keynote speaker at the Stonewall Scotland #EqualAtWork conference

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keynote speaker at the Stonewall Scotland #EqualAtWork conference

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I really don’t know where to start with this ? A few months ago I was approached by Stonewall Scotlands Daniel Aldridge and asked if I would consider being a keynote speaker at their #EqualAtWork conference in Edinburgh at the Edinburgh International Conference Center on the 4th December 2015. I really was not expecting this and neither had i ever considered speaking in public. At school I used to slouch in my seat if the teacher asked if anyone would speak to the class as not only did I not like drawing attention to myself I also felt that I could not do it.

Edinburgh Hotel

Anyway Thursday 3rd December arrived and I left for Edinburgh on a train , Nothing special about that except for most of my life I have shied away from socialising and kept myself to myself hence I drove everywhere. This time I was way too nervous to handle the streets of Edinburgh so this was also my first train journey since I was about 16 years old. I arrived in Edinburgh Thursday evening and went straight to my hotel had something to eat and drink and then retired to my bed as tomorrow was going to be a very terrifiying and long day. Would you believe i could not sleep at all , I think I saw just about every hour on the clock and at 6am i got out of bed feeling extremely sick to the stomach and my chest felt like my heart was going to explode. I decided i couldn’t face breakfast so only had tea and water prior to getting my taxi to the EICC at 9am.

On arrival I was greeted by Catherine Somerville Stonewall Scotlands Campaigns, Policy and Research Manager who explained what was going to happen during the course of the day. This is where my brian ( Yes I know I said brian and not brain as my son kept spelling it wrong and it’s just stuck as a family joke ) just started going into overload with all the people that I saw turning up. Things going through my head like what if I can’t get the words out of my mouth? What if i’m sick as i really felt by now that I would be ? What if I finish my speech and everyone is just sat there staring at me in silence ? None of the above would have been good and I would have felt like even more of a failure not only to myself and my family but to Stonewall too who insisted I could do this even though i warned them i was terrified and had never done anything like this before.

So 10am came and I was escorted into the Sidlaw auditorium along with Colin MacFarlane the Director of Stonewall Scotland , Ruth Hunt CEO of Stonewall , Liz Bingham OBE Ambassador for Diversity and Inclusiveness at EY and finaly Therese Proctor People Director for Tesco Bank. I took my seat on the stage in between Colin and Liz and watched as the auditorium filled up with over 200 people. I was trapped , There was no getting out of this now and why did i not say NO! ? My speech was scheduled for 10:40 the last one of the keynote speakers but Colin asked if i would swap with Therese Proctor so she could pick up on things I had said. I couldn’t very well say no I don’t want to go any earlier so just said yes and before I knew it Colin was announcing me as being the next keynote speaker up. I felt the colour drain from my face and stood up making my way to the podium all the time my heart was pounding , I felt faint and sick. I looked at my speech and started trying to speak whilst all the time I could feel my voice shaking like you do when you are scared and feel like you are going to cry. I kept looking up as much as I could mange without losing my place as even though this was about me and I had written it there was no way on this earth I was going to be able to not look at my lines without fluffing it. I was physically shaking and had to try and hide it by stepping side to side and at one point I went to change pages and got my speech stuck under the base of the microphones and nearly panicked as i needed to be on the next page. Luckily for me I had actually listened to peoples advice like my wife and Ayla Holdom who said if it gets too much pause and take a deep breath, Which funnily enough worked as my speech became free again and I could change pages. I got to the part about the passing of our Son and that nearly finished me as in my head my voice now really did sound like I was going to cry and all i could do was ask my son in my head to please help me to finish this and not fail. Every time I looked up people were just staring at me well obviously they would as it was me they were listening too and i kept seeing a person from Stonewall holding different cards with like 5 minutes and 2 minutes etc indicating roughly how much time you had. Before i knew it I had said my last line “Thank You.”. Immediately the audience and the other keynote speakers started applauding something that I wasn’t sure was going to happen. I wondered how long before I could sit down and not be the center of attention when after what seemed like a minute the whole room stood up and gave me a standing ovation which not that i’m being ungrateful you understand but I really didn’t know how to handle this or expect it and it seemed like it went on for ever. I looked over at the other keynote speakers looking for advice as to what I should do and they were also standing applauding me. Nerves got the better of me and i returned to my seat before the standing ovation had finished but what just happened and why ?? Anyway Therese Proctor got up and delivered her speech and it was time for a break where every one would meet in the foyer for refreshments before the breakout sessions.




Well i never ever saw this coming, I was greeted by absolutely everyone one by one taking me by the arm and congratulating me on my speech and them telling me how I reduced the whole auditorium to tears. Every time I tried to reach my phone to let my wife know that I was OK somebody else came along not that I was being ungrateful I was just extremely overwhelmed and could not get my head around what had just happened and what was happening right now. People were asking if it was OK to have their photo took with me , I met Horse MacDonald and got my picture taken with her and  even met her wife Alanna Jane who approached me shaking and Horse said “Look you’ve made my wife tremble.” I instantly appologised thinking i’d done something wrong , What was going on ? Had I fallen and banged my head and this was some kind of wierd fantasy ? Things like this don’t happen to every day normal folk like me. Well the rest of the day i continued meeting new people to whom i should appologise as i cannot remember who all i met and what i promised my head was ready to exploded i was totally bewildered. Therese Proctor and her team from Tesco Bank said that I will have to speak for them in the future as did many others. I recall some woman who asked if they could turn my life story into a film /documentary which I really still don’t understand why on earth anyone would want to do that ??

Justine Gillespie

Horse MacDonald

When the day at the EICC was over I was whisked off by Theres Proctors employees to a pub in Edinburgh for drinks and then invited back to Thereses house for drinks which I really had to thank them for and appologise but my head was just full of stuff that I could not comprehend and i really needed to phone my wife as I had not had five minutes to let her know that I was OK and what had just happened. They kindly took me back to my hotel in a taxi and told me I would be hearing from many more people in the future and that this would not be my last speech or event.

Getting back into my hotel room was an absolute relief not that i did not enjoy it , I was just physically and mentally exhausted and kicked of my heels and called my wife who just couldn’t believe what i was telling her.

Anyway that was one of the most amazingly terrifyingly messed up and confusing days in an extremely good way I have ever experienced and i would like to thank everyone who has made that happen ! You have made a very shy introverted person see there is way way more to life and to just enjoy it what ever happens.

Thank you ! XOXO



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