Daring Greatly

At the 2016 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction awards ceremony last week, just before we announced this year’s winner, Syl Saller, Diageo Chief Marketing Officer took to the stage to give a fantastically inspirational speech. We’ve reproduced her wonderful words for you below.

We’re in our third year of proudly sponsoring the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. It’s become a bit of tradition for me to give the sponsor’s speech without sounding too, ‘sponsor-like’.

Reasons for this are easy to understand – the minute I start with the corporate speak you’ll head for the bar as quick as I can say ‘paradigm shift’ or ‘think outside the box’. And I wouldn’t blame you. I’m hugely proud of Baileys – and especially proud of our sponsorship of the Prize. They need no explanation.

Instead, I want to take a few minutes to talk about feeding your mind and nurturing your soul. At the heart of it, that’s why so many of us love books – why they mean so much to us – and why these awards are so important.

I’m lucky enough to attend a number of events like tonight which are hugely inspirational and I thought I’d share one experience that I saw as clearly connected to the Prize and this evening:

Last February I went to South by Southwest – not the music festival – I’m not nearly cool enough for that, but the part where you get to hear from some of the great thinkers of the world. The hit keynote speech was from Dr Brené Brown, the research professor, who is best known for her Ted Talk on the Power of Vulnerability.

Brené talks about vulnerability as having the guts to show up and be seen – putting yourself out there – risking criticism and hurt.

Creativity is the way things travel from the head to the heart into the hands. And there is no creativity without vulnerability.

The quote I remember most from South by Southwest is one that Brené uses from Teddy Roosevelt, from a time when guys like Donald Trump would have never made the ticket. To make it appropriate for this evening, I’ve shortened it and done a gender swap, but it goes something like this:

It is not the critic who counts; not the person who points out how the strong stumble.

The credit belongs to the woman who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and who strives valiantly.

Who errs, who comes short, again and again, But who does actually strive to do the deeds;

And who at the worst, If she fails, at least fails while daring greatly.

Think about our shortlisted authors – and the risks they take in sharing their ideas and their inner worlds with all of us amidst all the uncertainty and emotional exposure to what people will think, say, and tweet.

If we look for them, there are examples of people who have this kind of courage, everywhere. I see them here tonight, in my work, and in my family and friends.

Monday night’s Prize panel discussion, the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction Book Club in association with Grazia, was full of fascinating stories from incredible women:

Felicity Blunt talked about how hard it was initially to convince people of the genius of A Visit from the Goon Squad. It went on to win a Pulitzer. Leyla Hussein shared the trauma of reading The Possession of Joy because of the horrific memories it brought back. Hajar Woodland shared her thoughts on being a writer, musician and Muslim feminist. And finally, Kathy Lette who made us laugh with her incredible wit and insight. She is indeed an ‘espresso martini for the mind’.

To write a book is to put yourself naked onto the page and offer it up for the world to judge. Few things take this much courage.

Tonight, I am thrilled to be honouring these six extraordinary writers who indeed are role models for us all. To quote my most quotable friend, the amazing Kate Mosse:

‘If there are no women writers recognised, then no one thinks it could be them. If there are a few women, a woman might think it could be her. If there are lots of women, then a woman will ask, what kind of writer will I be?’

My belief is that we can all dare greatly. That we all have the ability to put ourselves out there, to risk failure knowing that we can get back up again. To understand that we learn the most when things don’t go our way. And that being vulnerable is the path to growth, to creativity and to greatness.

Thank you.

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