer and making crass jokes about buggering chorus boys to the Toiletries Magnate. And then hanging up on them, swearing loudly that it was all very well them calling me with concerns about the evening ahead from the comfort of their chauffeur-driven limos whilst I had to shlep across town with various tacky props and thank you presents for the cast of Bend it Like Beckham the Musical tucked under my arms. Or was is Collabro.
Naturally, an event is an event and once the host, the guests and the event-managing fundraising manager are all suitably tanked up, everyone can relax and commence the important business of flirting with the waiting staff.
It transpired that I had already had minor flirtations, in a previous decade, with both a cocktail pianist at one and a C-Liser at another. On the second night I thought twice about my fourth glasses of champagne in the knowledge that I would have to be running out into the cold to find taxis, fur wraps, discarded fundraising collateral and the contents of the gift shop that had been stumbled into by an inebriated guest, in around an hour’s time. I did my thinking twice, grabbed the fourth glass of champagne and turned on a high wattage smile in the hope of a bit of exhausted attention. But I was cut off at the pass by my Chief Executive who had decided to do a ‘fly past’.
“What the hell did all of this cost?” was his first question which I answered reasonably adequately with tales of knocked-off bhajis and generous donations from the touring production of Phantom.
“And how much is it going to make us?” was his inevitable follow-up.
“Oh, don’t worry about that right now”, I patronisingly risked. ‘And besides, we’ve got a Dog Show this weekend. That’s going to be a game-changer”.
And I stumbled off down the stairs in search of fur wraps, discarded fundraising collateral and a cocktail pianist from my past.