At a recent party in London, an interesting topic came up. If you were going to have dinner one on one with a famous person, whom would you choose and why? Here are my top 10 names:
1. Nelson Mandela
I had the privilege of having a one-on-one conversation and lunch with Mandela in his cottage at Victor Verster Prison a month before he was released in February, 1990. All I would want to do is thank him for exhibiting the one quality that South Africa still needs in its leaders in order to make its way in the world: a passion for reconciliation and making everybody feel part of the team. The last time I saw him in public was at the final of the Soccer World Cup in 2010, waving and smiling his famous smile from the back of a golf buggy as it drove around the pitch. I would also like to clink glasses and toast the future of South Africa just one more time.
By Clem Sunter
2. FW de Klerk
I would wish to have an intense conversation with FW on what exactly made him and the National Party step down in an age when rulers elsewhere in Africa do anything to cling onto power. Was it sanctions? Was it the fall of communism in the Soviet Union? Was it a change of heart on apartheid? Exactly what was it because the government at the time had overwhelming military superiority over its rivals and chose not to exercise a greater form of repression? I would use the opportunity of a private dinner with FW to try to get to the bottom of what made him and his colleagues relinquish political power and accept a pure democracy. It is a pity that not one single serious historian has interviewed all the main participants in the transition process and produced the definitive text. Many are too old and some have died, so the time has passed. Thus, before history is rewritten, I would ask FW the questions to which students on South Africa for centuries to come will desire the answers.
3. Hu Jintao
Having visited the Central Party School outside Beijing in April 2006, I have a fair idea of how the Chinese Communist Party has modified its ideas on how to run an economy. However, I would like to check my theories with China’s current paramount leader and particularly ask him whether any scenarios existed of China evolving into a multi-party democracy any time soon. Equally, given the growing gender imbalance in China with males beginning to outnumber females significantly, is any thought being given to revising China’s one-child policy?
4. David Attenborough
I would like to seek some assurance from Britain’s best narrator on the beautiful world of nature, and all its amazing adaptations and interdependencies, that his documentaries will not be all that is left for our great-grandchildren to watch in a hundred years time. I get that awful feeling that the human species is busy smashing up a system of wondrous complexity that no level of intellect or civilisation will ever be able to replace. I might come away from the dinner more depressed than when the opening course was served.
5. Oprah Winfrey
I have huge respect for a woman that has dominated American popular culture for so long. I would love to know how she did it. What unique magic did she weave into her shows so that they stood apart from the rest and lasted so much longer? Closer to home, I have visited her leadership academy at Henley on Klip near Johannesburg and interacted with the staff in a strategy session. They were outstanding and the school has magnificent facilities for the 380 underprivileged girls going through it. What made her commit so much time and money to South Africa when she could have chosen anywhere in the world? Anyway, I want to give her a high five for making it her mission that every pupil that goes to her school can hold her own at any table anywhere in the world.
By Clem Sunter
6. Bob Dylan
He was the folk icon of the 1960s and practically invented the modern protest song. He should have been awarded the Nobel Prize for literature for some of his lyrics. Towards the end of the meal, I would like to offer him my guitar and ask him for just one more rendition of The Times They Are a-Changing. Maybe throw in Blowin’ in the Wind as an encore.
7. Charlize Theron
Apart from having the exquisite enjoyment of having every man in the restaurant drool over my date as we entered the room, I would like to hear how Charlize made the journey from Benoni to Hollywood. I would also want to find out how she selected scripts, how she perfected the American accent and who were the good guys and bad guys in real life off the screen. I know some people may question my choice and demand reasons for not choosing Angelina Jolie. The answer is simple: gentlemen prefer blondes.
8. Bill Gates
It is always nice being able to quote one of the richest people in the world (as in he was confiding to me the other day). However, what would really intrigue me is how he lost his interest in accumulating wealth and instead is ploughing most of his effort into his foundation (which he runs with his wife Melinda). How does he make sure that the donations from his foundation are effectively utilised by the recipients? How does he choose his causes?
9. David Beckham
Since my favourite sport is soccer even though I was pathetically bad at playing the game, the person from the athletic world that I would most want to shoot the breeze with is Becks. I also respect the opinion of one of my son’s rugby-playing friends who sat next to Becks at a warm-up game for the World Cup in 2010 and said he was fabulous company. I would also delve into the subject of personal branding at the dinner because Becks and his wife Victoria are past masters at keeping themselves in the public eye.
10. Queen Elizabeth II
I have never met the Queen. I had lunch with the Duke of Edinburgh 10 years ago at the Royal Charles Hotel in Somerset West. I was the speaker at the annual awards ceremony for young volunteers who fulfil their potential and provide themselves and others with a brighter future. He was outstanding as a raconteur. I have also met two of her children, Princess Anne and Prince Edward. But the Queen is the CEO of the firm, and I would be honoured to find out what plans she has to make sure that the firm maintains its relevance with the British public. Begging her pardon, I would also ask her whether she enjoyed the movie about herself starring Helen Mirren. Perhaps the dinner could be at Buckingham Palace where my great-grandfather’s portrait of her grandmother, Queen Mary, in her coronation robes hangs on the wall. It could serve as a good conversation opener.
By Clem Sunter
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