I was in a right old flutter the other day, when I turned up at the Flying Handbag to meet my friend Gilbert. He and I stretch back a long way, and I know we’ll always be friends, simply because he knows too much about me for us to ever fall out.
Anyway, Gilbert and I are both big fans of Happy Hour at the Flying Handbag, when the price of a Singapore Sling becomes affordable even to someone on a lecturer’s salary. On this occasion, I had arranged to meet him after spending the day at International Confex, the source of my evident consternation.
Gilbert got in the first round and, as we clinked cocktail glasses, he said: “Rob, you’re not yourself tonight. Whatever’s the matter?”
The matter, I told him after calming my nerves with a few sips, was something I’d overheard someone say about me at the show that day in Earls Court. I was leaving a stand at Confex, after a short conversation with the exhibitor (someone I’ve known for years, but who must obviously remain nameless here) when I heard a new colleague of hers ask “Who was that?”. “Oh,” replied the exhibitor, “That’s Rob Davidson. He’s really lovely.”
Now, in our industry, personal image is everything. We like to do business with people we like, because they’re affable, approachable, obliging, reliable, and I have absolutely no objection to being called any of these. But: ‘really lovely’?
If that’s the way people think about me, how long, I asked Gilbert, can it be before I turn into Dale Winton? Any day now, I could be referred to as a ‘national treasure’, like Thora Hird, the Queen Mother (may she RIP) or Durham Cathedral. And I’m really not comfortable with that.
Gilbert, as I said, knows everything about me: my hopes, my dreams, my fears and my PIN numbers. So he was very understanding, as usual. “But how would you like people to see you?” he asked.
“Well,” I said, lowering my voice and pulling my chair up closer to his, “To be honest, I’ve always quite fancied being a bit of a hellraiser. You know, a bit like Lord Byron was, or Oliver Reed or even Pete Doherty. Because inside every really lovely person, I think there’s a real hellraiser just dying to get out: someone mad, bad, and dangerous to know.
Someone so notorious that when they die, apoplectic Tory MPs stand up in Parliament and demand that they should never be buried on hallowed ground. You know the kind of thing? Just for a change, it would be nice to try out a completely different personality, so that my future memoirs, instead of being blandly entitled: ‘Rob Davidson: A Really Lovely Life’, could be called something a little racier and eye-catching like ‘Rob Davidson: ‘A Life of Thuggery, Buggery, Druggery and Skullduggery’.
Gilbert was sympathetic, but unconvinced that I could pull it off. “Rob,” he said, “remember the episode of the leather trousers?” He could tell by my instant blush that I did. “You bought them in the effort to add a little spice to your wardrobe, and look what happened. A complete waste of money. You only wore them the once because they felt all wrong on you. You couldn’t carry it off, because deep down you know that you’re more of a sensible slacks person than someone who gets off on wearing raunchy leather leggings.
“If you try to go down this hellraiser path, it’ll just be the leather trousers saga all over again. Face it Rob, you’re a natural joy-bringer, a life-enhancer. You’ll probably be declared the Patron Saint of Conferences one of these days. You could no sooner be a hellraiser than fly in the sky. If anything, you’re a heaven-raiser!”
“Oh,” I said, “You’re probably right. Leopards, spots, and all that. Another Singapore Sling?”
“Yes, please,” replied Gilbert, “That would be lovely.”
Rob Davidson is Senior Lecturer at the University of Greenwich Business School.
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