In the latest in a series of light-hearted articles on his career, former commentator and nationwide after-dinner entertainer, Peter Brackley, Brighton-born and lifelong Albion fan, tells of his side-line as a professional speaker and of touring with the legendary George Best.
"I'm really nervous about performing tonight," said the man twitching next to me, dressed in a flamboyant suit, in the Watford FC VIP suite.
“You’re nervous!" I replied, "You're Elton John! How do you think I feel, having to go on after one of the world's most famous entertainers?!"
"Yes," he said, "but I'm not singing, I'm giving an after-dinner speech at my club's annual dinner and I'm definitely nervous!"
I suppose that’s the point about public speaking, a profession I first got into some 35 years ago; it doesn't matter how famous you are, standing up in front of a crowd for thirty minutes trying to entertain folk is a daunting prospect, and one which many would avoid!
But, after doing a summer season at Butlins as a mimic (yes, honestly, I even wore a snazzy white suit), in tandem with my full-time job as Radio Brighton's Sports Editor, I decided to have a go at dinner speaking.
My first major event as a guest speaker was back in the early 80s, at a prestigious Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) dinner. I'll always be grateful to ex-Albion heroes Alan Mullery and Brian Horton, whose personal recommendations to now chief executive Gordon Taylor helped land me the gig.
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Over the next 12 years I continued to combine my speaking work with football commentating, as well as other TV commitments, until the mid-90s when I decided to give up the dinners to concentrate on being Channel 4’s lead commentator on Football Italia.
I’ve been lucky enough to work with many people in my career, from ex-Prime Ministers to sporting and showbiz legends, including Sir Alex Ferguson, Bob Monkhouse, Frank Carson, Sir Stanley Matthews, Geoff Boycott, Nick Faldo, Jimmy Tarbuck and George Best, with whom I did a nationwide stage tour of a two-hour show called, A Sporting Night to Remember.
Touring for a month with such a footballing icon was a huge honour, and with George's big pal Rodney Marsh and hilarious impressionist Mike Osman making up the rest of the team, we travelled all over Britain, including the Dome in Brighton, playing mainly to very large audiences. We even did the London Palladium, and as that date fell on a Sunday, I had to do the show only a couple of hours after commentating live on the day's Italian game for Channel 4!
To date, as a guest speaker, I have spoken at around 500 events, of all shapes and sizes, from the PFA and Football Writers annual awards nights at swanky London hotels; to cricket, football, golf and rugby dinners in club houses all over the country; and, only this year, the St George's Day celebration bash for over 300 merry souls enjoying an afternoon at the Amex.