Alan Fairley: Edinburgh, March 2021
Black tie dinners – doncha just love them?
From the gilt edged invite to the expense of hiring an outfit from Moss Bros and the humiliation of having your inside leg measurement taken by an over eager tailor followed by the uncomfortable fitting of the winged collar and the black bow tie….. all in the interest of appearing ‘dapper’ (whatever that is) – to the event itself where you sit alongside similarly dressed individuals, all of whom would no doubt have been happier to have come along in their trackies rather than being dressed like penguins.
It’s a ritual in the business world which has been in force for centuries and which, gladly for Moss Bros and their competitors, shows no signs of abating.
During my years in the financial services industry, I attended such an event, and followed the aforementioned ritual, every twelve months.
The occurrence took place when one of my clients hosted its annual charity dinner and auction to raise funds for a Leeds based charity which endeavoured to fulfil the last wishes of Yorkshire children with terminal illnesses.
Such wishes, which were almost always fulfilled, ranged from trips to Disneyland, personal meetings with sports/TV stars or even something less spectacular such as an X-Box which the stricken child’s parents could not afford.
A kind of Jim’ll fix it without the Jim – although we’ll leave that subject untouched for now.
So, off I would head to the banqueting suite at Elland Road, home of Leeds United, every year, bow tie at the ready, to host a table of corporate guests (including at least one B-list celebrity), listen to some equally B-List speakers then watch as the auction would raise, quite literally, thousands of pounds for this very worthy cause.
As such I was in the fortunate position of meeting a number of celebs a few samples of whom are as follows.
Jimmy Greaves and Denis Law
Greavsie, with his TV experience, was a real funny character. Some great stories including the famous one about the Scottish football radio commentator who asked a colleague to confirm the name of a scorer for Italy in a game at Hampden then announced over the airwaves that Fucktivano had opened the scoring. (think about it!)
I’ve no recollection of Denis Law’s speech. I was too much in awe of him and just to be in the same room as him was a privilege for me.
I got them to pose for a Polaroid afterwards – although as you can see Greavsie was getting a bit too friendly with my missus who was working at the event as a table hostess.
Denis was staying at the same hotel as me so we shared a taxi back – he hails from Aberdeen, so needless to say, I paid!
Another Scottish football legend, Bobby played for Morton, Celtic and Leeds and was capped 31 times for Scotland
During the dinner there was a game of stand up, sit down bingo where all guests were asked to donate £20 pounds to the charity. Bobby leaned over to me and said ‘you couldnae lend me 20 pounds could ye pal, I’m skint.’
As they say, you can take the boy out of Glasgow….. you know the rest.
Neil & Christine Hamilton
The Hamiltons were high profile in the late 1990s/early 2000s initially when Neil Hamilton, a conservative MP, was embroiled in the well publicised ‘cash for questions’ affair.
This was followed by some lurid allegations regarding the couple of sexual misconduct which were subsequently disproved.
They agreed to take part in a question and answer session at the dinner one year and the tone was set when the first question came from an elderly Yorkshireman who stood up and hilariously asked-
“I’ve been a bit lonely since my wife passed away, any chance of a threesome tonight?”
Above the ensuing laughter, Mrs Hamilton replied with a definite ‘No, next question please.
I was staying at the same hotel as the magician and his wife, Debbie, and was asked by the organisers of the dinner to organise a taxi to take them to the venue. Ive never been a huge fan of his, a feeling which was magnified when I introduced myself in the hotel lobby and received a snarled response of ‘so what?’
He did however redeem himself to some extent in my eyes with a rather amusing one-liner when he invited a rather portly gentleman on to the stage during his magic show. ‘What line of work are you in?’ he asked of him ‘Waste management’ was the reply Staring at the man’s expansive midriff he quipped ‘you’re not making a very good job of it, are you?
Debbie, by contrast was a lovely lady – polite, courteous and overwhelmingly grateful when I arranged their transport to the dinner. As has often been said – ‘what could possibly have attracted her to multi millionaire Paul Daniels?’
Without sounding sanctimoniously self-righteous I always tried to do my bit personally for the charity at these events. I have collected football programmes all my life and had (and still have) a vast collection going back almost 70 years.
Every year that I attended the dinner I would choose a programme relating to one of the guests, get them to sign it and place it in the auction. The results were greater than I could have imagined. I got Denis Law and Leeds legend Peter Lorimer (rest in peace, Peter) to sign the programmes from their international debuts and they were auctioned for 350 and 700 pounds respectively.
When I heard one year that Jack Charlton was going to be in attendance I dug out the programme from his England debut (v Scotland 1965), approached him at the top table and asked if he would sign it and place it in the auction.
“No problem’ he said and I returned to my table confident that a programme signed by a former Leeds captain and England World Cup winner would raise a significant sum for the charity.
The auction came and went and there was no mention of the programme.
When the dinner finished I watched Charlton pick up the programme, stick it in his pocket and head off home.
To say I was greatly disappointed in Charlton’s behaviour that particular night is an understatement.
Other than those mentioned Ive met many interesting people at this event including Sir Ranulph Fiennes who ran seven marathons in seven days for charity and who narrowly lost out to Roger Moore in the casting for the part of James Bond, the Cheeky Girls, who let me in on their intimate secret as to how anyone could tell them apart, Nick Leeson who infamously brought Barings Bank crashing to the ground and Roger de Courcey with Nookie bear who brought the house down with some very adult, post-watershed, humour.
But now, ladies and gentlemen, to the main event of the evening.
With the event being held at Elland Road, there was always a healthy attendance of great Leeds United figures, past and present.
As well as the aforementioned Lorimer, Collins and Charlton, I was privileged to rub shoulders with the likes of John Charles, Allan Clarke, Terry Yorath and Arthur Graham but my anticipation levels rose significantly when I found out that my table guest one year was to be none other than Joe Jordan, a true Scottish legend.
We sat beside each other during the dinner, exchanging memories throughout the starter and the main course and when the dessert was served, the waitress planked down two large plates of rice pudding in front of us.
I’ve always hated rice pudding. I don’t know why. Maybe I had a bad experience at school dinners with one but its almost been like a gastronomic phobia for me.
Joe, clearly harboured no such fears and demolished his portion the way he used to demolish opposing defences. He then saw my untouched plate and uttered the immortal words “are you no wanting that, pal?”
I shook my head and watched as he hauled my plate in front of him and scoffed every last morsel.
To summarise my black tie dinner experiences, I’ve shared a taxi with one of my personal heroes Denis Law, I’ve been tapped for twenty quid by another Scottish international footballer, I’ve been snarled at by Paul Daniels, I (and the charity) have been shafted by Jack Charlton and I’ve learned how to differentiate between the Cheeky Girls but the highlight of them all, and my claim to fame is, without doubt…..
‘JOE JORDAN ATE MY RICE PUDDING. ‘