JLA’s Jonathan Stewart plans a feast for the soul (and the stomach)
If you’re like me – and my sincere condolences if you are – you’ll have a list of fantasy dinner guests lurking somewhere at the back of your mind, just in case the question is ever thrown your way. Popular choices include Winston Churchill, Marilyn Monroe and Albert Einstein – but I prefer my guests to be alive (Decaying at the dining table is very distasteful.) So it’s handy that I work for a Speaker Bureau and have an impressive roster of after-dinner speakers at my fingertips – an ideal cast for the dinner party of my dreams.
Of course, you’ll all be familiar with Cecil B. Hartley’s ‘The Gentlemen’s Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness, Being a Complete Guide for a Gentleman’s Conduct in all his Relations Towards Society’, in which the author notes that a good host should avoid political or religious discussions over dinner, as they invariably lead to “irritating differences of opinion, often to open quarrels, and a coolness of feeling”. Personally, I don’t think a dinner party is complete without coolness of feeling, so I intend to have both topics covered by my guest speakers. Sometimes I like to throw sex and money in there too, as garnish.
A good political conversation is hard to find. Whilst a great deal of fun can be had by just-repeating-your-opinion-but-much-louder-than-you-said-it-last-time, after a while everybody gets quite cross and red-faced. For this reason, I’ll rely on diplomat Tom Fletcher to keep the peace while I’m in the kitchen arranging my world-renowned fromage et d’ananas sur des petits bâtons de bois. This keynote speaker has worked as foreign policy advisor under Blair, Brown and Cameron, debated with Hezbollah on Twitter and swapped jobs with a teenage Ethiopian housekeeper to highlight the abuse domestic staff suffer, so you know his after-dinner stories are juicy. He’s also recently been considering the role of tech amidst geopolitical upheaval so – you know – topical.
Broadcaster, writer and Church of England Priest, Reverend Richard Coles is truly multi-talented. He delivered three UK top 10 hits during his time serving as one half of The Communards, dished out advice as ‘agony uncle’ on BBC London, and inspired the BBC2 hit comedy Rev. He claimed a Sony Gold as presenter of The Mix on Radio 5 live, and then trained for a priesthood – securing himself a place as a ‘very modern’ vicar. If conversation turns to opera (he reviews it), Newsnight (he contributes to it) or Mastermind (he won it), he’ll be able to bring some excellent anecdotes to the table. Besides, we’ll need somebody to say Grace.
Alexis Conran knows money. Or rather, he knows how to get it out of people. Originally an advisor on the drama series Hustle, Alexis now demonstrates his talents in BBC Three’s Real Hustle, hoodwinking unsuspecting victims and revealing his tricks along the way. The trained magician’s conscience led him away from the grifting life, and now he offers candid analysis of the threats posed to business, and the best way to defend against fraudsters – both online and IRL. He’s worked with BBC One’s Watchdog, keeping the public up-to-date with the latest scams, and he also stormed Celebrity MasterChef – so I’ll be getting the main course through Just Eat and pretending I cooked it. Chile en nogada, anyone?
Sex. Not just a great way to raise hits on this blog, but also a very serious ideological issue mired in contention. As the postprandial jelly and ice cream arrives, Germaine Greer will float her raft of divisive issues for my guests. After publishing The Female Eunuch (attracting attention both good and bad), Germaine has sparked debate on everything from aboriginal rights to sex for the over 60s. She’s highlighted injustice against women in Asia and Africa, and managed an area of rainforest in her native Australia. She’s also said quite a few things about male nudes, so I’ll bring out my modelling portfolio with the After Eights.
Who would you invite to your fantasy dinner party? Check out our full list of after-dinner speakers and draw up your own table plan!