3 April 2009

Winfield House

Winfield House was on the telly this morning. President Barack Obama was supposed to be staying overnight at the US Ambassador’s House before his G20 summit in London. It brought back memories ………..
It was June 1994. The secretary handed me the gold embossed envelope and made a ‘woo-hoo’ sound. I turned it over and noticed it was from the ‘Office of the Ambassador of the United States’. Must be a mistake I thought but my name was spelled correctly which is usually a clue if it's kosher. I opened the envelope and inside was a stiff white invitation card which said, ‘The Ambassador to the Court of St James respectfully requests your attendance at a reception to be held at Winfield House, on xxxxxx. Dress Code – Business Suits’.
I was still a bit puzzled until I saw the American Chamber of Commerce logo and then it all fell into place. In IBM, our division had membership of the Amcham (as it was called), primarily so that we could use their monthly lunches to entertain clients.
These lunches were one of the highlights in the business calendar and were a superb way of impressing a client and getting two to three hours with them, when otherwise, they were totally unavailable. Much business was done on the back of these events and so when I joined British Telecom, one of the first things I did was to get BT to take out a membership of the American Chamber.
At that time, my directors were all American, based in Atlanta and were highly impressed when I organised a lunch for them at the Amcham one day and the guest speaker was none other than Margaret Thatcher, who had given up her Premiership a few years earlier. They were even more impressed when I managed to get them both a copy of her memoirs, signed on the spot by the great lady. I still have mine.
I also remember that one lunch featured Jeffery Archer, the novelist, Member of Parliament and erstwhile convict, who also signed copies of his book that day. I recall him asking me as I stood before him what I wanted him to write. ’To Tom Cupples from Jeffery Archer’, I said. ‘That’ll be £50 plus the cost of the book’, he said. ‘What’ll you do for £25’, I asked. ‘Just my name’, he said. ‘That’ll do fine’, I said and handed over my £29.99 – actually I gave them £30.  The money was going to the Conservative party!
But back to the Ambassador’s invite. I bought my then girlfriend a new dress and wore one of my IBM-type suits - dark blue pin-stripe, white shirt and red tie. We got a taxi to Winfield House which is the Ambassador’s official residence located in Regent’s Park and donated to the US by Barbara Hutton, the Woolworths heiress. That’s the US Woolworths, not our bankrupt store of the same name.
Security was quite tight as you can imagine but once inside, I recognised Reymond Seitz, the Ambassador who was quite a public figure at the time. Moira, my girlfriend and I wandered around and it wasn’t long before one of the Amcham organisers whom I knew quite well, came over with Raymond and introduced us. I knew who he was, but he had absolutely no idea who I was, other than that I worked for BT. It was even more surreal when, desperate to meet the Ambassador, some Chairman of a large stock-exchange listed company barged in and offered his hand in greeting.
‘I’ll be with you shortly. I’m just talking to Tom about the state of the telecommunications business’, Raymond Seitz lied, quite clearly annoyed that his discussion with Moira about something or other had been interrupted.  
I went off to get another glass of champagne and left Seitz talking animatedly to my girlfriend. I think he quite fancied her!
Details of Winfield House at the following link…

1 comment:

Allison said...

That must have been such a fabulous experience, Tom! I enjoyed reading this very much :)