11 April 2011

I was out for dinner at an event this week and I was lucky enough to sit beside a real inspiration. I always ask him about his climbing pursuits. It’s a common interest but one I confess not to have set aside enough time over the last 20 years to explore properly. My friend on the other hand is a prolific walker and recently climbed Kilamjaro. His next summit is Mont Blanc so I have a great deal to learn from his experiences.

As we sat talking, he summed up the shortness of time by describing the decade between the age of 60 and 70 as just “10 summers.”

It was a sledgehammer moment. I take time more seriously than anyone I know after my avalanche accident, or so I thought, and here’s someone who’s summed up the importance of living every minute in just 2 words.

When I started weighing up different events in the future, like my 7 year old going off to university in 10 summers, I realised that I really needed to perfect this switching off and using some of my discipline to ensure that I don’t blink and miss another moment.

That night, during dinner, another friend asked me to play the piano. I suddenly found myself having a “Sliding Doors moment.”

For a second, sitting at the piano with a room full of successful people, it felt like nothing had changed. These were precisely the sort of events I’d be asked to perform at in my previous life. However, apart from being incredibly rusty on the old piano, there is one subtle difference; this is no longer my official job.

I have climbed the mountain and I am now on the other side with the guests enjoying the evening.

After thousands of hours of sitting at the piano dreaming about another world, in a blink of an eye, the dream is a reality. How on earth I ended up running a technology business, I’ll never know.

Back then, if someone asked me to run UKFast in its present capacity, a business with 125 employees and all the responibilities, I just couldn’t have done it.

Just like I learnt the piano one note at a time, I have had to learn the skills to run UKFast in a similar way. And like the piano, just when you think you are getting good, there is always someone more technical or more graceful or more inspirational. The same applies in business. There is always another level. Whoever you are.

20 years ago, I spent a great deal of time with some of the cast of the Manchester Les Miserable team. It was an awesome time in Manchester, when the Hacienda was centre of the universe and the Manchester bands rocked the world. At the time, I used to play the piano for a living. I’d be in a dinner suit playing in hotels and afterwards, we’d all pile down to the Press Club or to my house for a sing song.

A few months ago, Gail and I were fortunate to be invited to the Royal Variety Show. When the Les Miserables cast from London came onto the stage for the Royal Variety Show, the hair stood up on the back of my neck and I was filled with a massive sense of sadness as well as joy almost simultaneously. All the amazing experiences crammed into a matter of moments created an overwhelming surge of emotion.

And when the young lady playing Eponine sang On My Own, I remembered my close friend Gemma Wardle who, at 16 years old, played the role brilliantly, standing on the Palace Theatre’s stage in Manchester looking so lost, captivating her audience.

I recall a party I threw on New Years Eve and as the cast of Les Miserables were all away from home, they piled around to mine. And on a baby grand piano in a flat in Manchester, we had the greatest line up of talent you could ever hope to see. For me as a musician to have such beautiful voices was such an experience, because they make you sound so much better. Michael Ball, who was dating or married to one of the girls, filled my living room with his booming voice. Even the next door neighbours who had a propensity to complain as much as my propensity to throw a party, marvelled at the music!

It was a surreal time. It was another era. And, thanks to Facebook, I am still in contact with some great characters.

What is amazing is that my current career couldn’t be more removed from the old days as a musician. What’s not changed is my desire to perform at the highest standard. That’s almost like a transferable skill that I have reapplied over and over again, and if I look back at some of my old friends, they all had that passion back then too and they all went on to be amazing and achieve greatness in a variety of fields.

So, I wonder what will we all be doing in 10 summers time?

With that sobering reminder of just how time flies, with the kids on Easter holidays, we’ve headed to the mountains for some Piste and quiet.

My 4 year old daughter has clearly worked out the importance of time already. She has just woken up and climbed into bed with Gail and asked, “Why are we only staying here for 7 nights? Can we ski all day until the night time because I love being on holiday and 7 nights isn’t long enough.”


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