David Parkin on Man on the Moon, the Man from Delmonte and an honorary Yorkshireman

David Parkin on Man on the Moon, the Man from Delmonte and an honorary Yorkshireman

TWO men have dominated the news this week.

Neil Armstrong and Boris Johnson.

One was the first man on the moon, 50 years ago this week.

The other can be a superhero rocket man or a space cadet – depending on your views on Brexit and what he is able to deliver in the three months left until the Halloween deadline for Britain’s departure from the European Union.

Rather than focus on the latter, I decided to celebrate the former by attending a ‘Moon Party’ hosted by the Dakota Hotel and organised by Jonny Hick.

I’ve mentioned before how Jonny, a talented advertising executive and entrepreneur who went on to found the headhunting business Directorbank and now advises Zeus Capital, is something of a name dropper.

So it was no surprise to get an invitation to the party which combined both Jonny’s creative flair and vaunted ability to mention luminaries.

“On my actual 56th birthday the day before ([the party] July 21st, it will be exactly 50 years since man supposedly walked on the Moon. As the only person on this list who actually met Neil Armstrong, I’m none the wiser as to whether ‘supposedly’ is ‘defo’ or not, as I was told not to ask him about it! What a kind, modest, lovely, gentleman he was however – I can report that as a very definite fact.”

Jonny met Neil Armstrong at one of the first Yorkshire International Business Convention events at Harewood House back in the 1990s.

Both he and YIBC founder Mike Firth were told not to ask the astronaut about landing on the Moon and assumed it was because it would be the central subject of his speech to 1,000 business leaders at the business convention.

But no, it turns out that his speech included little about his claim to fame as the first man on the moon and he went on to discuss astro-physics and the wider universe, leaving his audience none the wiser about his part in an event in July 1969 which had the world watching.

Those that heard him speak apparently concluded that here was a nice man who was a bit dull.

I met a man a bit like that in a pub the other day so it just goes to show you can find them anywhere, not just on the moon.

One of life’s enthusiasts, and certainly not as dull as Neil Armstrong, Jonny warmed to his Moon Party theme by dressing in a space suit to give a speech to gathered guests who included some of the great and good of Yorkshire and plenty of the great and good of the Coach & Horses in Harrogate.

He has found the award-winning hostelry to be a good place to operate from because it has such a strong wifi signal.

Given it was a warm evening and the space suit looked hot, I was slightly worried that if Jonny gave his traditional lengthy speech he might end up like a well cooked spatchcock chicken in tin foil.

Fortunately he was suprisingly brief (I once saw him give a speech about his life and career and when the first guest had to leave after an hour-and-a-half to catch a train back to London, Jonny’s stories had only covered his life up to the age of 17).

As he concluded he invited a friend from the Coach & Horses and fellow birthday boy, Geoff Greensword, to tell a little-known story about Neil Armstrong landing on the moon.

Unreported at the time, apparently when Neil Armstrong first stepped out of Apollo 11, in which he and Buzz Aldrin had landed on the surface of the moon, before he had even planted the US flag and said his epic “One small step for man…” words, there was a problem.

After he left the space craft and took his first few steps on the moon he realised he had forgotten the pick he needed to collect the moon rock he had to take back to earth.

So he walked back to Apollo 11 and knocked on the door.

To which Buzz Aldrin replied: “Who is it?”

:::

IT was good to see Mike Firth at the do.

Mike is a true entrepreneur. 

He founded Yorkshire Food Group, floated it on the Stock Exchange and then became the Man from Delmonte when he went to California and bought the dried fruits business of the group best known for its fruit juices advertised by a man in a cream suit and Panama hat.

While the Delmonte acquisition proved a step too far for Yorkshire Food Group, the time in California proved valuable in another way for Mike.

He attended a big annual business convention in the rather obscure Californian industrial city of Bakersfield.

In 1985 the city north of Los Angeles decided to put itself on the map by hosting the annual Bakersfield Business Convention attracting audiences of up to 9,000 to see speakers including former presidents Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford and George H W Bush as well as Margaret Thatcher, Neil Armstrong, Norman Schwarzkopf and Colin Powell.

Like any good entrepreneur Mike was inspired by this idea and decided to create something similar in his native Yorkshire, bringing George H W Bush, Mikhail Gorbachev, Colin Powell and Bill Clinton to speak at first Harewood House and then the Yorkshire Event Centre in Harrogate.

Rory Bremner became the regular opener to the event and Mike would also sprinkle stars of sports and showbiz as well as inspiring entrepreneurs and adventurers to each year’s line up including George Foreman, Bob Geldof, Elle Macpherson and Dave Stewart.

There was always the odd dud performer. In Bakersfield they had Sarah Palin, for Mike it was Cannon & Ball.

Bobby Ball gurning at the audience of business leaders, grabbing his braces and shouting: “Rock on Tommy!” didn’t quite appeal to the gathered throng.

Eventually the cost of securing world class speakers and an evaporating pool of potential sponsors and ticket buyers post the credit crunch and banking crisis saw the end of YIBC.

Which is a pity as it was by far the biggest, most impressive event in the Yorkshire business calendar for many years and the place you always bumped into anyone who was anyone in the regional commercial and political firmament.

Mike now runs another food business which is doing well and, given his entrepreneurial flair, event launched an airline with his brother Philip based at Leeds Bradford Airport.

Planet Air, launched in 2003, flew to Malaga, Alicante, Faro and Tenerife and was the first low cost airline to fly from Leeds Bradford.

What the powers that be at the airport didn’t tell the Firth brothers was that Jet2 was also about to imminently launch services from Leeds to a host of destinations, including three of those that they were already flying to.

Planet Air very sadly went into liquidation the following year – an unfair end to the dreams of the man who brought low cost flights to holidaymakers in Yorkshire for the first time.

Mike still takes an interest in Leeds Bradford Airport and greeted the arrival of new chief executive Hywel Rees with a letter of welcome which also suggested some of the key things the new man needed to address if the airport is to improve the pretty poor experience most passengers have to put up with.

He didn’t expect an answer but got one.

In his reply, the new chief executive thanked Mike for his suggestions and underlined his own commitment to improving the customer experience for both passengers and airline customers.

“We are looking at ways in which we can improve the airport and whilst I’m sure you can appreciate this will take a little time, I’m hopeful that you will see some improvement and changes over the coming months.”

Good luck to him.

Perhaps I can add one simple suggestion of my own?

Given that around 15 flights leave the airport before 7.30am each day then wouldn’t it perhaps be a good idea for WH Smith to stock newspapers before that time?

The last time I flew from Leeds Bradford Airport the only reading matter seemingly on offer were copies of Embroidery Monthly and Readers’ Wives – and I’m not into either.

Well, needlework can involve some nasty pricks.

:::

I’VE never really been one to celebrate Yorkshire Day.

It’s not like the celebration on August 1st is part of some historic pagan ritual dating back to the Stone Age.

It was in fact first marked in 1975 by the Yorkshire Ridings Society as “a protest movement against the local government reorganisation of 1974.

So pretty inauspicious beginnings.

But if Yorkshire Day involves some fine food and wine, then count me in for the celebrations.

That’s what is happening at the Dakota Hotel in Leeds next Thursday.

The five-star hotel has teamed up with Slingsby Gin to put on a lunch featuring a Yorkshire menu.

For £15 for two courses and £20 for three courses, diners will enjoy a complimentary cocktail made from Slingsby’s Harrogate gin and a menu including Jerusalem artichoke soup with a Wensleydale croquette, Whitby crab, rump of lamb and Ilkley beer battered fish and chips.

To see the full menu and book a table click here Dakota Deluxe Yorkshire Day Lunch

Or telephone 0113 322 6261

I will certainly be at the lunch as I’m particularly honoured because the Dakota have even named a dish after me.

Among the desserts of Yorkshire curd tart and Harrogate Blue cheese you will also find Parkin ice cream.

I’ve yet to taste it but I’d imagine it has a hint of fruitiness, a sculpted body and a lingering, some might say beguiling taste.

Other suggestions are not welcome thank you.

:::

SOME worry that celebrating Yorkshire Day might perpetuate traditional stereotypes like flat caps and whippets.

Hopefully it has got beyond that.

Although I do remember people being able to buy a certificate making them an “Honorary Yorkshireman”.

Given I’m from Derbyshire and have lived here for nearly 20 years, I certainly did consider it as it might open the door to wonderful new opportunities across the wide expanse of the Broad Acres.

But on closer inspection I discovered that all it really gave you permission to do was to talk out of the side of your mouth like Geoffrey Boycott, use the word chuffin’ in polite company and call the postman ‘love’.

Have a great weekend.

 

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