The Women of the Year lunch at the Intercontinental Park Lane on Monday was attended by a formidable collection of Britain's leading women from all walks of life. All 420 attendees had been individually nominated to attend. My nominator is still unknown.
Knowing little about the event, with the exception that Maureen Lipman and Baroness Floella Benjamin of Beckenham were attending and past award winners included Baroness Margaret Thatcher, the whole thing was a little daunting. However actress Leonie Mellinger, my table host, had called me a few days ago to tell me what to expect and who was on my table. She also told me that the first half hour was the only networking time and to make the most of it.
On the train down I did the Twitter thing and made contact with a fellow attendee, also surprised to be nominated, and we arranged to meet before hand. It really helped to steady the nerves. Nothing could prepare me for the event.
Well, Maureen Lipman was at the cloakroom and I walked past Lulu, Fern Britton and Sue Nichols, Helen Worth and Barbara Knox from Corrie. I re-found Kaarin my ally and was introduced to Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, a personal heroine. From there, I met a fabulous lady from Yorkshire, who is interested in commissioning some architectural work from me. (networking actually does work!) Then without knowing who else to talk to, introduced myself to Helen Worth, that's Gail Tilsley!
Toilet trips at these events aren't for the faint hearted. I stumbled across a strong woman with bleached blond hair and a tight black tee with the slogan HIV positive holding court.
Sitting down at my table was the lovely Gloria Mills, national director equalities, Unison and Olivia Giles, a former lawyer and Women in Property Scotland member, who set up the charity 500 miles which delivers prosthetic and orthotic services to disabled people in Malawi and Zambia, after in 2002, she caught meningococcal septicaemia, gangrene set in and she had to have her legs and arms amputated.
During a moment of calm, I looked at the list of attendees, erm Zaha Hadid was on the list and Cath Kidston and Julie Walters.
So Sandy Toksvig took to the stage and introduced madam president the Baroness Helena Kennedy of the Shaws, who in turn welcomed us all, including Tessa Jowell and Teresa May. And the list goes on.
So whilst Gloria and I put the world to rights, I've made a strong ally in the world of feminism and equality, she explained to me that it wasn't until 1979 when Maggie Thatcher passed a law that allowed women to sign for a mortgage, until then there had to be a male guarantor, or the introduction of child benefit being paid to the mother, again relatively recently, she reminded me that I had to continue fighting, and she was pretty damn inspirational.
And then the four awards were given out. The Sacla Window to the World award was won by Suzie Hart for her work setting up Neema Crafts.
Teresa May introduced the Sainsbury's 'yes you can' award and summed up my feelings when she said "the room is brimming over with inspirational women." The award went to Shara Bruce for the Ascension Eagles trophy winning cheerleading and youth programme.
The Good Housekeeping outstanding achievement award, was presented by Julia Peyton-Jones director of the Serpentine Gallery, to Zaha Hadid, who spoke really well, not just about her work, but about her mum who taught her to draw and financed her architectural education. Nowadays Zaha says she has a staff of 400 and "60-70% are men and a total pain."
Oh and by the way it was Annie Lennox in the loos, who won the Barclays Women of the Year award. In her award acceptance, Annie said she heard Nelson Mandela speak in 2003 about the pandemic of genocide killing 1,000 people a day, and vowed to support the struggle against HIV and aids in Africa.
All in all it was an overwhelming, inspirational and empowering day, which I will endeavour to hold on to in the coming months.