David Parkin on a man for all seasons

I THOUGHT you might like the picture above – not just one Parky but three in the same photograph!

It was taken by cameraman and videographer Paul Ross at a Stagecoach event I helped organise and host in Manchester last week.

The dinner and day-long conference was for the transport group’s new ‘Young Managers’ Network’ and given the enthusiasm, energy and initiative of the participants, the company has a bright future.

The audience were very engaged and keen to ask questions and the presenters were confident, articulate and full of ideas.

The YMN initiative is being championed by Stagecoach director Janine Summers who told a powerful story about her career, those who have inspired her and some of the personal challenges she has faced.

In days gone by, companies used to take their staff to the pub to raise morale.

Things are so much more creative, sophisticated and rewarding these days.

I particularly enjoyed it because here I found a new audience to tell my Arnold Schwarzenegger story to.

They all told me they loved it.

Aren’t young people today polite.


IT is the end of an era this week as well known and respected finance director Neil Muffitt stows his calculator in the office drawer for the last time.

Neil is retiring from his role as chairman and finance director at financial recruitment business Headstar after 20 years in which it has grown under a number of different names, including Finance Directors Yorkshire (Limited), FDYL, Woodrow Mercer Finance and its current brilliantly creative name.

I first met Neil in an Italian restaurant in Leeds almost 10 years ago prior to the BBC Sports Personality of the Year show at Leeds Arena.

I had been invited by his colleague Mark Raven of FDYL which supplied interim and portfolio finance directors to businesses.

I’d always wondered how such a social animal like Mark Raven (known to his friends as Rave-on) could have such a successful business and when I met Neil I then knew why.

Intelligent, considered, with a dry sense of humour, Neil was calmness personified and I quickly understood why so many people in business relied on him for sage advice.

I’ve been fortunate to get to know Neil well over the last decade and along with James Roach, who leads the business, work with them to create, host and deliver the Headstar annual conference.

The latest edition should have taken place earlier this month in the executive lounge at Leeds Arena, but was postponed because of a freak snowstorm – the first time the weather has affected an event I’ve been involved in.

I know Neil is to continue in an advisory capacity at Headstar which is led by a dynamic team including Natalie McGregor, David Clark and Jenny Martin alongside James.

I’ve said this at every one of the annual conferences I’ve compered for Headstar, but they are a world away from traditional recruitment firms.

Whether they are providing a finance director for a FTSE 100 business or an accounts clerk, they do it thoroughly with no nonsense and a complete lack of ego.

No wonder clients, contacts and introducers love them.

And I know all of his colleagues would credit Neil with implementing that culture right from the start.

They paid tribute to him in a Linkedin post this week: “For the last 20 years, Neil’s calm leadership, pragmatic approach and finance expertise has been instrumental in guiding Headstar to its present position as one of the region’s leading recruitment and finance consultancy businesses.”

Neil’s been a great friend to me over the last 10 years, I’ve enjoyed some fun lunches with him and also benefited from his wise counsel when it comes to business matters and probably life in general.

I know Neil is not a fan of the “me, me, me” posts that litter social media platforms like Linkedin far to often these days.

You know the ones, where someone pretends to offer credit and inspiration to others but by the end of the post you realise that they just want to tell you how great they are.

So I bet Neil gave a lot of thought to posting about his retirement earlier this week.

Typical of the man, he reflected on his experiences and gave credit to those he has worked with over his long career, which started at the old Coopers & Lybrand, took in Advertising Principles before the journey to what is now Headstar began.

The warmth of the scores of comments on the post are testament to not just his popularity but his belief that business and relationships are about the long-term, not what you can squeeze out of them in the short-term.

A lot of the clients he has advised over the years will, I’m sure, look at their thriving businesses and agree.

Despite his long career, I’ve never found Neil cynical but he has a great ability to see the often absurd side of life and business, something which I’m sure has contributed to his success over many years.

Retirement will mean he can spend more time with his wife Alison, more time watching rugby (he’s a stalwart of the Old Leodiensians Rugby Club in Alwoodley and, on a trip to watch the British Lions in New Zealand, took part in the “Yorkshire Haka” video that went viral on YouTube) and more time performing in amateur dramatics.

Yes Neil is an enthusiastic thespian, accomplished at treading the boards.

I once saw him in a play at Almscliffe Village Hall in Huby and he has a fine talent for farce.

He reminded me of a young Reg Varney in On The Buses.

If all this doesn’t convince you how highly I think of Neil, then this will: I’m taking him out for lunch to the Ivy Asia in Leeds next week and I’m paying.

It’s probably one of the few expenses that my accountant will approve of.


TO Harrogate for dinner at Gianni’s Brio restaurant as a guest of Adam Ketteringham at wine merchant Corney & Barrow.

Adam was hosting a wine tasting by winemaker Helena Lindberg of the Tenuta di Biserno estate in coastal Tuscany.

Helena was accompanied by her colleague Sophia Antinori whose family dynasty are synonymous with some of the greatest Tuscan wines.

The Tenuta di Biserno estate was founded in 2001 by brothers Lodovico and Piero Antinori and extends to 40 hectares.

Around 90 metres above sea level, the stony ground is planted with Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon vines and looks out to the island of Elbe where Napoleon was incarcerated.

A fan of Tuscan reds, the Il Pino di Biserno, Biserno and the big daddy, known as Lodovico, were like no other wines from the region I have ever tasted.

Big, bold and punchy they were accompanied by a selection of meat and pasta cooked exquisitely by restaurauteur Gianni Bernardi and his team.

And while they worked away hard in the kitchen, Gianni’s son Marco joined us for dinner and told us about his impending nuptials in Greece this summer.

I was sitting in between lawyer and gastronome Rodney Dalton and restaurateur Robert Chamberlain from Sous le Nez.

If there is something those two don’t know about food and drink then I’m yet to discover it.

I was slightly perturbed that after every sip of wine, Robert swilled it around in his mouth and then squirted it into a spitoon at the side of him.

I started to worry that this is the professional way to taste wine and not, as I do, drink most of the glass in a ‘oner’.

But it turns out that Robert gives up drinking for Lent and has done for the last 37 years.

I was pleased to hear from Adam Ketteringham that Corney & Barrow, who supply wine to the Royal Family, will soon have a physical presence in Leeds.

For more information on the wine we tasted, have a look here https://www.corneyandbarrow.com/our-producers/tenuta-di-biserno.html

I don’t think I’ll get any commission if you do buy wine, but Adam might present me with my own engraved spitoon.


SEEING Robert Chamberlain was a great opportunity to compliment him on the enduring quality of Sous le Nez in terms of food, wine and the team delivering it.

It remains the jewel in the crown of the independent dining scene in Leeds and Friday lunchtimes appear back to their lively pre-Covid best.

I know because I’ve spent several there recently.

Last Friday, standing at the bar with tailor James Michelsberg and lawyers Richard Larking and David Knaggs, we were discussing a planned charity challenge the pair are planning to undertake in the future.

In walked Leeds-born playwright and writer Alan Bennett and his partner Rupert.

He might now be in his late 80s, but Alan Bennett is as relevant as ever with a film version of his play ‘Allelujah’ starring Judi Dench, Jennifer Saunders and Derek Jacobi currently in cinemas.

Having recent read his latest book, Pandemic Diaries, I knew exactly why he and Rupert were there and where they were going.

The book ends with a lovely essay by Alan about arriving in Leeds from London on the train, walking to eat fish and chips in Sous le Nez and then driving up to his cottage in the Yorkshire Dales via the roads of inner city and suburban Leeds before the verdant Yorkshire countryside unfolds in front of them.

I briefly stopped to re-introduce myself to Alan and Rupert, who I met when I hosted the 30th anniversary dinner at former legendary Leeds restaurant La Grillade and Alan was the guest of honour, performing readings of some of his works to guests.

My parents sat with Alan and Rupert on the evening and they were delightful and charming company.

I mentioned that I had been in touch with Guy Martin-Laval, the owner of La Grillade, recently, who is now retired and living in France.

I also mentioned that I am planning to organise a lunch for Guy when he next returns to Leeds.

They asked me to pass on their warm wishes to Guy.

When I returned to the group I was standing at the bar with, I said I had been fortunate to be speaking to someone I consider one of Britain’s greatest living writers, Alan Bennett.

“Is he the one that wrote ‘Boys From The Blackstuff’?” said David Knaggs.

“No, that was Alan Bleasdale,” I replied with a thin smile.

Have a great weekend.

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