Easy. You offer him a sandwich…
It’s 9.30pm on a Wednesday in November and Alan Mahon is walking home, through the wind and the rain, from the EICC in Edinburgh after spending the day preparing for the biggest event of his career. Tomorrow, George Clooney is coming to dinner.
That’s a big deal, yes? Sure, but at this moment, after a 6.30am start, Mahon is actually more concerned about what will be happening before the man dubbed ‘The Last Great Movie Star’ appears at The Scottish Business Awards.
“It’s the unknown quantity I’m concerned about,” said Mahon, referring to the Festival of Entrepreneurship, a new daytime event that was being staged at the EICC, featuring Sir Chris Hoy and a separate series of awards covering business innovation, technology, marketing, SMEs and new businesses.
This is only the second year that Mahon, 25, has organised the evening awards, but he appears remarkably calm about putting on ‘the UK’s largest and most prestigious business dinner’, an event that attracts 2000 of Scotland’s business community, representing 300 companies with a combined turnover of £100bn.
“It’ll be grand, watching all the cogs click into place.” A pause: “It’s the unknown quantity,” he repeats, more to himself, perhaps reflecting any event organiser’s caution about ‘a first’.
Next morning, a 6am start and the weather has eased slightly: “A beautiful autumn’s day, Edinburgh is such a great city.” The walks that book-end Mahon’s days in the immediate run up to the Business Awards are “therapy,” he said, a chance to clear his head. By 10am, a little under half of the single-sentence prompts on a sheet of paper attached to his clipboard are scored through: “We’re ahead of schedule,” he said.
At this time, the Festival of Entrepreneurship welcome area on the ground floor of the EICC is being constructed. Upstairs, in the Pentland Auditorium the festival staging and audio-visual is being checked. Downstairs, below ground level, in the huge Lennox Suite where the dinner will be held, everything is in place apart from two iPads per table, which will be used for the silent auction.
“They are world-class,” said Mahon of the EICC as a venue, “the AV, Leith’s the caterer’s, everyone.”
Adrian Wade, Leith’s general manager, is there to run through the menu: “A hot smoked salmon mousse, a braised blade of beef and a Leith’s lemon posset which is one of our signature dishes.” Just the day before, Leith’s had signed the Scottish Government’s ‘pledge’ to use local suppliers and produce, and the awards would be the first ‘pledge friendly’ dinner at the EICC.
Mahon moved through to the Cromdale Hall, where the reception will be held. Also here is a car donated by Arnold Clark, a prize in the evening’s silent auction. He wrestled with the headrests, which need to come off so the dinner’s celebrity guests, including Clooney, can sign them.
Clooney had flown in to Edinburgh by private jet that morning. He first visited Social Bite, the sandwich shop that supports the homeless. Then there was lunch with the winner of a competition run by Itison; a photo-opportunity in the afternoon; and, the centre-piece of the visit, a 55-minute Q&A with him onstage before the dinner.
For the winners of The Ultimate George Clooney Prize in the silent auction, there then followed Champagne and the meal’s first course with him, backstage. The prize also included a trip for four to Lake Como, where Clooney has a home, for a week’s stay “in a private house owned by a Scottish entrepreneur overlooking the lake”, and an 18 carat gold Omega watch with the strap signed by the actor.
How did all this come about, how did Mahon manage to bring the man whose unofficial biography is sub-titled ‘The Last Great Movie Star’, to Edinburgh? The sandwich played a part, in a manner of speaking. Social Bite, founded by social entrepreneur Josh Littlejohn, is a brilliant idea that would have resonated with Clooney, whose credits include award-winning actor, producer, screenwriter and director – but also recognition as a committed humanitarian.
But in founding the Scottish Business Awards, Littlejohn has not only rapidly established them as a premier event, he has also deftly aligned his passion for social justice with the strongly held beliefs of his chosen keynote speakers. Geldof, Clinton, Branson and now Clooney, who co-founded the human rights organisations Not On Our Watch and the Satellite Sentinel Project.
“Tonight is about bringing our business community together and celebrating our combined achievements,” said Littlejohn. “But it is also about harnessing our collective power to impact social change in our communities and reaching out to help those who need it most.”
Over the past four years, the awards have raised more than £2m for good causes in Scotland and overseas. Not On Our Watch received a “significant sum”, said the organisers, in return for Clooney’s appearance. The other charities supported by this year’s event were Social Bite and The Scottish Edge Fund.
But how, as an event organiser, can you top George? “Obama in 2017?” said Mahon with the lightness of a person who does not appear familiar with the word ‘can’t’.
It has been an interesting couple of years for Edinburgh University politics graduate. It is his first job; he was in the same year as Littlejohn’s younger brother and, over a game of table tennis in the BBC tent at the Edinburgh Festival, the social entrepreneur said: “Why don’t you come and work for us.”
Mahon said he hoped that he had repaid the trust that had been placed in him. “It has been the best apprenticeship you can ever imagine,” he said, as he greeted his sister bringing in his tuxedo. “Alright love?”, she said, embracing him. “Good luck!” Mahon still had a good 12 hours ahead before he could relax, but knew where he would be: “The bar, at 11.30, with a bottle of BrewDog’s Punk IPA.”
He was not keen on talking about what he would do next in his work; he hoped still to be involved in the awards in some form. But the beer reference is a fitting ‘out’ for this feature; Mahon is also involved in BrewGooder, a new Scottish craft brewery whose profits help provide clean drinking water and water hygiene education to communities around the world.
A life in pictures
Douglas Kirkland, a multi award-winning celebrity photographer, took the above portrait of George Clooney. Kirkland’s career spans more than 60 years and his photographs are in the permanent collections of museums around the world. Some of his books include Freeze Frame, Coco Chanel: Three Weeks, With Marilyn – An Evening/1961, and a comprehensive monograph on his career, Douglas Kirkland – A Life in Pictures. His new book, a look at over five decades behind the scenes in the entertainment industry will come out in the autumn of 2016. All books published by Glitterati Incorporated. Douglas Kirkland’s fine art prints are available through Iconic Images.