I have, during my time in Dubrovnik, found myself in many situations that have left me pinching myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. I’ve played football with Sir Roger Moore, had breakfast with the founder of Wikipedia and the same day had lunch with a leading EU politician, met countless stars of the stage and screen, shock hands and chatted with Prince Charles and had a private dinner with a leading Russian oligarch. And that is just the tip of the ice-berg.
But this week would have to be near the top of my “strange but true” experiences.
In the grand global scale Dubrovnik is a small city, a tiny drop in the ocean. The same could be said for Croatia. And yet it is a magnet for luminaries and celebrities from the four corners of the world. That being said I never thought I’d find myself in a room with three Noble Prize winners!
And not only in a room with them but being a presenter and quizzing them with questions. And not any room, but in the Rector’s Palace. And not a normal event, but one that was being filmed by Croatian Television with an array of cameras and microphones, complete with an audience. There was nothing usual about this day. Nothing at all.
If the theme had been travel, economics, tourism, politics or even the media then I wouldn’t have had to study at all to quiz someone. But molecular biology, machinery regulating vesicle traffic and artificial intelligence, well that isn’t, it just isn’t my field, or even close.
The IQ in the Rector’s Palace that afternoon was close to the number of stone blocks it took to build the palace.
Whilst it was challenging, to say the least, it was at the same time deeply rewarding. As a child I was known for being shy. Clearly those days are behind me. I overcame my reluctances by facing my fears, facing them head on over and over again. And it just got easier with time. It got to the stage that I enjoyed it. Whoever said “We have nothing to fear except fear itself,” was spot on.
And that wasn’t the only public speaking event of the week, I did say it was a hectic one. Just two days before that I’d opened a huge conference in the city in front of over 500 people.
“Are you nervous?” asked one of the organisers the night before as we sat at the hotel’s bar. “No, not at all,” I smiled. And I wasn’t lying. “I would much rather prefer to be the one leading with the microphone, than sitting in the audience being led,” I followed up. Again true. The sheep and the shepherd syndrome.
The front row of chairs at the congress had featured on many recent newspaper front pages or on the evening news. As I took the mic and jumped on stage the Deputy Prime Minister, rector’s of universities from all over Croatia, a Secretary of State, Minister of Education, Noble Prize winners, US medical experts, Croatian medical leaders, mayors and another 450 people from all over the world looked back. Yes, not a normal week by any standards.
And as I don’t often get the opportunity to speak, and indeed introduce, this kind of audience to the stage every day (well, by every day I mean never) I decided to enjoy the ride. “And now I’d like to invite to the stage a man we’ve seen on our TV’s every day for the last two years, and don’t take this the wrong way Mr. Minister, but I hope we didn’0t see so regularly in the future. Ladies and Gentlemen, the Minister of the Interior and Deputy Prime Minister of Croatia, Mr. Davor Božinović.”
And yes, I got a smile from the minister and a hand shake after the ceremony had finished.
It was a few days that I will never forget. One of those life experiences that I’ll lock away in the “precious memories” part of my brain. And all this happened in the heart of my adopted city. “Your love for this city shines as bright as the midday sun,” said the main organiser of the whole event, prof Dragan Primorac, and that was all the praise I needed.
Read more Englishman in Dubrovnik…well, if you really want to