Contrary to the old-fashioned view that PR is all about celebrities, parties and Champagne, it’s rare that we come face to face with anyone famous.
But last week I had pleasure of working with former England footballer and current England 21s head coach Gareth Southgate. He was in Guernsey as a guest of one of our clients, Providence. As a relatively new global financial services business in Guernsey, Providence had agreed to be the keynote speaker sponsor for the Awards for Achievement – the island’s biggest celebration of business success.
Despite a playing career of more than 700 appearances, being captain of all three clubs he played for and earning 57 caps for England for whom he scored twice, one moment defined Gareth’s whole career – that infamous missed penalty in the semi-finals of Euros 1996.
It resulted in media camping outside his parents’ house and forced him to flee from the country to escape the spotlight, so you’d be forgiven for thinking he wouldn’t be keen to talk about that chapter in his career. Without knowing anything about his personality, we had arranged media interviews and a three hour session with youngsters from The Prince’s Trust and all I could do, as I headed to meet him, was hope that the fame and fortune hadn’t made him arrogant.
Thankfully, I don’t think I could have met a nicer, more approachable and down-to-earth celebrity. When he spoke to the Guernsey Press, Island FM and BBC Guernsey, not only was he happy to talk about that penalty, he willingly posed for photos with two of the journalists, both avid football fans although too young to remember the despair that the whole country felt in 1996. He’d already impressed me by simply being a nice guy, and my opinion was cemented when he agreed to Island FM’s request to record some cheesy idents. Whether he will regret that when England under 18s manager Neil Dewsnip, who accompanied him to Guernsey, plays them at the next England managers meeting remains to be seen.
On Friday, as an ambassador for The Prince’s Trust, he met the first cohort of local youth to undertake the TEAM programme. They ran an hour-long team building session and he then held a question and answer session. The youngsters had a mix of backgrounds, some with mental health issues and others with criminal convictions, but Gareth used his own experiences to connect with them. As he said, missing a penalty in one of the biggest football games of living history is pretty hard to beat in terms of screwing things up but he used that experience and learnt from it.
It was a pleasure to meet him and the next celeb I encounter has a tough act to follow!