Industry events have become bloated on a diet of showbiz excess, says the CIC chief executive, who prefers the honesty of the president’s address to the anecdotes of a Z-list celebrity
I eat for construction. In fact, I have made a career out of eating for construction. The construction industry eats a lot and several London hotels would be much the poorer if it was not for the hundreds of construction industry banquets that they cater for each year.
Only yesterday I lunched with one Association at The Savoy and just got back to the office in time to change into dickie bow and evening dress for another Association’s Annual Dinner at the London Marriott. Two feasts on one day is not unusual, even for mid-July when any sensible person should be picnicking by a lake and not stuffing themselves with pork loin and crackling in a stupifyingly hot, windowless ballroom.
Someone once said to me that the industry’s plethora of annual dinners were our equivalent of state funerals, giving the construction industry’s leaders the chance to hobnob in the Presidents’ Reception and the now-obligatory charity casino. If political leaders died with the same regularity as construction industry dinners come around, Dennis Skinner and George Galloway would have long ago had their turn in No 10.
The truth is that our industry functions changed their shape long ago. The casinos, would-be opera singers, raffles and quiz games have taken over, supplanting the serious role that they once served. Once upon a time it was a privilege to hear real people, unspoilt by the media circus, have their 15 minutes of fame by standing up as president or chairman of this or that body and speaking honestly about the state of their industry: now, there is this affected belief that they need to be groomed in how to speak in public.
The end product is that they end up losing the advantage of any natural charm they might have once had to look and sound like talking waxworks. What a pity! Even worse, no self-respecting organisation seems able any longer to risk the serious after-dinner speaker, since three lines into the first point of merit and the punters out for a good time will start to talk above the speech or worse still, reach for the bread rolls as ammunition.
What we get now, is the same old trivial diet of fading politicians and Z-list celebrities regaling the same old tired anecdotes. I have heard one speaker six times and another, four – both are politicians, one ex now turned to journalism and one current but better known as a journalist – and on both occasions their speeches have hardly varied from one event to the next. It must be the easiest money they have ever earned. At least there was a speaker: at one event last year the organisers decided to show – in its entirety – the Champions’ League Final on a huge screen during the dinner. Had I known in advance, I would have rather watched it from the comfort of my own home.
I don’t mind eating for the construction industry even if my waistline and cholesterol are feeling the pain and I don’t object to the constant diet of guinea fowl, chicken, duck, pork and lamb – as a guest this would be downright churlish - but it would be so much more acceptable if these functions could get back to being events of consequence, as opposed to this ever-diminishing down-market spiral of alcohol-fuelled mediocrity.