I was honoured and privileged to be invited to the annual Women of the Year 2009 awards lunch on Monday, and I spent pretty much the whole time (when I wasn’t stuffing my face with the yummy food) gawping at some of the most inspiring women in the UK.
I turned up knowing nobody, and was steered across the room by a friendly lady saying “Oh, you must meet Maureen!”. That’ll be Maureen Lipman. You know, Maureen Lipman. An actress I hugely admire. I was stunned into idiocy and complemented her on her brooch, which had a dog on it.
I fawned over some of my broadcasting heroes, including Martha Kearney (I asked her to give Paxman a squeeze from me – I think the wine was kicking in…) and Fi Glover, who was utterly charming, even when I pointed out she is even shorter than I am.
Everywhere I looked I could see impressively talented and inspirational women – charity workers, campaigners and fundraisers, writers, artists (including Tracey Emin), actresses, directors, editors and publishers, entrepreneurs and businesswomen, women from the armed forces, judges and barristers, a polar explorer, the first female Chelsea pensioners (who got a huge cheer), the England women’s cricket team, the first woman to row solo across the Indian Ocean, and someone going by the magnificent title of “Queen Ratling of the Grand Order of Lady Ratlings”.
The event was compered by the majestic and very funny Sandi Toksvig, with appearances from Joan Armatrading, the PM’s wife Sarah Brown, Esther Rantzen and opera singer Katherine Jenkins – who was wearing heels that were as high as her glitzy dress was short.
The winners of the awards were four amazing women, whose stories not only made me feel very insignificant, but were also deeply inspiring.
Dame Vera got a Lifetime Achievement award and a standing ovation, and is in amazing shape for a woman in her 90s. The Window to the World award went to softly-spoken Jane Walker, who is doing incredible work helping to bring education and healthcare to kids living on a toxic waste dump in the Philippines.
The award for Outstanding Achievement was picked up by Hilary Henriques, whose helpline, Nacoa, provides a vital lifeline for children whose families are affected by alcohol abuse. And the Women of the Year award went to the outrageously talented (and only 22!) inventor Emily Cummins, whose solar-powered fridge is helping to improve life for people in Africa by storing food and medicines.
More about the awards – and the winners – on the Women of the Year website.
I trotted home feeling humbled, awed and inspired. Women are achieving great things in our world, and sometimes we need to shout about it a little bit more.
So come on then – who’s your personal Woman of the Year? I’d vote for Hilary Clinton, ‘cos I think she’s awesome, and is working hard to get women’s issues (such as sexual violence in war) onto the international agenda.