David Parkin on blowing your own horn and retail rot

NO there won’t be a caption competition for the photograph above.

When I was a journalist we used to love having an unusual picture to accompany the story.

When you are one of the subjects in the photo and the photographer has just handed you a horn and told you to smile at the camera, then you are probably entitled to some doubts.

But Simon Dewhurst is a talented and very likeable individual who I have known for many years and we were taking the photograph at last night’s Lord’s Taverners Balloon Debate which raised thousands of pounds for a very worthy charity.

And the horn is a vital part of the Balloon Debate – my colleague Liz Theakston times the speeches of each of the four speakers and honks it with gusto when they reach their time limit.

Given guests were arriving at the venue at New Dock Hall at the Royal Armouries just when we were doing the photos, I got a bit of gip from off camera.

“Ooh, I can’t wait to suggest a caption for that,” said Jason Taylor of Orchard Facilities Management.

I got my own back during my introduction on stage when I warned our speakers that Jason is fond of a selfie with celebrities – and put up the photo of him with a scowling Roy Keane that I used in my blog a few weeks ago.

One of the biggest challenges for a charity event is for it to capture the attention and hearts of attendees.

Lord’s Taverners Yorkshire chairman Jeremy Thomas, a corporate financier at Deloitte, did that with a short but impactful film showing what the charity does for disadvantaged and disabled youngsters across the UK.

And this was followed up by a short Q&A with two young men, Kamil and Dawid, from the challenged Harehills area of Leeds who told the audience what they had gained from the Wicketz development programme run by the Lord’s Taverners.

It was humbling stuff and Dawid articulately explained how, as a Polish-born immigrant who arrived in the UK speaking o English, he knew nothing of cricket but the Wicketz programme had helped to give him friendships, focus and a feeling of belonging.

As compere it was then down to me to kick off the rest of the event and, given jokes aren’t my forte, I opted to welcome everyone who had taken a table at the event.

Mark Arthur, the chief executive of Yorkshire County Cricket Club and his team are huge supporters of the Balloon Debate so it was great to seem them, along with representatives and their guests from firms including BDO, Eversheds Sutherland, Deloitte, Sentio, Gordons, KPMG, Yorkshire Bank, Gateley, SRC Consulting, Walker Singleton and Lupton Fawcett.

Spirit of Harrogate, who make the amazing Slingsby Gin, have supported the event for several years and their Gin Tasting Experience at their Harrogate HQ always raises the single biggest sum in the auction on the evening.

Last night auctioneer Richard Smailes did a great job making sure the charity gained from the five lots.

I told the audience that Slingsby Gin is available in rhubarb and gooseberry flavours – part of your essential five a day.

Long time supporters of the event are also Reward Finance, fortunately co-founder Dave Jones has forgiven for the time he found a low alcohol lager in his bucket of beers a couple of years ago.

Last night he bought a spa experience for Yorkshire’s newest five star hotel, Grantley Hall but thought he’d lost his credit card.

It turns out it was behind the bar all night, which, knowing Dave, is probably the first place I’d have looked.

I gave a shout out to David Richmond of accountants Armstrong Watson and told the audience that if they thought David, a large, white-bearded man, looked familiar it was probably because he looks like a cross between Kenny Rogers and Santa.

The founders of research and data business Researchbods, Robin Hilton and Jonathan Clough, took a table. I described them to the audience as the Robson and Jerome of Yorkshire business.

And talking of dynamic duos, we had Caroline Pullich of Barclays there, who with her colleague Karen Swainston, are the Cagney and Lacey of regional banking.

I also thanked Russell Davidson of law firm gunnercooke for his comments on the quality of the wine list and said I was sending him a bottle of the house’s finest Ugandan Reserve Burgundy to enjoy.

After thanking sponsors, Neil Muffitt and James Roach of their colleagues from financial recruitment firm Woodrow Mercer Finance and speaker sponsors Endless and Enact, it was time to introduce the four speakers.

Great Britain badminton world champion, Commonwealth Games double gold medallist and Olympic silver medallist Gail Emms MBE.

Supporting a football club has made people do some strange things. Scott Allen supports West Ham and went on to write books about a team of llamas who win the cup and go on to play in the World Cup.

We hoped he had managed to calm down after that unforgettable night at Anfield this week – former Liverpool and Republic of Ireland footballer and BBC television and radio commentator Mark Lawrenson.

Danny Mills played for Leeds, Manchester City and England during his football career and since retiring has become a successful TV and radio pundit as well as a runner-up on Celebrity Masterchef and investing in businesses with Endless’s Enact fund, including the West Cornwall Pasty Company.

They all had to speak about their sporting hero over a series of three rounds of six minutes, four minutes and two minutes in length, but with one sporting hero voted out of the balloon after each round.

Gail picked as her sporting hero, Jan Barton, who played in the 1971 Women’s World Cup for England – and also happens to be her Mum!

Danny chose former Spurs, Marseille and England winger Chris Waddle.

Scott plumped for the 1960 Tunisian Modern Pentathlon Olympic team and Mark chose, well I’m not totally sure but he mentioned Bob Paisley, Bruce Grobelaar, Stan Boardman and the bottle opener on the coach home from away matches – which was a vital piece of kit apparently.


Gail captured the audience with a combination of humour and fascinating facts – her Mum was sacked from her job for going to Mexico to play in the first Women’s World Cup.

But she played in front of 50,000 people in the Azteca Stadium, scored goals for England and has been listed in the Guinness Book of Records for the number of keep-uppys she can do.

Danny possibly saved a few Waddle stories for the later rounds and so was voted out after the first round while Mark’s story about how Bruce Grobelaar could open a beer bottle, not just with his teeth, but with his eye socket, carried him through to round two along with the revelation that an anagram of David Ginola is vagina dildo.

Scott, as a chlldren’s author,  something of an unknown quantity to the audience, wowed them with his left field choice of sporting heroes.

The trio of Tunisians who competed in the Modern Pentathlon at the 1960 Olympics were a hapless bunch who eventually finished 15,000 points behind the winning team after one nearly drowned in the swimming event, all of them fell off their horses in the riding event, one was disqualified from the pistol shooting for nearly hitting an official and another was banned from the fencing event after it was discovered that given he knew a bit about sword fighting, had attempted to compete three times, hoping the mask would disguise this cunning ruse.

As Scott said, such a plan would have even had Baldrick blanching with embarrassment.

Mark might have been running out of material when he threw in a couple of jokes that even Stan Boardman probably retired years ago and so his mysterious sporting hero was voted out after the second round, leaving Gail and Scott to go head to head in the final round – kind of a verbal shoot out at the OK Corral.

It was close, really close.

I was responsible for judging the number of hands raised and I had to ask people to vote again to work out who had the most votes out of Gail and Scott.

Gail shaded it, but only by a handful of votes.

Lawyer Rodney Dalton of Lupton Fawcett, who has attended every Balloon Debate told me that the four first round speeches were the best he had heard.

Getting four quality speakers who can entertain the audience is always a challenge so it was nice to feel we did that again this year.

And my horn now gets put away for another year.

You know you wanted me to mention it.


WALKING past the near empty House of Fraser on Briggate in Leeds the other day I spotted a window display that proclaimed the words: “Urban Decay”.

I did a double take.

It turns out it is a make-up brand rather than Mike Ashley’s pithy view of the state of the British High Street.

Have a great weekend.


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