For many of our clients we are a dirty secret. Phone calls regularly begin with variants of: ‘Can you guarantee discretion?’ But there’s not a dealer, pimp or even a Botox clinic in sight. We write speeches.
Traditional taboos are fast disappearing. Personal trainers, moisturising creams and therapists are shared between friends. It is socially acceptable to plan your wedding with a professional and outsource every-thing from the flowers to the invitations. But the groom is about as likely to reference his speechwriter as his affair with the chief bridesmaid.
Our client meetings are arranged in dimly lit pubs and distant cafés, far from the prying eyes of spouses and friends. My colleague Dolan met an Arab princess on a park bench in Battersea. Dave took notes in a lorry park off the M6. I had a very enjoyable coffee with a client preparing for his wife’s 60th, until she spotted him through the café window and waved. Thirty seconds later he introduced me as a photographer.
Many clients, of course, find my company, Great Speech Writing, through the ‘Relax, we’ll write it for you!’ ad that I’ve run in The Spectator’s classifieds for 15 years. Some clients are genuine glossophobes, dreading their moment in front of the crowd. Others are up against impossible deadlines. Barristers are not alone in wanting to surpass high expectations. Many just can’t get started because they know the pool of jokes online has run its course. A wedding can no longer be ‘so emotional that even the cake’s in tiers’.
Often, a client comes with a specific concern. Divorcees can struggle to navigate the maze that is flattering their second spouse at a wedding reception in the presence of grown-up children from the first. We call this challenge ‘the Boris’. A representative for the president of a large African country called to explain that he had read the script for an address to the nation written in-house and was pacing around his office in a state of blind panic.