As events go, this was a pretty significant one. It took place on Sunday February 3, in New York. I was there along with many others, very few of whom had I met previously. It was not the Super Bowl, under way at the same time and attracting 109 million viewers. That took place in New Orleans and was so important that the start of the BP civil trial was delayed until after it was over.
No, I am talking about the dinner which was held to launch my US book tour, kindly hosted by the economics Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz and his inspiring wife Anya, at their home overlooking the Hudson River.
I have to admit that the 60 or so people at the dinner were somewhat bewildered at its timing. I confess that I had selected the date with no knowledge whatsoever that the entire country would be coming to a standstill that evening, and the Stiglitzs had been too polite to point it out.
One guest, not knowing that it was all my fault, grumbled to me that when he had received the invitation he had taken it as proof that “the Upper West Side intelligentsia have really lost touch with the American people.” No they haven’t – we Brits have.
Fortunately, some kind person arranged for the power to the stadium to be interrupted for long enough to allow us all time to get home and watch the final quarter. But not before I impressed myself with new levels of multitasking, namely eating chocolate mousse while chatting to a Nobel laureate. I also managed to secure photographic evidence. (Although multitasking can be taken too far, as I decided when I found myself folding laundry on the loo the other day.)
Every time I visit the US I notice fresh things: the sheer vastness of the place, the variety of people, the inclusiveness of society. There is something for everyone, and everything is possible. As I walked down a corridor to yet another aeroplane, billboards screamed at me to “Jet with Your Pet!” If it’s OK with you, I thought, I would rather not Jet with my Pet, or even Pets (we have one black and one yellow lab). I am, after all, not even that keen on Jetting with my Children. Mr M has recently enrolled with our pets in weekly dog training, which seems to be more about training him than the dogs. Mind you, I am sure the dogs would be very well catered for in the US, not least in the “pet comfort area” I noticed at Ronald Reagan Airport.
A separate scheduling issue on my tour (don’t ask) saw me unexpectedly turn up at someone else’s book event. It was for American Turnaround, by Ed Whitacre, who enjoys the distinction of having been CEO of two enormous US companies (AT&T and GM). I met both the author and the financier Steve Rattner, who persuaded Ed to come out of retirement to fix GM, at a lunch where Ed spoke very frankly in a gorgeous Texan accent about taking on the task.
Whitacre’s book then became my instant travelling companion until I finished it – it is far more gripping than a business school case study but every bit as instructive.
A second evening reception for my own book, at the home of the FT’s US managing editor, Martin Dickson, was held later in the week. Thankfully, this managed not to clash with any major sporting event. I am very touched that all these people were prepared to have swarms of guests invade their homes on my account, and all the stops were pulled out to make sure that the second party was as great as the first.
This included ensuring that we had yet another economics Nobel laureate present – this time Robert Engle. Of course, the US has more economics Nobel laureates than any other country, and better still is markedly emerging from recession. Super Bowl or not, this is a great place to be.
‘Mrs Moneypenny’s Careers Advice for Ambitious Women’ is out in paperback