David Parkin on a mountaineer on a mission, popular politicians and suffering Rising Damp

WHAT do you get if you put a runner, a rugby player, a mountaineer and a broadcaster together?

Not your usual night out is probably the answer.

After announcing running legend Steve Cram and rugby league star Jamie Jones-Buchanan, we completed the line up for the Lord’s Taverners Balloon Debate this week with the addition of Alan Hinkes and Martin Kelner.

You don’t have to have heard of Yorkshireman Hinkes to marvel at his achievements.

Hinkes is the first British mountaineer to have climbed the world’s 14 tallest mountains which are all over 8,000 metres high.

Only 12 people have ever achieved that feat.

To put it in perspective, that’s the same number of people who have walked on the moon.

Despite his incredible mountaineering achievements, Alan may be better known as Chapati Man.

In 1997 he had to be airlifted off Nanga Parbat in Pakistan after the flour on a chapati he was eating made him sneeze and slip a disc.

If you can deal with the embarrassment caused by an episode like that then I’m sure 8,000 metre mountains hold no fears.

I’ve long been a fan of the work of Martin Kelner.

He’s a journalist with the rare skill to broadcast as well as he writes.

Writing a weekly column on TV sport for The Guardian and appearing on BBC shows like Five Live’s Fighting Talk, Martin showcased his talents as a quick witted, funny commentator with an eye for the eccentricities of life.

So we’ve put together four people who’ve achieved much in their working lives.

Now they have to compete to triumph in the Lord’s Taverners Balloon Debate.

It’s based on the premise that each speaker’s sporting hero is in a basket of a hot air balloon thousands of feet in the air, but it’s losing height and each sporting hero will be ejected from the balloon unless the speaker can convince the audience to keep them in.

The event, at the Queens Hotel in Leeds, is being held on the eve of England’s Headingley Test Match against Sri Lanka.

Bookings are now open for this unique event in aid of a great charity.

A table of 10, including a three-course meal and drinks reception is £795 (+VAT).

For more information and to book your table email liz@copasummit.com


HERE’S a question for you.

Name a politician whose stock has risen since last May’s election?

It has to be a Westminster politician, which rules out the force of nature that is Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the SNP.

This time 12 months ago we were just over a month away from an improbable General Election victory by the Tories and George Osborne was seen as a safe pair of hands on the economy.

Forward wind to now and Osborne is nursing the bruises from having to backtrack over key elements of his Budget and the damage caused by Iain Duncan-Smith’s resignation.

David Cameron is wrestling with the European question which threatens to drive a long-lasting wedge into the Conservative Party.

Business Secretary Sajid Javid has been unceremoniously dragged back from a trip to Australia to try and stop the collapse of Britain’s steel industry.

Nick Clegg is the invisible man and his replacement as Lib Dem leader, Tim Farron, is hardly headline news either.

Meanwhile Jeremy Corbyn appears to be keener to underline his individualism rather than his ability to bring a scarred party together after a damaging election defeat.

So no candidates for bouquets of success there, but my suggestion would be Hilary Benn.

And that’s why I’m really looking forward to chairing a debate hosted by law firm Irwin Mitchell later this month in which the Leeds Central MP will be the keynote speaker.

I’ve always viewed most politicians with the cynicism you might expect from a journalist.

There aren’t many I’d enjoy discussing key issues with, but Hilary Benn is certainly on what is a very short list.

The Shadow Foreign Secretary has long been a respected figure in the House of Commons but even more so since his speech last December in the debate about airstrikes against ISIL in Syria.

The speech opposed the position taken by his leader, Jeremy Corbyn, against the government’s motion to commence airstrikes.

Amid scenes rarely witnessed in the Commons chamber, Hilary Benn’s powerful, emotional and searingly honest speech was applauded by MPs on both sides of the house.

Benn and a minority of shadow cabinet colleagues voted for airstrikes in Syria and the motion passed by a higher than expected majority of 174.

His speech was described by veteran political observers as “one of the greatest in Parliamentary history”.

Now, at the event at Irwin Mitchell’s offices, right in the heart of his constituency, he’ll be discussing a range of issues in front of an invited audience of business people.

Last year, Irwin Mitchell launched its UK Powerhouse report, an extensive business study produced in partnership with economic think tank, the Centre for Economic and Business Research (Cebr), which provides a unique quarterly city-by-city forecast of economic strength.

While a key element of the discussion is likely to focus on how to turn the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ into a reality, I’d imagine our audience will also want to discuss plenty of other burning issues, such as the recent Budget, leadership and governance, devolution, education, inward investment and the possible Brexit.

I don’t think I need worry I’ll be short of questions.

Looking ahead to the event, Hilary Benn MP said: “The city of Leeds is playing a vital part in increasing the economic power of the northern region. This event with Irwin Mitchell will be a chance to hear the views of business leaders from across the region and I’m looking forward to discussing priorities for the future of our region.”


I DIDN’T update Facebook with all the exciting things I did over Easter.

I don’t suppose that watching Holiday on the Buses and two-part documentary Rising Damp Forever on ITV3 counts as excitement in some people’s opinion.

But for me it was a good chance to hone the two impressions I favour – Blakey from On the Buses and Mr Rigsby from Rising Damp.

The only problem is that nobody under 40 knows what I’m on about.

And the ones over 40 don’t know who I’m doing an impression of.

Get that bus out, Butler. Ooh, Miss Jones.

Have a great weekend.

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