I am older and wiser - but still prone to foot-in-mouth

Martin Edwards revisits some of his most embarrassing moments as a leader

Martin Edwards
Martin Edwards

You might think that experienced charity staff would be immune to foot-in-mouth syndrome, but it can be a hard habit to break.

At a recent conference, someone from New Philanthropy Capital told me proudly that their new chief executive, Dan Corry, who was standing nearby, had been a senior economic adviser to the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown. "He didn't do a very good job then," I replied, before engaging my brain. But perhaps my comment helped refine the way Corry was introduced thereafter.

Sense of devilment

Maybe the sense of devilment never entirely leaves you. I remember the time when I introduced the chairman of a charity I then worked for, at an awayday. To fill time as he lumbered to the stage, I cracked a joke. "What's the difference between a chairman and a supermarket trolley? A supermarket trolley has a mind of its own ... and you can get a lot more food and drink into a chairman."

It isn't always me who puts his foot in it. When the England goalkeeper David James visited Julia's House, where I now work, a colleague with scant football knowledge asked for his autograph on a news cutting she had found about him, with the headline Calamity James. He graciously signed it, but sadly we never saw him again.

I also remember a journalist touring the Highland Hospice when I worked there, for an article in which he described our chef's scones as "to die for".

When I worked for Save the Children, a colleague whom I shall call J was speaking to the TV presenter Floella Benjamin at an event. Floella, a devoted mother, asked J if she too had children. Momentarily distracted, J, who did not have children, said yes. This led in time to Floella regularly asking after J's phantom kids.

A more innocent past

Nowadays, the threat of lawsuits makes us all over-cautious, but I recall a more innocent past - like the time when my assistant and I had spent an exhausting fortnight without a break fundraising at the Motor Show, after which she was asked by a corporate supporter what we would do next. "Martin and I are going to spend at least a week in bed," she said. "Well, my luck's changing," I said, ungallantly adding to her blushes.

Sometimes I was just being helpful, or so I protested to my Save the Children colleagues many years ago when the actor and Bond girl Fiona Fullerton phoned to ask if someone would drop by her house that day to collect her gift of two sculptures for an auction. "I'll go," I shouted before anyone else could, without bothering to check my diary.

When I parked in her road later on, I wondered how long to pay for at the parking meter. I put in the maximum - two hours. A fundraiser must prepare for any eventuality, after all.

Martin Edwards is chief executive of the children's hospice Julia's House

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