As I write this, I'm on a high. It's not drug-related, unless you count Cherry & Cola Tic-Tacs (which you should), but it's one that's lasted since last Friday night. It's now Tuesday evening.
On Friday 8th September, myself and my good lady wife headed over to Liverpool to attend the 2017 National Diversity Awards. Incredibly, Men Tell Health had been shortlisted from over 22,000 nominations for an award; Community Organisation (Gender) to be exact. Something that still seems unbelievable, but as we were packed and made our way to Merseyside, it was very clearly real.
I genuinely wasn't expecting it to win. Not that I don't think we're not worthy, but for an award ceremony that celebrates diversity, an overweight, middle-aged white man didn't, to me at least, seem to fit the bill, but hey, what do I know!
We arrived in Liverpool, which was a first for us, with a little time to spare before the awards. I seemed to have caught a temporary airborne virus that meant I started talking in a terrible Scouse accent as soon as we reached the outskirts of the city, but thankfully for everyone, it soon passed. We checked in and had a lovely walk to take our first look at the River Mersey, then around Albert Dock, taking in the atmosphere of Liverpool. Lots of restaurants, bars, galleries and a museum about a new, local band called The Beatles, created a great vibe. A museum seems a bit presumptuous, but I wish them luck, whoever they are.
Before long, it was time to don our formal attire and head off for the stunning Liverpool Cathedral. Despite a slight snafu with the taxi, we arrived, excited for what was in store for us. We knew we were in for an incredible night, the minute we got out the taxi and saw and heard the sounds of a roll of drummers from Batala Mersey. It created a genuine excitement as we approached the cathedral, the largest in the UK. It was imposing from the outside, but stunning on inside.
Seeing everyone dressed so glamorously was really something. I don't know about you, but these kind of black-tie events are fairly rare for me, so it felt really special to take in our surroundings, be handed drinks on trays and appetisers. Seeing people connecting, taking selfies and photos of the venue, and how could you blame them! Looking from one end of the building to the next was awe-inspiring. As we saw the stage, it reminded me of the Banqueting Hall from Hogwarts, decked in coloured light and hundreds of candles on every table. Spell-binding.
We spent a good few minutes just wandering around, taking in our surroundings and yes, talking some selfies. Just standing in front of the official banners to take photos, made you feel like a VIP. Before long it was time to take our seats. Table 37, here we come. For some reason we looked for who else was on our table - we didn't know anyone else there, so that seemed a bit futile, but what can I say, we were caught up in the excitement of the moment.
As we found our seat, we were greeted with a goody bag of freebies (nice), a glossy brochure and a Certificate of Appreciation (even nicer). Whether we won the award or not, at least we'd have something to show for it!. I've got a stain on my office wall which it would cover perfectly.
It might sound a bit daft, but seeing our logo in the brochure and a write-up about the work we do, felt so rewarding. I wish we could have shared the evening with all the people who helped us get to this point. The thing is, I don't think the cathedral, even given its huge size, would have been big enough for all of you.
As our table-mates were joining us, it was lovely to meet so many new people who we could share the evening with. Everyone was shaking hands and getting to know each other as the evening began. We were all short-listed nominees (or friends of) in different categories, so we were guaranteed not to be throwing shade at each other through the night ;-).
If feels only right that we give all our stablemates shortlisted a shout out here for the incredible work they're doing. Go take a look at their work, hopefully it might help you or someone you know. We had:
- Faye Waddams - Positive Role Model Award for Disability (her blog is here).
- Daniela Blechner - Entrepreneur of Excellence Award (Conscious Dreams Publishing)
- Revd. Andrew Foreshaw-Cain - Positive Role Model Award for Race, Faith and Religion (not pictured).
- Kerri Swindells - Community Organisation Award for LGBT (National Ugly Mugs)
It was so inspiring to be able to meet so many people who were all just so bloody nice and we were all doing great things in our particular fields. It made me feel so inspired just to be there, hear their stories and get to know them more.
I hope it isn't the last time we all meet and I'm certain it won't be the last time they're nominated for an award.
With the delicious food well and truly devoured, it was time to for the main event. The events were hosted by Big Brother star Brian Dowling and Scissor Sister Ana Matronic. When I saw they were doing it, my first thought was 'that's a random combination', but they were great.
Paul Sesay, the CEO of The Diversity Group, started the speeches, setting the mood for the evening. There were more speeches from some of the corporate sponsors, including Direct Line and Microsoft (who didn't need rebooting once), then some video messages from the likes of Stephen Fry and Sir Lenny Henry who either needs a new webcam or better Wi-Fi ;-)
As the evening wore on, more and more people were collecting their awards, meeting new friends and the sense of excitement was building.
All awards were very well-deserved; not just to the winners, but to everyone who was nominated in the first-place. Remember, you must be doing something right to mean someone wanted you to be recognised. If you didn't make the shortlist, keep doing what you're doing regardless. What social enterprises and charities do, big or small, recognised or not, doesn't happen because there might be an award, it happens because we want to make the world a little better for other people, so just keep doing that.
Our awards was one of the last ones to be called. Just seeing our logo on the screens around seemed surreal, just imagine actually winning! We didn't have to wait for long for the answer.
Earlier in the evening, my wife had asked me if I'd wrote a speech for if we won. I hadn't. I explained that it wouldn't be a problem. I'd told myself I wouldn't win. I convinced myself that we did well just to get to this point, but were were destined to go no further. What the f**k do I know!
As the nominees were announced I starting videoing, then I thought, why!! What's the point, why would I want a record of that! So I turned it off. Seriously, what do I know!
As we were announced, the table cheered. As our name was read out, my wife let out a blood-curling scream! We'd won! We'd actually won! WTF! OMG! Anyone have a speech I can borrow?
As I walked up to the stage, people were clapping and cheering, shaking my hand and offering their congratulations. I saw out of the corner of my eye, our video playing on the screens around the room. Everyone shortlisted nominee had to submit a winner's video, in case they won (below). The only used a shortened version of this, so this is the Special Edition Director's Cut. Thanks to John Gray, Danial (not a typo) Shaw and Dan Briggs for contributing. Thanks to Brad and Josh from Off The Ground for letting us use their fantastic venue and thanks to Gavin Dawson for putting it together.
As the stage approached, I saw John talking and I heard the two Dan's, but I couldn't make out what they were saying. I was too busy trying to think of what to say when I got there! I probably should have wrote a speech.
Unbeknownst to me, my wife had followed me ready to capture the moment. I walked on stage, shook hands with everyone. As I approached the podium, I looked out. My anxiety levels rising rapidly, but I couldn't see anyone. Not a soul. All the smartly-dressed attendees had merged into the darkness. I could see the candles, and the lights of the cathedral, but that was it. No people, which probably helped! What did I say? Good question. I don't really remember. I do remember forgetting to thank Gavin Dawson, who made the video, so let me do that know. Thanks Gav!
I remember thanking Richard Bendelow, Dan Briggs, Matt Smith, Martin Baker and John Gray. If I could have thanked everyone who helped get us to that point, I'd have been up there all night, so thank you.
I do remember saying something about men and mental health. I hope it was coherent. If not, speak to my lawyer (or buy a dictionary).
I fully expected to go back to my seat and try and calm down, but I was ushered away. Firstly for a photo call, then an interview, then another photo call, then another interview. It was like being famous! I was gone for about 40 minutes! Congratulations to those who won the awards following ours, because I didn't get to applaud your achievements!
When I got back to my table, everyone was there to congratulate me. It was such a good feeling. I was glad to say the award hadn't changed me one bit.
We had more photos, more handshakes and more laughs. Can't believe they had the cheek to speak to a winner without permission. Security! Honestly, you can't get the staff.
As the night came to a close, our excitement of staying up til 3am at the After Party were waining fast. It was the first night we'd had away from our son in 9 years. By midnight, we were flagging. Time to say goodbye. Time for bed, but also time to think about just what an incredible night it had been for all sorts of reasons.
We'd just want to say a huge thank you to all the team from The National Diversity Awards and I Spoil U Media for putting on an absolutely fantastic event. They worked tirelessly to put on a brilliant night and we can't thank them enough. It was the first time we were nominated, it might be the last, but we'll never forget it. Also, a huge thanks you to all the good folks from Horseradish Catering who looked after us so well.
We met so many incredible people who, whether they went home with an award or not, are all doing such amazing work in their own field and to be shortlisted from 22,000 nominations is no small feat.
We were genuinely humbled that we won. Sorry if you're sick of us going on about it, but for a small organisation like us and to only be going for about 18 months at this point, we couldn't be more proud. Thank you all.
The full list of other winners:
Positive Role Model for Age: Joshua Beckford
Positive Role Model for Disability: James Sutliff
Positive Role Model for Gender: Robyn Smart
Positive Role Model for LGBT: Emma Cusdin
Positive Role Model for Race, Faith & Religion: Morenike Ajayi
Community Organisation Award for Age: Reluctantly Brave
Community Organisation Award for Disability: Childhood Tumour Trust
Community Organisation Award for LGBT: ELOP
Community Organisation Award for Race, Faith & Religion: Caribbean Social Forum
Community Organisation Award for Multi-strand: Activ8 Fitness Camp
Entrepreneur of Excellence: Coralie Rose
Diverse Company: Royal Bank of Scotland
Lifetime Achiever: Avril Hitman BEM
Finally, you really should keep an eye on their website. I'm sure the nominations for 2018 will be open soon. Nominate that person who's doing something amazing and give them the chance of an incredible night they'll never forget (and get them to take you!.... and us!) ;-)