What a humbling gathering of expertise was in evidence at London's beautiful medieval Guildhall last night at the annual Wine & Spirit Education Trust's award ceremony! Those collecting their Diplomas and awards from me, the WSET's Honorary President, included scientists, lawyers, doctors, chief operating officers, librarians, and reformed bankers by the dozen.
Successful students had come from as far afield as Hong Kong, Canada South America and, although Britain may be the country of residence of the majority of them, it seemed to me as though only a minority had British names. Dynamic chief executive Ian Harris, who managed to keep the patter pacy and entertaining throughout the 90-minute awards ceremony, had his work cut out to pronounce all the names correctly.
My job was to stand on the stage for the 90 minutes and hand over the diplomas and awards. I was hugely impressed by the range in age and provenance of the recipients. But this was the last of the three times I have done this. At the end of the ceremony, noting that the total number of WSET students worldwide had risen from 27,000 when I took over from Hugh Johnson, to 48,000 last year, I handed over to my successor as Honorary President, Gérard Basset .He is the perfect successor since, with an OBE, MW, MS and MBA, he has even more letters after his name than I do - and has worked extremely hard for them.
I predict that he will be handing over diplomas and, particularly, awards to an ever-increasing number of Asian recipients. Already in 2013 three out of the five top award-winners were Asian, with Debra Meiburg MW's colleague Sarah Heller (pictured) winning the top prize of a £5,000 wine travel bursary, silver cup and engraved magnum decanter. (I showed the crowd the modest wooden shield that constituted my winnings when I won the top Diploma prize in 1978.)
My link with the WSET will continue. Following on from the evening in New York last October for Diploma students, I shall be hosting events for WSET students in Hong Kong on Wednesday 5 March and in Shanghai on Saturday 8 March. See Where to find us for more details, or use this booking form.