Forget Friday the 13th. The most terrifying day of my year is the first Friday in December. I'm CEO of Women in Film and Television (UK) and today, Friday 7 December, is our annual awards lunch, where 1,000 industry people show up at the Hilton, Park Lane, ready to kickstart the holiday season with a gloriously fun-filled celebration of this year's fifteen honorees.
It's like organising 10 weddings on the same day. Certainly, my daughter's wedding was never as stressful as this: performers from the West End musical We Will Rock You, presenters including Mitchell and Webb, Evan Davies, Danny Boyle, Davina McCall, Peter Snow and Julie Walters, all held together by Sue Perkins at her most hilarious.
There's so much to go wrong at a largely unrehearsed one-off event. Will the sound system balance the music? Will the sponsors' logos all be perfect? Will the video acceptance speech from director Lynne Ramsay (We Need to Talk About Kevin) arrive from Los Angeles in time? Can everyone get on and off the stage? Will someone drop their crystal vase award? (It has been known!) At least I never worry about the food. The Hilton do us proud.
We've had our problems. Two years ago, when Julie Walters was our Awards host, she rang to say she was snowed in on her farm in Sussex. We went into emergency mode - but couldn't even find a helicopter prepared to land on her snow-covered fields. Finally, in desperation, we contacted a tank hire company. Julie quite fancied the idea of being driven up Park Lane swivelling her gun turret but, in the end, the tank driver manoeuvered a four wheel drive triumphantly over the snow and Julie wowed an audience that had no idea how close we came to not having a host at all. Julie has a history as a persistent trouble-maker at our awards. When Colin Firth, who had just shot to stardom as Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, walked onstage to present one of our awards Julie started a chant from the floor "Co-lin! Co-lin! Co-lin!" Hundreds of women in the Grand Ballroom joined in. Colin Firth blushed. Whatever would Jane Austen have thought?
We have our place in history too. During last year's awards Helen Boaden, BBC Head of News, approached soon-to-be BBC Director-General George Entwistle to warn him about an up-coming Newsnight film about Jimmy Savile. If he'd picked up on that, he'd probably still be director general. George later told a parliamentary select committee that he didn't ask any questions about it because "It was a busy lunch". I think it was simply bad timing: Miranda Hart had just shared her favourite chat-up line with the room: "When I roll over in bed my breasts clap!" All very distracting.
The awards are massively oversubscribed. This year the 1,000 places sold out in 28 minutes. Of course, people come because they have a great time, but there's a more serious purpose to the event. Women have made tremendous progress in my lifetime but, in the media as in so many other professions, they're still paid less for equivalent work, they still find it harder to get promoted, they still get harassed and, in many areas - from technical jobs to directing films - they are still a small minority.
WFTV is determined not to whinge about all this. Instead, throughout the year, we network, we mentor, we encourage and we celebrate the extraordinary achievements of women in every area of our industry. Last year we gave our ITV Achievement of the Year Award to three courageous war correspondents - Alex Crawford, Zeina Khodr and Sara Sidner - who covered the fall of Tripoli. This year we have Barbara Slater, the BBC's first woman Director of Sport and the mastermind behind the coverage of the 2012 London Olympics. And Clare Balding, a presenter who makes the idea of women commenting on sport seem as natural as breathing.
We celebrate unsung heroes and great actors, behind-the-scenes technicians and onscreen presenters. Above all we celebrate talented and successful women in all their glorious diversity. It's the most stressful day of my year, but also the most satisfying. Onwards!
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