This is the moment when Jilly and I formally welcome you to the party to celebrate the marriage of our precious and stunning Princess Helen to the intriguingly bearded and mysterious Prince Christopher, who has come in his silver carriage to carry her away. Welcome!
Just so you know, if there’s a personal issue needing a quiet moment, for example someone who’s over-challenged the wine supply, or who is about to give birth, then we have a room in the building and please have a word with Jilly.
After dinner the band will start up. Later on there’ll be some light food to top up with, there’s a beer bar with some rather good barrels, wine will continue to be freely available, and Derek and I will probably be doing our first Dad dances some time after 10pm when we’ve warmed up.
No doubt my brother, used to my efforts, is running a book on the speeches but I have to warn him that past performance is no guide to the future. In fact even he might have got spoofed because Helen gives such good presentations professionally that I nearly subcontracted this speech to her.
But I’m not sure I’d want to take responsibility for the damage she does to the English language – over the years she’s introduced us to words like totes, amazeballs, hid, horrendi and hilare.
This, then, is the day, dear Helen, when you face a big public, everyone rooting for you and Chris, and your own presentation is magnificent but almost silent.
Chris and Helen have already had much to arrange. You may have noticed the video recording being made in the church. I did wonder whether Helen had planned to have a word with Tim (nod) and Allie (nod) about streaming a live relay of the marriage to the new Ocean digital display at Land Sec’s Piccadilly site near Eros – how apt - but then I thought – Who will need to see it there?
Almost everyone who really matters is here, and we’re so delighted to see youthat you all are! Thank you so much for coming.
There are some who couldn’t come for entirely understandable reasons of time or health: the Antipodean Team Russell, Bill and Isabelle, Margie and Mike, Paul and Christine, … We miss them.
So – they are married! The Duke and Duchess of Denmark Hill! So this isn’t a sales pitch I’m making to Chris, it’s not even an instruction manual for running Helen, it’s more like after-sales customer care. <LOOK AT CHRIS> You probably already know where the rattley bits are, but we’re all here to help set the satnav in the direction of long happiness.
Helen, from our perspective we see that you’ve chosen a fine man, he’s kind, and vigorous,
intriguing and determined,
he’s amusing, thoughtful, and quite idiosyncratic.
All subject to what we might hear later, of course. And he clearly cares for you very much. We like him enormously.
But I’m standing here to talk of what we know, which is Helen. When her name comes up people say, “Helen, ah Helen, she’s lovely”. Weeelll, as her Best Dad it’s my duty today to keep you properly informed - not just to say
“I do”, but also to say “She did”.
Done it Bravely
And she has done – and done it bravely. She’s
· jumped out of an aeroplane,
· she’s bungee jumped off a gondola – though the video shows an enormous delay before she could actually bring herself to do so. She was so scared she would go back and forward, there was a moment she was peering over the edge and reached back for a safe grip – at that moment I understand there was an agonised grimace from the crew man and huge laughter from all her friends who’d saw where she’d grabbed;
· she goes on the highest roller coasters,
· and she gives presentations to some pretty daunting audiences.
Mind you, at the end of one long day of presentations she was sorting her papers and heard some tittering; her Powerpoint window had minimised itself and the audience were now looking at a recipe headed Dad’s Curry. That’s how to spice up your presentation. [Dad joke].
No fear, then. She copes, she finds a way. Sometimes the briefing doesn’t quite sink in. On her first skiing trip with the girls she did some practice days; on the top of the nursery slope she clicked her boots into her skis as she had been shown in the shop, sadly she was facing uphill… Once she had stopped she was laughing as much as everyone else – probably that cackle that makes you think there’s a mad hen in the room.
But later on that first trip the team went up the ski lift – and found that the green run was closed, and only the black run was available. So the black run it was, and Helen took 2 and a half hours to come down, traversing and then deliberately falling over, then traversing again and falling over, goodness knows how the fast skiers missed her.
Probably it was the pinkness of her ski suit. Pink! Helen’s most important things are Pink. She tried orange – we’ll long remember the fake tan. But Pink it is. The ski suit. The pink camera that was lost for seven years down the side of a sofa and was found still holding pictures of her sister’s wedding.
The Pink suitcase that has seen more miles than a jumbo jet. And the folder for this wedding. Well that brings us on to her organisational skills. If there’s organising to be done, Helen’s the girl.
She takes charge of the family board games and commands the situation, a roomful of people. She laughs with a joker’s play, but uses her speed to make the ripostes which stop a situation getting tricky. She is the most powerful woman I know. I’ve certainly been twisted round her little finger since she was 0.
Charlotte tells of her own hen do in France - she was dressed up by the girls as a French maid and another party of girls took her feather duster. It was Helen who strode up to those other girls to retrieve it, wagged her finger at them and forcefully said “NON” - which was quite a sight as Helen herself was sporting a beret and a handlebar moustache.
Yes, as ever, done with style. Her opinion of her optimum style does not include the Lego haircut she sported as a youngster, “inflicted on her” as she sees it. Maybe that’s why for a time she believed she was Chinese.
Sometimes it fails. It’s told that when shopping in Cardiff Helen got locked into an over-ambitious boob tube and it took a major effort by the shop assistant to get her out, with a complete lack of elegance.
There was a Take Your Daughter To Work day and we did a tour of the engineering works. We started in my office, and Helen was much taken with the relaxed hours, the comfy chairs and of course chatting with people. After a bit of light letter opening we went to the machine shop and I got out some safety goggles: “I’m not wearing those!” said Helen. “You have to” I said. “Oh not I’m not,” said Helen. We reached a compromise through gritted teeth, in front of an amused workforce, so you can see Helen’s firm negotiating style started early.
Ocean and work
Ocean and Helen seem to fit very well. She’s been there since she was one of six people – I was walking in a London street when the call came through from Helen that she’d won the job she so wanted to move into, and we were both so excited that I dropped my glasses and they remain chipped to this day.
Now she runs her chunk of a business that’s sixty-strong, and we’re proud to be told that she’s been at the core of every decision the business has made.
And she does it with massive enthusiasm. Ocean occasionally does internal awards, and at one session a new award was created, and presented to Helen, for passion.
Helen has two speeds – Top speed and asleep. When Helen gets fired up she’s like a sheepdog, rounding people up, getting them to do things by charm or, in my case, by a severe talking to.
A business like Ocean has a plan and runs on people. Helen too runs on plans and people: I quote “She is the absolute master of planning, there will be an elaborate plan that will tell exactly what, when and how a project is going to happen. It will be beautifully produced, clear and really well thought-through. And when she’s asked about the project out will come the plan – it’s all there to see. This can go on for days and weeks.” The hard bit is actually getting Helen to start the project.
Pleasing and Caring
It was the same when she was a teenager. At exam time she would work out her best revision plan, write it out, time it, adjust it, refine it – but never really get round to doing the revision. There was always a problem to deal with, she used to get awfully emotional, she was known for crying in sympathy at other people’s problems because she cares so much that she took them as her own. Or alternatively, as the loyal friend said when telling me of this, she was a very hormonal teenager.
This caring started early. At 12 and 13 Helen loved chewing gum and reading girlie magazines, Big and Shout, and at 12 she wrote to Big magazine worried about how her younger sister, then a very modest 10 of course, who was very quiet, was going to find out all the things a girl needs to know – all the things that Helen had learned – at 12.
Helen has always been there for people. She was put here for the benefit and amusement of us all, and has wanted to please all her life, from the beaming baby lying on the changing mat, daring you not to beam back at her. John says “Whenever I see Helen I smile.”
Perhaps she feels a bit insecure at times: on coming into her sitting room in London years ago, where there was a fish tank, all the fish clustered at the corner closest to her: she remarked “It’s quite nice when you have six fish interested in you.”
Helen is always there for her friends, just as they are for her. There are innumerable tales of personal support and rallying round, doing the unexpected to make it better for others, rushing to people’s sides.
A comment from a colleague: “If you are having a problem and tell Helen, then she steps in and takes charge and gets it sorted, or tells you just what to do. So dependable.”
Helen does like to organise well in advance, and no, that isn’t why this engagement has been 14 months long. It’s been said that the commitment of Helen and Chris to family and friends means it’s easier to get a diary date with the Queen.
But that means Chris and Helen have been able to concentrate on the detail of their wedding. For example they’ve made it easy for me to cope, as an old man prone to confusion; they’ve kindly placed me between two lovely ladies both called Helen Haines.
Well, Helen of Sparta’s was the face that launched a thousand ships, the ships sent to rescue her when she was kidnapped by Paris of Troy. As a unit of feminine beauty a milli-Helen is therefore defined as sufficient to launch one ship. I think that today Helen looks lovely enough to launch the whole fleet.
Misfortune dogs her. She loses wallets, cards, phones. She had a card cloned in a dubious shop. She had a toffee-yoghurt explosion in her best handbag ruining her phone, her Blackberry and the bag. She phoned through from her trip in the South Pacific to say she’s lost her credit card, with all the kerfuffle that causes. Some weeks later she phoned through to say it had been in her other shorts all the time. A case of the Wrong Trousers. Well that brings us straight on to her addictions. I gather that the hen do was a highly respectable event in the Cotswolds, with a focus on wine and cheese. Of course what happens on a hen do stays on the hen do – and on Facebook. But it’s no coincidence that the wedding cake that Chris and Helen wanted is a pile of cheese.
Helen does want people to enjoy themselves as much as she does, so everything turns into a party. As a good hostess and party girl she is always concerned that everyone has the drink they want. It’s not often that anyone gets ahead of Helen. But the other week she was in charge of Elsa and Henry at bath-time and genuinely panicked as they wound her up by pretending to drink the bathwater.
If a plan goes wrong she improvises. Surveying a bunch of friends strewn round her place on yet another morning after, she concluded that they all needed a Bloody Mary, but searching the cupboards produced no ingredients apart from vodka – naturally. It turned out that blending tinned plum tomatoes with vodka, adding dried tarragon, and sprucing it up with chilli paste makes an almost completely undrinkable remedy. Helen was jubilant at the laughing congratulations of the team, while they were privately controlling their gag-reflexes.
So Helen is nothing if not determined. But it’s not always in her best interests.
Two Christmasses ago Chris and I retired to a back room to discuss books and then Chris asked me if it was all right if he asked Helen to marry him. I was delighted, and said so. “I hope to ask her at my favourite place on Cayman,” he said, and I hoped we’d be on the island at the time.
Two months later Chris took us on a scenic drive round Grand Cayman to Rum Point to a house kindly lent to Chris for our trip. We arrived at tea time. It is a lovely spot: the house leads out onto a sheltered sandy inlet and the other houses were quiet, boats were pulled up on the beach, the sun was shining… Anyway we unloaded and Jilly started doing the kitchen bit, and Chris asked Helen if she’d give him a hand moving some kayaks on the beach.
“No, I’m helping Mummy,” she said. Chris said “But I really need your help with these boats.” Helen said “No, I really need to help Mummy unpack for the kitchen…” Eventually Chris did prevail and things went quiet. A bit later I was distracted by a squeaking sound that was coming from the veranda round the corner. It was Helen, who was as excited as could be, holding out her hand on which was a perfectly fitting ring “Look, look,“ she was saying “Chris and I are getting married.” So, Helen, listen to your man.
It is of course the case that girls do chatter a lot, and men are strong and silent. But that’s all right in a romance, because there’s not much that a man needs to say. In fact what a man has to say gets less as the romance progresses. For example, a man, thinking he may have caught the eye of a girl he fancies, may start off with a six word sentence:
“Would you care for a drink?”
Time goes on and the next marker is only five words: “Shall we buy this flat?”
Then there is “Will you marry me?”
Closely followed by “I love you”
And eventually “I will.”
After that there is only one word the girl wants to hear from her man, again and again: it’s
But the man will dress it up to show that he is still truly romantic: And thus we get
In a discussion some weeks ago about the service and who says what, Chris remarked that he understood his role was well defined and he should just follow instructions, whereupon Helen looked over her shoulder at him, smiled sweetly and said “Just like life, dear.”
But then again, in the autumn I was giving Chris a slightly hard time about something important, the choice of beers for today I think it was, and Helen asked me to lay off – “because I love him.”
So that’s all right then.
And so, perhaps we could now Stand and wish this lovely, happy couple a long and happy life.
To Chris and Helen, Mr and Mrs Christopher Haines.