12 September 2011

What were you doing? What were you thinking? Where were you when the planes struck that terrible day?

It was the first time I saw the immense power of the internet. I sat watching the video playing on a website. We didn’t have a TV at the office. I was at work with 18 people split between 2 businesses, 12 people selling mobile phones and the other 6 working away on the embryonic version of what is now UKFast.

I sent people home that day. I have never done that before and I hope I never have to again. There are not many times I have felt defeated, but this was one of them. It was a day to reflect and grieve, not to win business and compete. The world stopped that day and I don’t think it ever fully regained the momentum that it was developing back then in the early days of the internet.

It was December 1999. I was in the bar on the top floor of one of the Twin Towers, pressing my nose against the window. The floor was designed in such a way that the concrete at the base of the window curved away, which gave an eerily breath-taking view below.

My old school friend Pete, who was then working on Wall Street for Klienwort Bensons, decided to take us for a quick liquid lunch. It turned out to be rather longer than that, and we drank the day away sipping Cosmos until the sun went down.

Looking down on the Empire State Building and the tiny world below made Manchester feel like a train set. I remember us letting ourselves into an art-deco function suite before leaving. It was an amazing place and although we shouldn’t have been there, we took our time and savoured every moment.

We were 2 Welshmen in New York. Pete and I felt invincible. Life was there to be embraced and I had brought Gail along, who I’d only been dating for 8 months at that point. UKFast was only 3 months old.

There is something about New York that I love. I spent a great deal of time there in between selling my business to Granada and meeting Gail. It was where I first fell in love with the Internet. I knew it was the home of my next adventure. I just had no idea what I was going to do on it.

One thing I was sure of was that it needed to follow a similar business model to that of my piano rental company that I’d set up a decade before. I was always grateful for the small bits of regular cash trickling in from the rental of the grand pianos. And during the bad months, the money kept me afloat. I just needed to find a better balance. I was paying too much for the pianos and I wasn’t able to charge enough. Plus, very few people are in the market for such a niche product.

Bouncing around New York, I had been in no hurry to set up my next venture and although the money was going to run out, I knew it was better to take my time. I was 30 and the next venture needed to be the right one. I was going to hang back this time until I knew that I had the right plan.

My family thought I’d given up. I was painting in Central Park, writing poetry in the bar in Grand Central Station and playing chess with the Russian dudes in Washington Square Gardens. These were symbols of a failure in their eyes. It didn’t help that my mode of transport was a skateboard with green wheels and although I ventured out on a set of rollerblades from time to time, I was discouraged by my friends due to the sheer number of accidents I had on them.

That day, I was on top of the world, quite literally. Although I have been to the Berg since, it doesn’t have the same charm as the Twin Towers. In fact, I have never found anywhere to do a Cosmopolitan as well as the bar Windows On The World on the 106th floor.

New York is the city that gave me the direction I needed and although UKFast was only months old, I knew we were onto something special.

Pete and I both knew people who worked in the Twin Towers. I’d met a nice young lady who worked there some months before meeting Gail and I can’t help thinking how unfair life is and how so many peoples’ lives were so brutally affected that day.

I will never forget that day when we whiled away the hours dreaming of our futures. I have happy memories of that building as well as the tragic ones.

Watching the planes hit those two majestic buildings, I can’t forget those horrific moments, like the millions of other people watching, powerless to help, glued to the internet desperately hoping that this was not actually happening.

When you consider that 2753 people died as a result of the Towers collapsing and the terrorist attacks, can we forgive what they did? We can never forget, that’s for sure.

This is one event in my life that remains incomprehensible and to the thousands of New Yorkers and their loved ones affected by the tragedy, there are millions of well-wishers around the world who are thinking about you today.

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