It's so refreshing to be at an event at the top of the Gherkin and not be the MC or the Speaker. This year they have a photo booth and although Francesca and I resist the hats and glasses (and the optional wind machine) we break the rules and take our champagne in the booth (the same champagne that I never, ever drink when I am working at an event). Thanks Searcys, it was great fun.
As it's raining and grey today I'm catching up with some blog posts, remembering some great days that I haven't written about and this was certainly one of them. Yeoman Warder Colin Smith asked me to entertain a group of ladies, all wives, partners or daughters of the City of London's Beadles at the top of the Gherkin while he was overseeing the annual outing of the Beadles themselves. (Great guy that Colin is he thinks of everything and didn't want the men to have all the fun!) So on a sunny autumn afternoon I welcome 30 women to the Gherkin and over champagne tell them stories about the building. Its history is very short compared to the Livery Companies the Beadles are part of but it's a fascinating one and, as we only have 30 minutes otherwise we'll miss Afternoon Tea, it's just the prefect amount of info. They are a fantastic group and we all laugh a lot - every one loves hearing about my trip outside the building with the window cleaners and a few go and stand right up against the window to try and see what it would feel like... and then it's time to go up to the 40th floor. Today is the first time Searcys The Gherkin have served Afternoon Tea and everything looks delightful - there is an early cry for more scones but the appearance of huge quantities of exquisite mini eclairs, pastries and cakes satisfy everyone. Colin joins us for the final photo call and everyone agrees it was a marvellous day. Certainly one of my favourites for 2014.
Bouygues have ordered 20 books for their high profile guests attending their annual Director's Dinner, being held at the Gherkin this year. They ordered them months ago so why I am on a train to collect the books two hours before the event?...
All copies of the first edition had been sold out when they ordered but their date fitted in with the arrival of the second edition so that worked. All was going to plan until some extra post-production work that had been done on one of the panoramic photographs meant the books wouldn't be bound in time. It's ok, issues arise and I know it's my job to find a solution - I arrange to have 20 copies sent out to a specialist binders and sent to the Gherkin by 5pm. So far, so good. Copies were bound by 2.45pm but the courier tells me the van can't guarantee delivery until 6 or 7pm (haven't they heard of motorbikes I want to scream - I ask nicely instead, apparently they haven't). I work out I can go to Essex to collect them myself if the printer can bring them to the station. He can. I go. I arrive back at the Gherkin 15 minutes before the host arrives to set up. (So this is what they mean when they say an entrepreneur will do anything to make things work).
The Bouygues Directors and an array of high profile guests arrive including the lovely Sara Fox, of building the Gherkin fame (yes, actually - on time and under budget). I chat to everyone over drinks, they go into dinner - the books go down well, the evening is a huge success. Job done.
The NSPCC announced that a sponsor has been confirmed for the special edition of my ‘360˚ at the Gherkin’ books for the 2014 Gherkin Challenge and that each participant who reaches their target fundraising of £200 will receive a copy. That's such great news - I hope people like the idea and it makes them want to register for the event. I love seeing people use the book at the top of the building and know people love taking it home and now it will be memory of both their effort and of the building.
OSTC have asked me to lead a guided visit to the Gherkin for a group of their brightest business students from Poland, something I did for them at this time last year. I rarely get to take large groups to the top of the Gherkin (as it's a working building of course) so everyone is very excited. The visit goes brilliantly and then becomes a conversation about their careers and about attitudes and I end up giving a stirring speech as we stand beside the lift about choices and the advantages of asking (people can always say no and they so often say yes!) As I say goodbye at the bottom of the building I get a round of applause (lovely) and one of the group asks me if I've ever considered becoming a Motivational Speaker...
Later a member of the group, Mateusz Mucha, sends a LinkedIn request - of course I say yes.
Tonight Adam Lewis from the NSPCC’s Event Team presents the time line leading up to September 7th and we discuss how the committee can help enroll participants into the event. Lots is discussed, including a special event edition of my ‘360˚ at the Gherkin’ - as we (baizdon.com) are planning a second edition following the first one selling out I had offered to provide copies for everyone who reaches the top. Everyone liked the idea, and tonight we examine ways of sponsoring the books and at how we are going to let people know – if they just get it in their goody bags when they reach the top then the book is not helping encourage enrolment or incentivising fundraising so they need to know in advance. Various options are discussed. We also look at overalls event budgets (Steering Committee Chair Francesca Valli is particularly exacting in her demand for minute details) – I am learning such a lot about fund raising!
Each member of the London Business Board promises to send details out of the event to their networks once registration opens. It would just be fantastic if the building was bursting to the seams of people reaching the top, enjoying the views knowing every step they’ve taken on the way up has helped children – I reaffirm (to myself and out loud) my personal commitment to helping make the event a massive success for all concerned – both those raising the funds and those benefitting. The rest of the committee does the same. What a team!! We are going to make this happen!
This is the day that the flu struck with a vengeance. On Monday I didn’t feel great, Tuesday was worse but Wednesday was a nightmare. I was convinced it was because I had been so smug when the rest of the family were ill earlier in the month "me and my vitamin C, I’m super healthy!" But now I was not. I couldn’t get out of bed. Luckily the tube strike had led to my first event of the day being cancelled but I was booked in the evening to speak to 100 people at the Gherkin - from 7.45pm to 11pm! (Sometimes I just talk and go home but tonight I was doing the version where I talk a little bit at the beginning and then come back and add more between each course – help!) I stayed in bed until 5.30pm then got up, got dressed (feeling about 93 years old) and went to work. Thank heaven for my work ethic, or maybe my ambition (or maybe just double Neurofen) – I did it and it went brilliantly. The Apollo guests were great, the CEO charismatic and charming and I loved meeting the people from C Jam who had organised the event. All in all a big success even if by the end of the night my voice was going. Woke up the next day to a voice that was lost completely and didn’t return for three days by which time the Flu had became Bronchitis… maybe next year I’ll have a flu jab (and not be so smug!)
It is fantastic to see LV= back at The Gherkin, for an evening event this time hosted by Victoria Wentworth. I soon see that everyone is really relaxed and an anecdote based, entertaining speech is what is needed - big smiles and lots of laughter tell me I’ve got it right.
Heidi Lees-Bell reminds me that when we last met in November she recommend I put a film of speaking at all the different events on my website – I have to admit it’s still on the To Do List! Thanks Heidi, it makes perfect sense - I make a mental note to move it a few places up the list.
Today Neil Mirchandani, the Chair of the London Business Board for the NSPCC, welcomes me as a board member. I am honoured to be joining such a prestigious group of people who have done such amazing fund raising work in the City of London for the NSPCC over a period of many years.
I hope that my knowledge of the Gherkin and links with the building and it's tenants can help this year's Gherkin Challenge for the NSPCC be a huge success for the charity and for the day's participants.
I am speaking at a lunch at the Gherkin today and all the guests are getting copies of my ‘360˚ at the Gherkin’ book. These are the last few copies of the first edition so I can start putting my plans for the second edition into practice, fabulous.
The books were well received, as always which was great, I love seeing people use the books in the building to identify what they can see in the views. A nice surprise was that Singleton PR ended up with a spare place at lunch and kindly invited me to join them, their guests were tremendous fun, lunch was absolutely delicious and of course I was able to answer Gherkin questions all afternoon.
Sarah McQueen is Marketing Manager for Searcys the Gherkin and (along with GM Danny Kaljee) is in charge of the Top of the Building’s event calendar. So to hold The Gherkin Challenge the NSPCC need both the 30 St Mary Axe Management’s support for the stair climb itself and for Searcys to donate the top of the building. The 30SMA team have already generously said yes and Searcys had offered dates in March, April and July but they were too soon, too near Easter and too-in-the-middle-of-the-Summer. September would be ideal but this is the start of the busy period for Searcys The Gherkin where their space is booked solidly until the end of December – and they already give two days for the Open House London weekend at the end of the month. What to do? I decide to plead! Sarah, Danny and I are all parents* and it only took a few minutes thinking about the work of the NSPCC for Sarah to agree to donate the top of the building space for September 7th. This is fantastic!! Sarah, thank you, thank you – you are a hero!
*Not that you have to be parents to appreciate the vital work of the NSPCC!
The Gherkin Challenge for the NSPCC 2014 will be on September 7th 2014. Should it be held again in future years the aim is to hold it in the spring.
Another Gherkin Milestone! Today a framed picture of Baizdon's Gherkin Guide went on permanent display in the Searcys art gallery at the top of the building. (On the 38th floor of the Gherkin there is a glass walkway with the view on one side and an art gallery on the other. Of course the pictures have stiff competition from the view but there has been some stunning art on display and every three months a new exhibition goes up.) Beneath the picture there is a recommendation for my Gherkin Talks as Searcys expert on the building, which is just fantastic. I am beside myself with joy and pride! ‘You are grinning like a small child’ one of the staff told me '50% child, 50% businesswoman.’ I replied, still grinning.
Massive thanks to Yana Revenko from Searcys for the idea and to GM Danny Kaljee for approving it. Brilliant framing by Chris from Soho Framers - I had no idea there would be so many different coloured steels to choose from for the frame or that the non-reflective glass would be so key.
Last weekend I volunteered to answer questions at the top of the Gherkin for visitors during Open House weekend. I welcomed millions to the top and it has taken me a whole week to recover (well, ok, I exaggerate – it was only about 5,000 people and I did get eventually my voice back on Tuesday night…)
Day 1. The queue had already reached the end of St Mary Axe when Ben and I arrived at 7am, an hour before opening time. We chatted to everyone waiting and discovered that the couple at the very front had arrived at 6.15am. While Ben helped Jason from Searcys set up the Gherkin Guides I heard all about the success of Maggie’s Culture Crawl from three women who had made friends on the overnight route, watch the sunrise from the top of the building (the last stop on the Crawl) and stayed to chat. That was the last time I relaxed (or sat down) for the next 12 hours.
The building opened, the aim being 50 people every 15 minutes. It felt like an unstoppable ocean of visitors – I welcomed people as they came out of the lifts (congratulations you’ve reached the top of the Gherkin, thanks for queuing) , directed people (look out to the west on level 39, up the stairs to the glass dome – you must see the 360˚ view on level 40) answered everyone’s questions (Norman Foster, 7429 panes of glass), asked children if they could spot the only piece of curved glass in the building (they absolutely loved discovering it), took photos of people with their cameras for them (if you stand just here both you and your reflection will be framed by the diamonds of the building, it’s an amazing shot) and entertained queues waiting for the lifts down with facts and stories (one time for 20 minutes as the lifts stopped working!) It was a really lovely atmosphere at the top – we were all aware everyone had been waiting for ages to get in and all the Open House volunteers joined me in saying ‘Welcome to the Gherkin!’ ‘You’ve made it’ and ‘Thanks for waiting in the queue!’ as people arrived. The security staff were fantastic, smiling throughout and chatting as they brought people up in the lifts, and not a single person complained when their time at the top was over. Ben and Jason proved to be brilliant at selling books, which was just as well because I was hopeless – constantly answering questions, helping identifying things in the view or rushing to welcome another lift full of people. I spotted Victoria Thornton, the founder of Open House London, at one point and let everyone know who she was – she received a huge round of applause.
I did leave the top once when I popped out and speak to people in the queue – it took me 1.5 hours to walk around it!!! I thanked people for their patience, told them it was extraordinarily marvellous at the top and worth waiting for and that I would see them at the top to answer their questions. Of course, everyone wanted to know how long the wait was and I could only tell them the 30 St Mary Axe team were trying to get 80 people in every 15 minutes (rather than 50) to try and fit in as many people into the building queue as possible. If they pushed for an exact time I had to say I was doing ‘queue encouragement’ and someone from the building would be round to do ‘queue management’! In the end we stayed open till 6pm, two hours later than advertised. The last people left by 7pm – I got home at 9pm and had to lie down the moment I got in.
Day 2. Twitter came into it’s own for me this weekend – in the early morning queue I met Natasha (@ishootandtravel ) who had tweeted the day before that the #gherkin queue had put her off, I had replied back that she should try coming early – she did and so got to the top in the first bunch of the day and took some amazing photos. There were loads of other lovely messages on Twitter throughout the day (and over the days since). The Sunday queues were really long and again the 30 St Mary Axe team extended the opening hours to try and get as many people in as possible. After the queues closed the Open House volunteers were allowed in to thank them for their work over the weekend – after that they went off to a celebratory party, I had no voice left and went home to lie down again.
The Gherkin Guides proved very popular which was wonderful, and on Monday morning someone who had visited showed hers to her boss – who immediately contacted Searcys and ordered 200 copies – hooray!
The whole weekend was great, I’m glad I did it. Right now I think I’m never doing it again!!
Speaking at the Redland lunch today at the Gherkin in Searcys beautiful Private Dining Rooms on the 38th floor. As the event is to celebrate the 175th anniversary of the Rosemary tile (the creator named it after his daughter) which Redland produce I thought I would start by talking about how London would have looked in 1838. I had enlisted the help of the brilliant City of London tour guide Carolyn Webb and she found out lots of interesting facts for me – the city would have been just as busy but with no cars, tubes or trains (although Euston had opened the year before, Fenchurch street didn’t arrive till 1841). London Bridge was the John Rennie granite one that is now in Arizona, and there were no Southwark, Tower or Millenium bridges. The most striking difference compared with the cityscape viewed from the Gherkin today is that church spires would have been the highest points with the St Paul’s (the fourth on the site but still the one we know today) dominating the skyline. In 1938 a fire within the Lloyds of London offices in the Royal Exchange burnt down the building* and talk of the Royal Exchange brought us smoothly into the history of the 30 St Mary Axe site, once home to the Baltic Exchange. I enjoyed talking about the architectural genius of the Gherkin to such a knowledgeable group and, as not everyone had been to the top of the building before, loved taking them up into the glass dome. Redland Sales Director Andy Dennis had made us all smile during lunch by saying he assumed he was one of only three people (all from Redland) that thought the Gherkin would be improved with a pitched roof – my bet is that now even he and his Redland colleagues could see this was one building top even they couldn’t improve on!
*Queen Victoria built the present one six years later in case you’re wondering
I am back at City Gateway’s conference this morning for a repeat of yesterday’s ‘Building Effective Teams’ session – I’m pleased to see the room is packed, 70 yesterday – quite a few more than that today. Great response from everyone – I’ve really enjoyed being part of the conference and working with such passionate people.
This afternoon I’m being interviewed by Time Out for their Ministructures series and have to be photographed holding artist Lucy Sparrow’s model of the Gherkin. All very exciting. My dress is the problem, it’s my current favourite so wore it to the conference yesterday – can’t wear it again but have washed it and bring it in a bag (pressed but still slightly damp). Despite my efforts to hold it upright on the rush hour tube I get it out to discover it looks a crumpled rag. Help! I decide the solution is Jeeves one-hour cleaning/pressing service – arrive at Leadenhall Market and find they have closed – I’m horrified! How can they do this to me (well, alright I never did use it having a lovely family run drycleaners in SE3) but even so! Next I try M&S, maybe I can buy the dress again (I wasn’t really planning to do the model trick of wearing it for the photo shoot and taking it back I promise) – but no chance, it was on the cover of their autumn mag and sold out in minutes. (Serves me right – I was planning to do the model trick). On my way to the Gherkin, despairing that I am going to be photographed in the non-suitable-for-photoshoot outfit I have on, I remembering I think I have seen the Searcys staff iron the tablecloths in the Private Dining Rooms. I’m right, I have – but they iron them on the tables, all of which are currently being used by people fine dining. I am saved by Searcys Club Concierge Yana who points out that there is probably just space in the coat cupboard to lay a tablecloth on the floor and iron my dress. There is (just). I do it. I wear it.
I later send Flo Wales-Bonner’s interview to Yana, she emails a congratulations back and then emails again ‘p.s nice dress.’