End of Season Gala Dinner

I thought presenting at the end of season gala dinner, the day after we were relegated would be a tough gig. Actually it was a great night out and I met lots of lovely people. I’ve been feeling so down since West Ham lost at Wigan, that the last thing I wanted was a night out to be honest. But I’d promised I’d do the auctioneering in aid of the Academy.

You’ll have read in the papers that there was a bit of trouble. But let me tell you it was nowhere near as bad as it’s being made out. One chap confronted a player. He was swiftly ejected by West Ham’s security team.

Ben Shephard was an excellent host of the awards. He made everyone laugh when he tried to get the event back on track after the interruption by saying please sit back in your chairs, don’t throw them. Scott Parker got the loudest cheer of the night as he was named Hammer of the Year. David Gold gave a rousing speech on how we’ll soon be back in the top flight.The Boys of 86 entertained as always with stories of better days.

My wife had her picture taken with Thomas Hitzlsperger and Karren Brady and she won a signed photo of Billy Bonds in the raffle.
As she’s only been in the UK since 2002 she didn’t really know who Billy was, but there was never any doubt that I was having the picture hanging in my office anyway.

When I looked around that room at the 780 guests I thought not many clubs could put on an event as big as this. It was a special night and we must not let one incident spoil it.

Next week I’m working at the Champions League Festival in Hyde Park, doing the announcing for the Bobby Moore Fund.

But nothing will match a night with seven hundred odd fellow sufferers of West Ham United. We went down together and we’ll come back up together.





Jeremy Nicholas, London, UK

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Victory eclipsed by Mr Moon

I’m never one to moan about a fellow West Ham fan, but there’s one chap who is getting on my nerves. This Mr Moon fellow has been arriving and leaving the stadium during games for as long as I can remember.

There’s nothing more annoying than people arriving midway through games is there? You’re in your seat in plenty of time to enjoy the action but have to keep getting up to let others reach their seats. Inevitably this happens just as a goal is scored. The new arrival turns to watch it, but as they are standing up, your view is completely obscured.

At yesterday’s game with Nottingham Forest the master of the late arrival, Mr Moon turned up well into the second half as I was announcing a substitution. To many in the crowd it sounded like Mr Moon came on for the last few minutes of the game.

He’s not the sort of person you’d want to throw on to help protect a one goal lead in a cup tie, because he’s unreliable. In all the years I’ve been coming to West Ham, I’ve never known him stay for a whole game. He’ll often not turn up for five or six games in a row. Mr Moon has been to a few games recently but we’ve had so many home games in January.

True to form on Sunday he sloped off just a few seconds after the final whistle. He didn’t hang about to clap the players after a hard fought FA Cup win. Fair enough he might have worried about getting home with the tube messed up again but he could have stayed a few seconds longer to applaud Obinna the winner and the rest of the victors.

I think Mr Moon is getting too big for his boots. He’s on FIFA 11 now you know. Just like in real life at Upton Park, his arrival and departure are announced over the PA. It’s a recording that is triggered when he arrives. I don’t know exactly how it works. Maybe he wears some kind of electronic tag which is read by a sensor at the turnstile. It’s my voice that announces his comings and goings, so rather embarrassingly, I appeared to be interrupting myself during the substitution.

At the end of the game, when he legged it out of the ground with indecent haste, it interrupted the traditional singing of Bubbles which heralds a home win. If I knew what he looked like, or where he sits, I’d have a word with him. That’s the trouble with Mr Moon, no-one has ever met the guy. He’s a mysterious figure who’s been haunting the Boleyn Ground for years, rather like Inspector Sands on the Underground.

I suspect Mr Moon is not even a proper West Ham fan, he’s just a glory hunter.

So if you are reading this Mr Moon by all means come along to the game on Sunday against Birmingham. Why not bring Mrs Moon, we’ve got a special Valentine’s package on offer, see the club website for details. And young Master Moon can get in for a pound as it’s Kids for a Quid. Make a day of it why don’t you? But please, for the love of God, stay for the whole match and stop getting in the way.

Jeremy Nicholas, London 31.1.11

Badges, badges, badges

Frank Setchfield from Loughborough has over 150 thousand badges. He collects all types except military and he specialises in button badges.
He has sporty badges, funny badges, ones with saucy slogans and political badges that have changed the world.

I interviewed him for my BBC series on Collectors. Here’s the report.

Lovely Clean Tigers

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to wash the dirty kit of a professional rugby squad?

That’s the challenge faced every day by Brenda Hargrave. She’s the laundry supervisor at Leicester Tigers.

At the age of seventy she’s become a bit of a celebrity having starred in the break bumpers for Eviva either side of the live TV coverage of Premiership rugby.

I went along to meet her at the Tigers Oval Park training ground in Oadby. She was a charming lady, who takes great pride in her team running out in bright, clean kit.

Broad cast

Stuart Broad has done the business for England’s cricketers on the opening day of the Ashes Tour.

I caught up with the young bowler last week, just before he flew off to Australia

On my wavelength

Here’s the latest in my series on Collectors for the BBC.

Phil Rosen from West Bridgford in Nottinghamshire has over a hundred valve radios. They’re beautiful pieces of furniture and have lovely rich tones you just don’t get with modern radios.

Edinburgh Talk

I’m off to Edinburgh next week for the festival.

On Wednesday night I’ll be giving a talk on how to keep an audience’s attention using comedy. Forget jokes, I’m a big believer in telling true stories that have happened to you. It’s called ‘Putting the U in Humour’ . It’s a talk I’ve done many times to businesses and organisations, but this is one of the few times when members of the public are also welcome.

Regular readers of this blog will know this is the talk I gave in Johannesburg earlier in the year, where my trousers split open at the back as I plugged in my laptop at the edge of the stage, just before I was announced. I literally did get through the talk by the seat of my pants.

If you fancy coming along on Wednesday it’s at the Apex European Hotel, Haymarket Terrace, Edinburgh. Tickets are twenty pounds and that includes a networking supper.

More details are here

Speaking oop north

It’s good to be back in the land of the long vowel sounds. I’ve just spent the week on the road oop north where baths and paths are much shorter than I’m used to.

On Tuesday I was in Nottingham reporting on the British Open Wheelchair tennis for BBC TV.It’s just the same as abled bodied tennis, except the ball is allowed to bounce twice, and there’s not as much arguing.

I stayed the night with Natalie and Wayne, my regular East Midlands hosts, who are lovely people even if they do make me watch Coronation Street.

Never mind marmalade cats on rooftops, on Wednesday I was off to the real north.  I spent a lot of the morning at Woolley Back services on the M1., That might not be it’s exact name and the term services can only be loosely applied in this case. . It’s free broadband was intermittent and I spent a long time putting the finishing touches to my powerpoint slides for my talk that night. I was speaking at the Holiday Inn at Garforth, just north of dirty Leeds. Oh the glamour.

The speaking world is split down the middle on the issue of powerpoint slides in keynote talks. The purists don’t like them. I do like them.I like them very much indeed.
I have terrible trouble remembering my talks. I know the general outline but I often find myself going down comedy cul de sacs and can’t find my way back to the main road. If the audience think you don’t know where you are heading and suspect you don’t either, it can be a problem. I use powerpoint as a sort of sat nav. When I deviate off the route for comedy purposes, a click on the clicker, my next slide appears and I’m back on track.

Most of my slides are photographs that I have taken myself. I think they add to my stories. The traditional speakers might be turning in their graves at that, especially those that aren’t fully dead yet. But, in a world where attention span is…..sorry what was I saying, oh yes, attention span is shortening all the time, I think slides are great. In our interactive world, a man talking on stage on his own, needs to be very good to hold the attention. I am good, often I’m very good, but the photos add value and make me better. In my view.
And of course they keep me from repetition, deviation, hesitation and repetition.

Obviously I don’t use slides when I’m doing my after dinner talks. When I roll up at a golf club and they are tucking into chicken in a basket, it would seem a bit rum if I suddenly powered up a projector and rolled out a screen. Thinking about it they probably wouldn’t mind as long as I had my shirt tucked in.

With my powerpoint slides in order, I set off for Snaith to spend my afternoon with Phil, my old mate from journalism college. He’s something important at the BBC in Leeds. It’s twenty four years since we left college, but it was just like the old days straightaway. Except we talked about diabetes, baldness and second properties instead of acne, exam stress and demo tapes.

If ever a man should take up after dinner speaking it’s Phil. He’s a natural storyteller. So I dragged him along  to see me in action at the Holiday Inn that night. He wasn’t that keen, as he had to be up at four thirty, as he’s currently revamping Radio York’s breakfast show, but the promise of a free ticket was too much for a Yorkshireman to resist.

People had come from as far afield as Sunderland and Cumbria for the talk.  I did my best to be entertaining. Especially as a few people revealed they’d seen the talk before, but enjoyed it so much, they thought they’d come again. I put in a few topical bits, so it didn’t seem too much like the previous talk, and again my old friend Dr Powerpoint ensured I found my way back to the main road, without too much trouble.

The next morning waking up in Snaith, Phil was long gone, to make sure the good people of York were woken by a quality breakfast show before heading off for work at the chocolate factories.

I had breakfast with Phil’s wife Vicky.  I studied with Phil and worked with Vicky in my first ever job as a reporter at Viking Radio in Hull. I’d introduced them on a holiday in Ibiza in 1987. They’ve been together ever since.Vicky now works as a correspondent at Look North. They have three lovely girls. Daisy who’s about to go to big school. Flora who’s home from university and was worried about going for a filling a the dentist. And Isobel who was on holiday somewhere in Europe, so I stayed in her attic room up the steepest ladder you ever climbed.

The other member of the family is a Scottish terrier, possibly called Bonny. I don’t have much interest in dogs, so I can’t remember. Bonny or whatever, was very yappy, as she was being kept in the kitchen. She was in season. Little did she know that today she was off to be serviced by a boy Scottish terrier, who was to be paid the princely sum of three hundred pounds. He probably didn’t keep the money himself though. Apparently Scottish terrier puppies sell for five hundred pounds, so it was a good investment. A good seed to plant, so to speak.

This sort of thing happens all the time, so they tell me. The internet is full of personal ads for puppy love. Girl dog seeks boy dog, must have GSOH.

I left Snaith on Thursday morning for an early start in Bradford. It was the first proper meeting of my speakers mastermind group. Chatham House rules dictate that I can’t tell you what went on. It was very good though. A mastermind group is an informal group of people who are typically at the same stage of their careers in a common profession. The idea is to help each other by sharing knowledge and experiences. It’s a bit like the masons without the funny handshake.

As the former BBC royal correspondent Jennie Bond used to say, ‘but what I can tell you is this…’

The members present were John, Geoff, Jem, Rod and Andy. The sixth member Ayd couldn’t make it as he was actually speaking for money that day, which was a shame and a surprise.

On Thursday night I headed back to Nottingham for the night with Wayne and Natalie. They are moving house soon, so I won’t be able to stay with them for a while, which is very selfish of them.

Friday was a lovely day to be outside. I was stuck inside though planning next week’s outside broadcast from Loughborough. Tuesday  marks two years till the start of the London Olympics, so we’re doing a special from Loughborough, home to the GB and Japan teams. The main talk at the BBC is about the changes to the pension scheme. Everyone is very unhappy about it. As a freelance it doesn’t affect me, but there’s talk of strikes.

Back in London today, it’s good to be home. The planes are a bit noisy. Little Miss Afrikaaner isn’t happy because the Springboks lost again. And our Potterton boiler is on the blink. What does it mean when the green light keeps blinking and the boiler fires up all the time?

But it’s good to be back home.

Public speaking shouldn’t be scary

Public speaking shouldn’t be scary. It’s just talking out loud, which most of us do every day. If it’s on a subject you know about and  have prepared for, it should be no harder than talking to a group of friends or colleagues.  Unfortunately for many people that is not the case. It is one of the scariest things they ever have to do.  Some surveys have said more people are worried about speaking in public, than they are of dying. I don’t really believe that.  If it is true, it’s because people haven’t grasped how bad dying is, because no-one who’s died ever speaks about it.

I’m lucky, because I love showing off and have made a career out of it, but I still get scared. I mainly worry about dying on stage. Not in the Tommy Cooper sense, where he actually did die on stage, but in the drying up, forgetting my talk, getting booed off sense of the word dying.

On that cheery note, this week I was delighted to be a judge for the Jack Petchey Speak Out Challenge. It’s the largest youth speaking competition  in the world.  The event is open to  schoolchildren in London and Essex. Having judged in previous years in Hounslow, Newham and Tower Hamlets, this time it was in Teddington, with school speaking champions from the London boroughs of Merton and Richmond.

Seventeen brave youngsters stood up and spoke for around three minutes each. They’d all received coaching from Speakers Bank, an excellent organisation that provides free training in public speaking for fifteen year olds in state schools. The standard was as always impressive. The courage these youngsters show is inspiring.  When I was fifteen I would have been scared stiff.

I’ll pick out one youngster for particular praise. Let’s call her Liffey. That’s not her real name, but I don’t want to embarass her, so I’ve used a cunning Irish river based pseudonym. After about a minute she lost her way and completely forgot her talk. She looked petrified for a few seconds, but as the audience shouted out encouragement, she took a few deep breaths and continued.  I think she missed some bits out, but the important thing is she carried on, and her talk still made perfect sense.  During the moments when she was struggling, she pushed both hands slowly downwards as though she was on a set of parallel bars. It seemed to s help her rise above her nerves.

Of course she didn’t win, but she was a winner in the eyes of most in the room. Every one of the seventeen was a winner.

It always amazes me the subjects that the youngsters speak about. They are  so diverse, from being an orphan to coping with being short. Of course there are a few favourites that seem to crop up every year. Bullying is always popular, along with knife crime and body image. Respecting your parents seemed to be a recurring theme this time. Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks often get a mention, which is fine by me, but if I hear another speech that starts, ‘I have a dream’ I will scream.It’s great to quote famous people, but it’s far better to tell your own story.

The actual winner on the night was Richard who spoke about gay marriage. He was incredible and should do well in the Grand Final in the summer if he qualifies. Second place went to Samuel who reminded me of a young Kris Akabussi. He was hilarious and a natural performer talking about computer games. There were seven judges in all. On my scorecard I was pleased to have correctly picked the top two, albeit in the wrong order.

At the end of the night, I spoke with a couple of the youngsters. I wished Richard all the best if he reaches the Grand Final. And I found Liffey and told her she must not give up, because she’s going to be a great speaker. I didn’t want her to feel bad about losing her way, so I told her the story of my first ever stand up comedy gig.

I was so nervous that I’d forget my material, I’d written prompt lines on the back of my hand in felt tip pen. Unfortunately,  nerves made me really hot. The back of my hand was soon dripping with sweat. When I glanced down for a prompt, all I saw was a sea of blue felt tip, and no words visible at all.  I did exactly what Liffey did, I took a deep breath, jumped back into the routine a bit further down the line and finished a little early. I didn’t use the parallel bars technique because it hadn’t been invented then.

No-one in the audience realised and I left the stage to applause.  It was by no means a standing ovation, but at least they didn’t throw anything.

Liffey said she would carry on speaking. I hope she does. If you have children in London and Essex encourage them to take part next year. Hopefully it will roll out to the rest of the UK in future years. And if you are a professional speaker, volunteer to be one of their judges.  It’s always fun and I left Teddington with a bottle of Rioja, which I’ll be sampling as soon as Lent is over.

You can find out more about the Speak Out Challenge here

Jem –  Greedies Cafe, Isleworth  – 1st April 2010 (but it’s not an April Fools Day trick, honest!)