Singapore is such a productive place. Even getting there was productive. I had not realised, boarding the A380, that I would have internet access for the first half of the journey. Neither did my team in the office. Long suffering Lily thought she could breathe more easily from the moment the flight was scheduled to take off. Half an hour later she got the first of a long stream of emails from me and we were in touch until she went home at the end of the day. I bet she doesn’t book me on Singapore Airlines again.
Here to be the closing speaker at Deutsche Bank’s second Women in Asian Business conference, I was reminded why I love visiting Asia. The hotels are all in another league and the threadcount never disappoints. The beds are also at normal height. This may sound strange, but the last night I had spent out of my own bed before leaving for Singapore was in a British stately home, the night before a shoot.
Stately homes are usually rather fuller of history than ensuite bathrooms, but on this occasion I did have one, thank goodness. But I also had a bed that I just could not seem to climb on to.With one leg on the floor, the other just could not stretch that far. I am only 5ft 2in tall, and I don’t have long legs. In the end, before finally admitting defeat and going to get the bathroom chair, I took a run-up and jumped. Success! Bellyflopping on to the eiderdown, I then spent a moment considering how I was going to cope, if, as happens a bit more often when you are 50, a call of nature presented itself in the night.
Fortunately, I slept all night, which is more than I did before my speech. I had been worried that I would doze off, from the jetlag, but I had reckoned without the women who preceded me. I was the closing speaker, expected to send everyone out on a high, and then discovered that I was on straight after Kiran Bedi, the famous former Indian Police Service officer and subject of the 2008 documentary Kiran Bedi: Yes Madam, Sir. I had thought I might have trouble attracting attention in Singapore by being here at exactly the same time as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and also my fellow flight passenger Sir David Frost, but even they would pale in terms of star quality next to Mrs Bedi.
Bedi’s passion for reform, her time spent changing the culture of a prison, her positive approach to life, all these were both uplifting and entertaining. Asked if she had been frightened about working in a prison with dangerous convicts, she simply observed that she already knew most of them because she had sent them there. The first thing I did when I got on stage was to lead a second round of applause for her.
I was addressing an audience of about 800 people, 80 per cent of whom were women. At one point, I addressed the rather critical issue (for women) of handbags. What does your handbag say about you? Is it structured enough to indicate that you are a serious businesswoman? I might add that this was among a host of other tips for women wanting to get ahead, and took up less than two minutes of a 28-minute stint on the podium.
Afterwards, I stayed on for the drinks and spoke to quite a few of the audience, answering questions. At one point four young women marched up, stood in a line and asked in unison “Have we got the right handbag?” holding each of their bags up simultaneously. I am not a styling expert (as anyone who has met me will testify), but I do know that it is hard to be taken seriously if you sport an unstructured handbag in baby pink with multiple studs.
This weekend the city state is host to the Grand Prix, when many roads are closed. When I was there, the only cars to race around the streets stopping all the traffic were the Cambridges’ cavalcade. I was frozen in traffic in my taxi for at least 10 minutes, the only part of my Singapore visit that was not productive.