Replacing the Ball, the BPCC’s Gala Dinner is more focused on the cerebral with the supporting entertainment.
The two guest speakers who were invited to address the sell-out dinner were chosen to present two contrasting yet compelling subjects – Roger Boyes, covering Poland's recent history, the Lord Bilimoria, an accomplished business speaker.
At the same time, a sumptuous dinner menu had been prepared by the Bristol's executive chef, Carlos Teixeira, accompanied by fine wines. HSBC Bank Polska S.A. and British Automotive Polska S. A. were the partners of the Annual Gala Dinner.
After welcome drinks, guests were invited into the Chopin room by the evening's Master of Ceremonies, Martyn O'Reilly. Short speeches by Antoni Reczek, chairman of the board of the BPCC, and the two honorary presidents of the BPCC, Her Majesty's Ambassador Jonathan Knott, and the new Polish Ambassador in London, Arkady Rzegocki marked the formal opening of the proceedings.
The first keynote speaker. Roger Boyes, the chief diplomatic and foreign correspondent of The Times, gave his perspective of the changes that Poland has undergone since his days here as a journalist covering the birth of Solidarity and Martial Law. Although the trajectory has been generally upwards since the fall of the Berlin Wall, Mr Boyes did explain how it came to pass that certain sections of Polish society remain critical of the Round Table Agreement, which paved the way for the orderly transition from communism to free-market democracy.
Having the thick dossier that the communist authorities prepared about him made available by the IPN, the Institute of National Remembrance, Mr Boyes learned much about how the secret services tried to deal with him. He spoke of the difficulties of daily life as a Western journalist in communist Poland. His speech resonated with both Polish listeners, who were fascinated by how those dark years were seen by a British renowned journalist and with expats, for whom such a first-hand account explained much about Poland's recent past.
After the main course had been served, Lord Karan Bilimoria delivered his speech, which had more of a business focus. He spoke about the parallels between India and Poland, both making the transition from a centrally-planned economy to the free market around the same time in the early 1990s. Like in communist Poland, he said, Indian consumers had an extremely limited choice; economic transformation unleashed both countries' potential. Since then, India has grown faster than any major economy on earth. Lord Bilimoria delighted the one of the evening's partners, Jaguar Land-Rover by saying that he was the proud owner of a Jaguar and a Land-Rover. He also happened to be a business customer of HSBC when he was a start-up entrepreneur.
Lord Bilimoria spoke about how he started Cobra beer, creating a beverage with the refreshing qualities of a lager, but without the fizziness, and the smoothness of an ale, a beer that was to go well with food, but in particular curry.
Speaking about Brexit, of which he is critical, Lord Bilimoria – a cross-bench peer in the House of Lords – said “we have the lowest level of unemployment in living memory of less than 5%, and that’s in spite of 3.6million people from the EU working in Britain.” He also said that at no time in building a global brand did he feel himself constrained by EU laws. “Without that foreign immigrant workforce we wouldn’t be able to manage as an economy. We wouldn’t be the fifth-largest economy in the world.” He said that it was the very openness of Britain’s economy that has made it so successful.
Both speakers were very warmly applauded by the guests, and most certainly proved to be a great inspiration.
BPCC board member Barbara Stachowiak-Kowalska, presented this year's charity cause, the Sue Ryder Museum, which had recently been opened at Plac Unii Lubelskiej 2, in the former city gatehouse. Lady Ryder of Warsaw, a legendary figure in the field of charitable work, opened 30 nursing homes across Poland – as well as in many other countries. Her ties with Poland, said Ms Stachowiak-Kowalska, were forged during WW2, when she served alongside the Polish commandos, the famous Cichociemni, within the Special Operations Executive. Introducing Ms Stachowiak-Kowalska and the works of the Sue Ryder charity, Antoni Reczek shared his father’s personal memories of the hardships he experienced as a Polish ex-combatant refugee in Britain shortly after the war’s end, who turned to the charity for support.
The final attraction of the night was the whisky bar at which the Master of Ceremonies himself, Martyn O’Reilly served guests with five of his personal favourite single malts. There was also a chance to taste Cobra beer, generously supplied by Lord Bilimoria.
The newly-created gala dinner tradition will continue into the BPCC’s 25th Anniversary year, with even more celebratory entertainments on Thursday 19 October 2017!