It sounds like a bad joke. The kind where you meet a person you admire – a hero of some description – but then something goes wrong. Your words, ones people usually tell you to stop using, fail you; you stutter and they look at you like you’re some special needs kids, only to then wake up in cold sweat worried that, because of a dream, your hero now hates you and regards you as a bumbling nitwit.
Well, my dream is a reality.
I was invited to attend the relaunch of Virgin Money at an event at Senate House in London. We weren’t told much of what to expect, except that the big boss plans to show.
Being in London with my mum I spent the day bouncing around – I was going to get up-close with one of my heroes and a man who, along with my Dad, has inspired me to learn more about business.
Walking into Senate House Library, part of the University of London, I was daunted at the size of the place. Not only were there students trying to walk around but there was a media circus through in the other room; with bright lights and a camera I assumed we must be allowed to get our photos taken as part of the campaign.
But then I heard his voice.
In the flesh
In the centre of the bright lights and adoration was the man himself.
Sir Richard Branson. Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist.
As he finished his speech about Virgin Money and about changing the way banking worked, something miraculous happened considering the number of the people in the room. As he turned around to answer people’s questions he stopped, we locked eyes – him looking at me expectantly – and I opened my mouth ready to throw him my first well-rehearsed question and I fish-mouthed.
Horror struck me as we gazed at each other and I felt the hot rush of embarrassment rise inside of me. Turning on my heel I quickly escaped out of the suffocating building, back into the courtyard where the winter air cooled me down and returned my heartbeat to a normal rhythm.
Oh crap! What had I done?
Escorted by his entourage into the courtyard where the presentation would take place – and where I was metaphorically hitting my head against a brick wall for running away – he begun interacting with the crowd as I slowly made my way over like a wary animal, getting closer, ready to return to my dark corner should anyone look at me in a I-can’t-believe-you-just-ran-away kind of way.
As I made my way closer I could hear his voice from the middle of a smattering of bright lights popping and flashing. He made a joke in the crowd and people vied for the title of being from the furthest distance away. Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool –
“Australia!” I yelled over the din.
The people near me looked at me as if I was an attention-seeking brat; I was but again I was captivated, only wanting the attention of one man.
The Virgin Money presentation was fantastic. Using the entrance of Senate House as a blank canvas, a specially created presentation was shown taking viewers through Virgin’s full range of businesses, from Virgin Atlantic to Virgin Music, and even Virgin Galactic; but the main emphasis was on the newly launched Virgin Money banks.
My words aren’t quite accurate a description of the event so I’ll let the video speak for me.
There were cheers and applause, a second watching, and as he thanked us for coming his entourage tightened around him ready to leave the event – but he wasn’t going to leave before I talked to him.
Standing my ground
I stood in his path – and his entourage trying to sweep him away – and we locked eyes again. This time it was as if he wanted me to talk to make up for my fish-mouthing and running from him earlier in the evening.
We stood three feet away, face-to-face, and I was going to say something. The syllables were forming on my lips and my vocal cords were beginning to reverberate, uttering something smart, witty and intelligent which would have Richard asking me for my business card because he was so impressed with me that he was going to ring Virgin and tell them to work with this fabulous Australian woman who – POSES – herself with unrivalled power, wit and intellect. The words were going to come out…
My voice squeaked. I sounded like an out-of-tune violin and he was still looking at me with those big blue eyes.
Minutes, days passed – well, milliseconds perhaps – and I was still standing there shell-shocked. All journalistic integrity gone, my brain function limited to just the lowering of my jaw for the second time that evening. I had the attention of one of the most powerful man in the world focused on me and I was standing there, headlight-stunned. So I did the next most logical thing that any sane person would have done in the same situation.
I stared at him in the eyes and shut my mouth, gave him a small smile and then turned on my heel and fled into the fray of journalists, media and bloggers.
Reflecting back on the night, from the safety within a coffee shop and hindsight, I realised that I had been face-to-face with one of my heroes and I had looked at him and ran away, not once, twice. Perhaps I should reconsider my career as a journalist and just focus on travel blogging…
Now it’s over to you: