ARN : If Carlsberg did Gala Dinners, they’d probably be pipped at the post by ARN; because the event created by vending’s leading wholesaler and held last week at Newcastle’s swanky Crowne Plaza Hotel, will take some beating, writes Yvonne Reynolds-Young.
The north of the UK has been crying out for an event like this, which brings the great and the good of the industry together with the express intent of having a good time and making a serious contribution to charity. ARN has stepped into the breach and no sooner had the dust settled than the clamour began to make this an annual get-together.
The evening kicked off with a cocktail reception – given wings by Red Bull – that set the bar high for the evening. (At least) two magicians wandered through the throng at the bar baffling people with their trickery. I witnessed a card / mobile phone trick that had Andy and Donna Dixon, not to mention yours truly, reduced to open-mouthed incredulity.
Soon after, we were called into the banqueting suite. Once seated, our compere for the evening, Justin Lockwood, took the stage and told us, ‘We’re going to start the evening off with a bang’, which sounded like an old cliché until a set of double doors opened and a group of futuristically costumed drummers emerged, making a spectacular racket that had everybody’s blood pumping. The group was called ‘Spark!’, so it should come as no surprise that they set the room alight.
After that came the welcome speeches including one from David Brind, Group CFO at Kitwave. He shared a compelling story of what amounted to a genuine brush with death he suffered. Feeling unwell, David acted reluctantly on the advice he was given – to go to A&E. It was there that he suffered a heart attack. Essentially, he died and was resuscitated. If he hadn’t have been in A&E at the time…
Then came a sumptuous three-course dinner, lubricated by fine wine amid a crescendo of conversation and laughter. I was on Darren and Fiona’s table, with Zareen (all Ferrero); Allan Walker (of ARN) and his wife Keri and another couple. It was a non-stop giggle.
The auction followed with a whole host of ‘lots’ on offer, many of them sporting, from tickets to a top-flight rugby match to a pair of ‘his and hers’ Manchester City shirts. But, on a glittering evening of many highlights, arguably the most memorable and entertaining centred around – you guessed it – ARN boss John Crichton.
John was determined to secure the auction lot of ‘Lunch or dinner with Talk Sport’s Allan Brazil.’ John was obviously very taken with the idea of a convivial repast with the notorious epicure; but he found himself up against an unknown, equally determined bidder from the back of the room. John wasn’t having it. On our table, we thought he was just ‘bidding up the room’ waiting until the ‘going, going gone’ was in progress before jumping up, arms aloft and shouting at the top of his voice, ‘Yes!’ But he was in deadly earnest…=
It was one of those ‘you had to be there’ experiences. John must have jumped up ten times, arms splayed, shouting YES at the last minute, almost on ‘Gone’. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
When the (excellent!) band struck up and the dancing began, the floor filled instantly and stayed that way until, at midnight, bacon butties and Cadbury Hot Chocolate were served. That’s when I finally got my ‘interview’ with Allan, whose relief, as the event was hailed as a huge success, was palpable.
‘Tonight wouldn’t have been possible without the support of our sponsors, suppliers and customers and I can’t thank everyone enough for taking time out to be with us this evening’, he said. ‘We’ve managed to raise almost £22,000 for the BHF at a time when the charity has had its research income cut in half, due to reduced donations during the pandemic. Across the country, somebody is rushed to hospital with a heart attack every five minutes and in the UK, 25% of deaths are related to heart and circulatory diseases. That’s one-in-four of our workmates and friends and our families.’
It’s a chastening thought and one that made the guests at ARN’s Gala Dinner dig so deep.Let’s hope that this is the first ‘annual’ event – although, to conclude, Allan admits that putting on such an ambitious event took rather more organising than anticipated… ‘I’ve got to give a massive thank-you to all the staff at ARN’, he said. ‘They’ve put a huge amount of time and energy into making this happen. I don’t think any of us realised quite how much it takes to arrange an event!’
So, a tough ask, even for the outfit that is (probably) the best vending wholesaler in the world…