Walking up the red carpet and into the swanky lobby, with a glass of champagne in hand, the sound of jazz in the background and men and women in their dinner wear, it can only mean one thing. It was time for the Chancellors dinner.
The Chancellor of the University of Portsmouth, Sandi Toksvig, hosted her third successful Chancellor’s dinner at the Guildhall on Friday 4th March.
The event was held in order to celebrate the University with staff members, alumni and current students. It was also the first year that The Chancellor has been able to present her new award to the student group that has done the most for the community.
This year the Boxing club became the first club to receive the sliver plate in recognition for their efforts to include a diversity of members and run a number of alcohol free events.
Sandi said: “Tonight it’s the boxing club, they have lots of non-alcohol events and they have a phenomenally high percentage of women.
“They specifically target female boxing as one of their things and it’s absolutely fantastic.
“It’s about diversity and making sure that anyone who comes could feel comfortable in the society. I think they are a great example and I’m delighted that they have won it and hopefully they will set a high benchmark for the competition next year.”
She said: “I am really delighted with the number of societies that we have, we have everything from acting to womens0’ American football, but I want to make sure that we don’t just have societies that only speak to people that arrive at university already interested in those things.
“We have students from more than 140 countries and one thing I discovered was that some of these students are put off because a lot of sporting societies only have alcohol based events, they always meet in a pub or make sure alcohol is involved.
“I was very keen to have an award that would allow an society to be the most inclusive society it could be.”
During our interview before the event began, The Chancellor sat with us and, while enjoying some tasty looking canopies, shared her delight at the University’s success over the past year.
Sandi was incredibly proud to say that Portsmouth University is one of the world’s leading Universities and is featuring more frequently in the national press as the year goes on.
She said: “I think that everyone who comes here should be proud to have come here and hopefully will continue to be associated with the University after they leave.”
But The Chancellor has also seen great success away from the University this year with starting up her own new political group, The Women’s Equality Party.
The party is currently the fastest growing in the country and will celebrate its one-year anniversary next week.
Sandi said: “We are already standing candidates in the May elections in Scotland, Wales and London. We also have permanent members of staff and offices all within a year, so that’s not too shabby.
“I would encourage anyone, men women and students, as we have a youth group, to join and be an activist”.
The evening was made even more unforgettable with the presence of guest speaker and beloved friend of Sandi, John McCarthy.
The respected journalist sat and spoke of the horrors he endured when reporting in Lebanon in 1986. John was kidnapped by Islamic Jihad terrorists and then held as a hostage for five years. True to this day, he remains as Britain’s longest-held hostage.
When speaking to John, he also shared The Chancellor’s passion for diversity and a student’s personal development.
He said: “The importance in an institution like a University where you are learning and challenging that your time at university encourages you to not only open your mind and think of new stuff, but also to challenge yourself about what you thought you knew.
“When I spent four years banged up as a hostage day and night with the nutty but wonderful character, Brain Keenan, I thought he was bonkers and we would never get to know each other.
“But the value in our friendship is in his difference. His experience in life was utterly different to mine, but exploring that difference and seeing why he saw the world in that way was fascinating.
“I think that’s what students can do to think I’m just not going to go with the black and white, but to look at both and understand further.”
The Chancellor agreed and also supported the idea that the University’s students should understand one another more.
She said: “It’s on our doorstep, we have lots of students from China and why not talk to them and learn about them. Go join the Chinese society and get to know them. That’s how we stop the next world war because somebody goes, ‘oh I was at University with him, the guy who now runs South Korea’”.
During the event, John also spoke of his hopes for student’s who aspire to go out and help or report in warzones. He said that while his story was extraordinary and how now there is a real concern for journalist working in foreign places, it is vital they continue to aspire to go.
Sadly, The Chancellor has only one year left in her position and has one more dinner to host. One can only wonder who her magnificent guest will be for her final farewell.
Next year Sandi hopes to visit the societies and University departments that she is yet to see. She will also assist in the selection of the new Chancellor.
The selection is something she said she deeply cares about and has already put forward several names that she believes would take the role seriously.
The Chancellor closed the evening with a fascinating talk with her childhood friend. Their conversation was emotional, humorous and some what heart warming.
It’s hard to imagine what John went through but their true friendship and compassion for one another was incredibly obvious and made the both the evening and the interview an absolute pleasure.
Sandi first met John when they were students and frequently reminisced about their memories together.
Referring to their friendship, John said: “Earlier I was sitting in the back of the car wearing this suit, thinking I’m meeting Sandi. Sandi, who I first met as a student and now she’s the University’s Chancellor. It’s still quite strange”
The evening was a success in celebrating both the boxing club’s achievements and the University as a whole. Everyone present enjoyed themselves, including the hosts, as it was a far cry from the nights they spent as students making trifle together.