Thank you Victor, and thank you all for coming here today for Wellbeing of Women’s Fifth Annual Luncheon debate. You know I still find it quite daunting to come bouncing up here and to find myself speaking alongside polished communicators like Kate Silverton, and tackling a bit of medical know-how alongside a pioneering expert like professor John Shepherd.
This is like an annual ‘face your fears’ challenge for me - I started speaking here a few years ago with very little public speaking experience, cracking a few lame jokes about life in Downing Street (well not really jokes more true stories that are funny because they happened - my personal favourite still being the confession that I walked the wife of one of the early US presidential candidates into the crockery cupboard after offering my grand tour of the state rooms). What still gets me is that I do this in a room that Wellbeing of Women fills with pretty much every woman I’ve ever admired. It’s like having to sit my finals in the middle of the best hen night ever….
But I’m very proud, despite the repetition of my nervousness, to have the chance to speak with such an inspiring group today. I really want to extend my admiration and a huge congratulations to Liz Campbell for once again putting together an amazing event, and a thanks to all of you for giving up your time for such an important cause.
And perhaps the biggest thanks of all should go to the men here who have taken such an interest in women’s health. Because let’s be honest, it takes a special kind of man to put gynaecological health at the top of his priority list. It takes an even more special kind of man to want to talk about it over lunch. And it takes a saint to want to do it over lunch and make a donation for the privilege.
And so thanks to you, gents, for being such great supporters. And especially a thank you to Sir Victor who has been a constant and committed champion as the chair of WOW, who made so much of the charity’s good fortune in benefiting from the Lord Mayor of London’s appeal a year ago and his annual and over-popular cricket match that generously contributes each year.
But you know I do want to address my remarks today to women. And I want to give you a message that may make you feel so uncomfortable you might not want to stay for starter…
I want to say to you today that you - not your partner, not your kids, not your boss, not the parents who gave you life - you are the most important person in your life.
We hate that idea. We hate it because we’re women. We hate it because we’re British. We hate it because it sounds shudderingly like something from a self-help book. But it’s true.
Without you there’s nobody waiting with a glass of wine and a hug when your sister is let down by that bloke yet again. Without you there’s nobody there to tell your best friend the truth about how she really looks in that dress. And without you there’s somebody left alone who thought they were going to grow old with the love of their life. Never mind your role as a senior professional in your work, as a mum, as a daughter, in every other role you play. You are not dispensable, you’re incredible - and if you don’t invest in your own health it’s not just yourself you are letting down.
So I want to say to you today that there’s nothing selfish about making time for your health - quite the opposite. If you love your family and your friends, - at the risk of sound a bit Cathy and Claire about it - a bit Anna Raeburn or Dr Miriam Stoppard - you need to love yourself too. There is a reason that the agony aunts and self-help gurus are so popular - they have a message that is worth listening to.
I’m not talking scented candles and days at the spa (lovely as they are on occasion) - I’m talking getting your hands dirty. I’m talking feeling for lumps and bumps, understanding what you need to know and getting the checks that are available to you, and following up on any real concerns with your doctor.
Because, in the words of the wellbeing of women slogan; the more you know, the better you’ll be.
So we can all do a little to take control of our own health. We can give ourselves regular check-ups and try to take the healthy choice. The apple not the apple pie. The herb tea not the cream tea. And my favourite: the guava not the cava.
We know we have to balance all the things that do protect our health - better exercise, managing our stressful lives, just getting enough sleep! Perhaps not perfectly, but thoughtfully so that we can honestly say that we take on some of the issues we usually only manage during a January self-imposed detox.
And understanding even in a room of highly professional successful women that there are issues around body image, self-confidence and the impact that this has on all that we aspire to where we could be kinder to ourselves and look after ourselves better.
Ultimately, of course, we’re all human, we’re all fragile, and we all get sick from time to time no matter what we do.
And that’s where our brilliant NHS really comes into its own. I’m a passionate supporter of the NHS - because without its care I just don’t know if Gordon and I would have made it through some of the tough times we’ve faced.
And last summer, it was an honour but not a surprise to see that millions and millions and millions of people all across Britain agree with us that the NHS is one of the best things about Britain.
But just because we love the NHS, that doesn’t mean there’s no role for independent charities. In fact, if you love the NHS, one of the best things you can do to support it is support charities like Wellbeing of Women who complement what our doctors, nurses and midwives are trying to achieve.
And never doubt that your donations make a difference. In just the last year, thanks to you, Wellbeing of Women has funded five excellent projects which will help our NHS and all of us understand women’s health better.
They are research into the role of stem cells in endometriosis, an investigation into rupture of the womb during childbirth, the causes of hot flushing, the role of thyroid hormones in complications of pregnancy, and assessing the safety of topical corticosteroids in pregnancy.
And what’s great about that pioneering research, just like our NHS, is that’s a first class insurance policy for all of us - because we never know what is going to happen tomorrow. None of us know what’s coming down the track - that’s why it makes so much sense for each of us to invest a little for all of us. If we all support the pot, we can all feel fine drawing down on it when the going gets sore.
And I can guarantee you today that when you invest in the pot marked Wellbeing of Women, every penny has an impact.
For example, the aim of the healthy women campaign for 2009 was to increase reach by four fold - from five million to 20 million women. But overall in 2009 compared to 2008 we achieved an increased reach of: 102,263,985 people. Now I’m not the one who’s obsessed with numbers in our house, but even I know that that’s an increase of more than 500 per cent. Helped I know by WOW’s great partnership this past year with fabulous magazine - on their way to raising £500,000
And one of the things I love most about Wellbeing of Women is it’s not one of those organisations where the donors are supposed to be generous and quiet, and the beneficiaries are supposed to be grateful and quiet. They don’t try to spin their people - I’d like to see them try with you lot!
No, they actively involve us in steering the strategy, through events like this where we share what’s on our minds. At last year’s debate some very strong themes emerged - that you wanted us to focus more attention on education and awareness so that women sought early diagnosis and treatment of their issues, and didn’t cower behind taboos. And so that is exactly how resources were directed this last year.
And so you can be sure that what you discuss at your tables today will really shape what happens going forward. And how satisfying is that? So often we sit at tables - at work, in our volunteering, in our homes - and get the sense that we’re repeating ourselves without having impact. At the moment I feel the most common sentence out my mouth is ‘if you keep playing football in the hall something is going to break’ - and that’s just to Gordon…
So isn’t it great to go to something where you know that what you’re saying is going to have an impact, within weeks, on what happens? So speak up, speak out, share what you’re thinking.
But be careful when you share your thoughts outside this room - as you might find yourself getting caught out like we caught out advertising genius Rory Sutherland misbehaving on his twitter a few weeks ago (October 2009). When taken to task for tweeting that he was on his way to an advertising execs (IPA) meeting being held at the Royal College of Obstetricians and front bottom doctors, he protested “you try and predictively text gynaecologist”.
My favourite tweet from the same visit to this building by Mr Sutherland came when he was safely ensconced in his meeting: RCOG has shocking lack of belly-laughs signage for visiting blokes. No ‘push’ or ‘pls use rear entrance’.
So Rory’s tweets reminded me just how thankful we should be to those brave gents who have plunged, stony-faced and head first, into the inner workings of the miraculous female form. It is good to have those men on our side but today’s lunch, filled with so many women at the very top of their profession, really does show that sisters are doing it for themselves.
So thank you for letting us impose on you once again. Thank you for your generosity, thank you for listening, and thank you, most of all - for getting involved in an organisation that knows that women aren’t just a part of our society, they are the heart of our society. We hold everything together - let’s invest in holding ourselves together too.
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Visit: http://www.wellbeingofwomen.org.uk for further information about the organization