ASKEW MAG : MEET YOUR NEIGHBOURS : PHIL HARRISON

RACHEL FAY

Professional introducer explains why it's time to say hello

Rachel-Fay

How long have you lived in the area?

About 30 years.

Where are your favourite haunts?

I like to take my laptop to Laveli's. And Detour's where they're very friendly.

Your job is unusual. What is a professional introducer?

Someone who introduces guests to each other at events where they don’t already know each other. It could be a business event, such as a breakfast seminar or conference. Or it could be a private party.

Meeting new people is like walking into a sweet shop

How does it work?

Sometimes the host will introduce me after they've introduced themselves. Or I just walk into a room full of strangers and find out who's who and I work out who they might want to meet. It can be better if I'm not formally introduced to the group as a whole. It's more low key. On some occasions I’ll have the guest list in advance and research who might like to meet who.

How do you glean all that if you're working the whole room?

That's the skill. It's tiring, but I just love meeting new people that way. To me it's like walking into a sweet shop.

Is your family connected to events?

No. My father was a barrister and my mother (Patricia Fay OBE) was a very bright spark, very charismatic. She set up what is now The Arts Society. It's the fiftieth anniversary next year but it started as a daytime study group for women who stayed at home and didn't go out to work. Now there are a lot of male members. Within 10 years it had grown to become a national organization called NADFAS, the National Association of Decorative and Fine Arts and was recently rebranded as The Arts Society. Sadly, she died when she was 46, when I was in my late teens. It was an unexpected shock. I had one sister but she died, also at 46.

How did you get into the events business?

I realised there was a gap in the market between what my mother's generation used to do and modern corporate events. When my mother put on a party, she made sure everyone was introduced to everyone else. Then later, as the wife of the managing partner of a City law firm, I noticed that people were seldom introduced to each other at corporate events, and not just at them, but at private parties as well. I realised that people were no longer being introduced as a matter of course. I could see there was a role for a host who had one job, purely to introduce the guests to each other.

Why has British society become less sociable?

It's a cocktail of different things. Women now go to work, which creates a vacuum because there is no time to entertain. And wives used to do business entertaining for their husbands, but business entertaining has now become very corporate, and can be rather impersonal. Sadly, we've got to a point where no one expects to be introduced any more. The younger generation have never been introduced and don't expect to be.

A lot of people are anxious about meeting strangers. Any tricks to overcome nerves?

A lot of people hate walking into a room full of strangers. It's natural. Animals don't just go up to each other. They're a bit defensive at first. We don’t know how a person will respond. At root I believe it’s a fear of rejection. There is a pill for social anxiety, not that I'm recommending it. In the early days, meeting new people made me anxious but I just made myself do it. It's like a muscle to me now. Remember, we're all in the same boat: no one knows anyone. It's okay to go up and say hello. In all my years no one has ever said go away.

Does British reserve get in the way?

No. In the past the British were perhaps the market leaders in etiquette and I believe introducing people at your party or business function is just good manners. Now, the British aren't doing it but the Downton Abbey effect means that the rest of the world, in particular the Chinese and Indians, loves the idea of being introduced. I think they're on track to become better than we are because we've lost the skill.

Why?

Never before in history have so many people from so many walks of life, so many cultures, races and social classes been put together in one room and expected to get on with it. And it's so difficult now not to make a mistake. We're all anxious in case we get it wrong. Forgetting names is a big one and now with different cultures names are not so recognisable. A Chinese name is easy if you're Chinese but if you're not it isn't.

Do you have a trick for remembering names?

I've got a good memory but the classic is to repeat someone's name to them as soon as you're introduced. Another trick is to connect the name to something or someone else. Then you have two routes back to the name. In my case, Rachel Fay might suggest Fay Dunaway, the actress, and if you forget my name you might remember the clue, an actress, which might lead you back to Fay. But, I would stress it doesn't matter. We're all in the same boat. If you can't remember just say, I'm so sorry, I've forgotten your name. Nobody minds. It happens all the time.

At corporate events, what's the best way to meet someone new?

Ask the host to introduce you.

How do you avoid being trapped by a party bore?

Introduce them to someone else. Or ask them if they know anyone else in the room and ask them to introduce you.

In a business world of emails and Skype do you foresee a future where people never meet?

No. We like to be with people in person. The plethora of networking opportunities out there is testament to that. We all have a desire for human contact.

How can you tell if it's been a good event?

You can see it in people's faces. I'm aware of one marriage where I introduced the couple. In the business arena I’m not usually party to the outcome.

Who would you most like to meet, living or dead?

Bill Clinton. Because of his impressive chest. I'd like to see if I'd fall for his charms.

If you weren't doing this, what would be your dream job?

This is my dream job.

How do you relax?

Wild swimming. At the Hampstead ponds or the Thames, further up at Henley or further into Oxfordshire. The water's freezing but I just love it. You feel so free.

Thank you, Rachel. It's been a real pleasure to meet you.

Interviewed by Jo Reynolds September 2017

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