Why Maltesers are the breakfast of champions and has anyone ever seen ‘Heartbreak Mountain’?

Following the four excellent BMF Sector Forums (which you can read all about in the July/August issue of Builders’ Merchants News) all eyes were firmly fixed on NMBS Director, Andy Hextall, who took to the stage to unveil the venue for its 2020 Conference.

The ‘fantastic location’ for the event from June 18-21 was revealed as Sorrento in Italy, with the venue the Hilton Sorrento Palace. The host will be David Meade, who was one of the speakers at last year’s equivalent.

Next speaker on stage was Baroness Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson DBE, who was introduced by host Gethin Jones as ‘an astonishing lady with more bling than the Kardashians combined’.

Also described as ‘a legend’ and ‘Wonder Woman’, the Baroness certainly gave a sparkling presentation that one delegate tweeted was ‘fresh and funny from start to finish’.

Grey-Thompson began my describing the role her husband Ian played in helping shape her career, which ended as Britain’s best-known Paralympic athlete, by always being at her side and helping to forge the competiveness and dedication she needed to be a success.

Grey-Thompson spoke off the struggles she had when she was growing up as a disabled person as ‘you just didn’t see people like me’, how she was protected by family and friends from discrimination, ‘disabled children should be locked away’ and how, at the age of just seven, she was ‘thrown out the cinema for being a fire risk’.

Despite only ever wanting to play rugby for Wales, Grey-Thompson was rubbish at every other sport so took up wheel chair racing, not realising the impact it would have on her life, including when she got married and when she gave birth to her daughter, Carys.

Grey-Thompson highlighted the important role her ‘team’ played throughout her career and still do to this day, and the highs of performing in front of 110,000 people in Sydney, Australia, to the lows of thousands of hours of training she did ‘some times running along a trunk road covered in snot’.

Grey-Thompson’s medal haul – and what a haul – 16 Paralympic medals, 11 Golds, four Silvers and a bronze, was highlighted next as were her 35+ world records. “It was the Golds that count, Silvers just don’t,” she said.

Not that Grey-Thompson considers herself an athlete, she is a wife, a politician, a Parliamentarian and most importantly a mum. “I could be writing a speech in Parliament and Carys would Facetime me to ask where she left her hockey stick and we would walk around the house via her phone as we both looked for it.”

Grey-Thompson spoke of her role in the bidding process for the London Olympic Games and of one incident in particular when fellow Olympian legend Steve Redgrave and former England captain David Beckham offered to carry her down some stairs. I said: ‘that is the cheapest woman Beckham has ever picked up’.

Being floated through the air in her wheelchair, 65m above the track at the opening ceremony in at London 2012 left her petrified…‘ that she would throw up over the GB team’.

Grey-Thompson also spoke about success and what it means, how you should aim to be the best you can, about her political career and how she now has the ability to affect change such as better access on trains for the disabled, and ‘of finding new ways to do things differently and better’.

The final guest of the conference was John Prescott, the UK’s longest ever serving Deputy Prime Minister, who was returning to a venue he first visited 60 years ago as a Seaman.

Entering the stage, to the theme tune of Rocky, it didn’t take long for Prescott to refer to the infamous incident in Wales when he punched a protestor who attacked him with an egg.

He explained that the real story was that he was sent to Wales after Labour had just launched its manifesto, but was surrounded by protestors against fox hunting and farmers.

Prescott referred to the fact that then Primeminister Tony Blair spoke about ‘the worst day of my political life’ that day - then news broke about that punch. Blair asked: ‘Did anyone see it?’ ‘Oh yes it was on live TV’ was the reply. Prescott said: ‘I was asked to connect with the electorate so I did.’

Moving on, the MP for Hull for 40 years, spoke about the current political climate where there is chaos as ‘different parties with different individuals still can’t come to an agreement’, where there is ‘plenty of intelligence, but no common-sense’ and that ‘the public is entitled to a much better government than what we are seeing’.

Prescott also spoke about the role he played in brokering the Kyoto protocol on climate change and helped to develop the government’s post Kyoto agenda.

He then moved onto the housing shortages across the country. “About 29 million houses need to be built, but I think that only once 300,000 have been built in a year.

“A lot of resources are going to be needed, the scale is phenomenal and that can only be good for you.

“You have a chance to offer some leadership on the challenge and influence things as an industry. There has to be change, you are up to it and you can lead the way.”

So what does Prescott miss about front-line politics? It’s not the security that surrounded him everywhere he went, that’s for sure.

“I used to like going to the pictures but there would be six security people if I was to see ‘Heartbreak Mountain’”, he said. “And there was one incident when a Millwall fan spat at me and naturally I disagreed with that. But the security guys grabbed me and held me back to apparently protect the public from me.”

Prescott admitted that there was one regret. “It is that after 60 years in politics, that when I die, in two years’ time, I will be remembered for that six seconds when I thumped some pig farmer in Prestatyn (it was Rhyl actually John).

“I wouldn’t mind but every time I am asked for a selfie nowadays I am always asked if I can put my fist up.”

And with that, the 2019 conference was over. Not that BMF CEO John Newcomb wasn’t already looking ahead to 2021.

By asking for delegates’ views on the venue for the next event in two years’ time, Newcomb ensured that the influence of people in the industry was highlighted right to the very end.

Read our review of Day 1 of the Conference here.