In My Opinion: Dorothy-Grace Elder: A welcome return of the old Press Fund Lunch

IT used to be called the Press Fund Lunch, but still serves the same purpose – raising funds for journalists in need – more of them today than previously.

And it is back – as the Journalists’ Charity Lunch – after a short absence.

Next Friday, in Glasgow… with First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, as guest speaker, continuing a very illustrious tradition.

Several hundred tickets have gone but some remain, if we hear soon!

The Journalists’ Charity lunches have always been must-go events for networking, deals being struck, surprises, outrageous gossip, laughter gales and even sometimes for improving Scotland!

Would the Borders Railway exist today if a chance encounter hadn’t happened at one of the lunches in the late ’90s?

See below…

Big name speakers attracted anecdotes.

With Mrs Thatcher, former Press Ball organiser, Archie Mackay, recalls: “Our famous secretary, Jim Rodger, said to the PM: ‘Right, hen – follow me!’”

She did – everyone did what they were telt by Jim.

And when Alastair Campbell was guest speaker, he also played the pipes – memorably.

In 1999, Tony Blair was in full flow, attacking the SNP, with Alex Salmond at the top table. Forced to be silent, Salmond still brought the roof down and pinched the headlines.

As Blair listed threats to SNP success, Salmond held up a ‘Bluff’ card from the Call my Bluff show he’d appeared on.

Cue collapse of audience, into prolonged laughter.

Salting Blair’s wounds, Salmond later commented:  “I brought along one that says ‘True’ as well, but as far as the politics is concerned I did not have to use that.”

At the 2011 Journalists’ Charity lunch, Alistair Darling chose made such an impassioned plea, it was hardly any surprise he was soon later to lead the Better Together campaign during the indyref.

But when Richard Branson spoke, he changed a bit of Scottish history.

Borderers had campaigned for decades to re-open the old Waverley Line but still faced outright rejection.

A stray question from the floor – mine actually – was: “Will you help re-open the Waverley line?”

And when I bawled facts over the mic, that Beeching had left the Borders with no rail, Branson immediately shot over to the Industry Minister, then Gus Macdonald, at the top table.

Branson offered to part-fund the first financial assessment – on condition the (then) Scottish Office contributed.

Virgin’s great rail buff PR, Allan McLean, was also present, urging Branson on. The kickstart deal was announced within minutes before coffee – the Borders Railway was arguably on its way.

A very pricey lunch for Branson? Well, tickets for this one – Friday, September 23, at 12 noon for drinks; 12.45 pm for lunch – are a much more modest £60 each or £600 per table.

For tickets, please contact Dorothy-Grace Elder, committee member, Journalists’ Charity, here.

Dorothy-Grace Elder is an investigative journalist, a lecturer on journalism and a former MSP.