Let’s have fewer of the plus-ones

That one, my colleague said, pointing at one of the two clutch bags I was holding. It was an elegant green bag given to me a few years ago by my Australian Girlfriend, the FT’s head honcho in Asia. But why not this one? I asked, pointing at the other contender. I bought it in a sale for £29, I recalled proudly. Yes, my colleague said, and it looks like it.

We were putting the final touches to my outfit for the Chelsea Flower Show charity gala preview – a two-hour period when the corporate world descends on the Royal Horticultural Society’s most eminent event. The evening raises funds for the RHS itself and its very valuable work. Whatever you grow in your garden, you are likely to have benefited from the society’s scientific work and the advice it provides, even if you have not accessed it yourself. But I do wonder sometimes, if you asked the average guest what the evening was in aid of, whether many of them would have the foggiest idea.

I took my Indian Girlfriend, who was a Gala Preview Virgin. We spent the first 15 minutes locating the Icelandic jeweller Kristjan Eyjolfsson, who last year made a special jubilee brooch for the Queen. HM wore it to the gala this year – a thoughtful touch that Eyjolfsson much appreciated.

I tracked him down to hear more about the hallmark for recycled silver that he registered with the assay office last year. I knew that his work was made from recycled silver – including his Chelsea piece, an orchid-inspired pin set with yellow sapphires – but I honestly assumed that he had been melting down spoons. It turns out that the silver is recovered from photographic materials, discarded electronics and so forth, which makes me even more enthusiastic about his work. It’s good to think of the Queen going around in a brooch made from people’s old mobile phones.

What did IG think of the gala? It gets much harder as it gets darker, she noted. She was alluding not to inspecting the gardens, but to being able to recognise people – a key purpose in attending, after all. IG also observed the interesting variety of wives, who fell into several categories according to whether they were first or second wives. The latter, she observed, tended to have much more expensive dresses and shoes.

But what most concerned her was how many women attended as a plus-one rather than in their own right. I reminded her that we’d met a number of senior businesswomen – but sadly, on counting them up, we could only get to six, whereas we must have met 60 businessmen. As IG said, we were more likely to be served a drink by a woman than to meet one who was a named guest.

I should bring this to the attention of the 30% Club, on whose steering committee I sit. Since we are working towards 30 per cent female board representation by 2015, here’s another goal. All you Chelsea Flower Show gala preview hosts, how about inviting 30 per cent female businesspeople in 2014? I did my bit; we took three guests and two of them were women.

IG loved her Chelsea outing, although towards the end we were both feeling the effects of two hours on our feet in heels. We developed a sudden interest in conservatories, because most of them had sofas on to which we could decorously collapse. Just as we were lunging towards our chosen conservatory, the CEO of the bank that employs IG’s husband walked past, so naturally she said hello. He is now convinced that IG desperately wants a conservatory. IG, on the other hand, was horrified to find that one could cost less than the treehouse she had built for her children.

IG is determined to attend again next year, so I have explained that she will need to enter the ticket ballot. She can up the odds by applying for the tickets that include dinner afterwards. The ballot needs action in August, though, far earlier than most people realise. And far earlier than she will need to be deciding which handbag to take.


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