Over the next few months we’re going to be using our Thursday Thoughts slot as a kind of portal to transport our readers into the wonderful world of the Celebranthood. To kick things off, we thought we would start this series of blogs right at the very beginning of the Fuze journey, so this week we’re shining the spotlight on the first ever Fuze Celebrant and Founder, Anne Widdop, by asking her why she decided to set up Fuze Ceremonies.
Anne: “Life can take us on interesting paths, many unplanned, and that’s what happened to me. Here’s my story, and I’d love to hear yours too“.
After decades as a senior executive in a global IT company, I had public speaking experience, mainly at corporate events and not always particularly interesting topics (data centre strategy anyone?). I tried to mix it up a little but there is a limit to how to bring poetry and creativity into a speech about sunsetting financial applications in business. But saying that – if you are going to stand up and talk in public, have something worth saying and say it well – right? I had been asked to give a keynote speech at a conference in London. As the last speaker at a tech conference, speaking about women in tech, it was a double whammy, who would stay for that? The speaker before me was REALLY boring (I won’t name names but he worked for a popular search engine), he overran and it was death by powerpoint, both of which are unforgivable. I could see the audience stretched before me in the semi dark of the auditorium. People were bored, the screens of the phones and tablets lit up the gloom, no one was listening, there was much fidgeting in the seats. I was the only thing between them and the bar. I didn’t have slides, I had written a pitch and I wanted to inspire, but it was a hard audience to crack. I was almost at the stage of rugby tackling the droning speaker to the floor so that I could talk. I had flown into London for the conference and wanted to address the audience. Eventually I got the floor. I slowly walked to the centre of the stage and just stood there saying nothing, to see if anyone would really notice… after what seemed like an interminable time, people started to look up, maybe in the hope that they could get that drink early?
I launched straight in with a ‘I’m totally pissed off’ and snatched a sneaky glance at the previous speaker. Well my opener worked and got some attention! I explained I was pissed off about having to even talk about women in tech, it should be a non issue. Without completely abandoning my script, I promised to finish on time, so had 10 mins rather than the 30mins I’d been promised. Speaking from the heart, I expressed opinion and fact about the opportunities missed, gender stereotyping and damage to the economy due to under representation of women in a key industry. I appealed to the audience to think about their daughters, sisters, friends, it was emotional and passionate. I feel I won them over, due to the great reception afterwards.
A death in the family
Not long afterwards, my mother died of a brain tumour. It was shocking and heartbreaking. Sadly I have lost many people close to me. 15 years ago, Celebrants hadn’t really been invented, there wasn’t a great deal of choice, the majority of ceremonies were conducted by religious leaders, like every ceremony I’d attended. Although my mum was religious and had a sensitive, caring minister, I didn’t want mum’s funeral to follow the formulaic and impersonal routine of every other ceremony I had been to. I was disappointed by the lack of options. With the support of my brothers and sister, we wrote a Eulogy to mum. She was a wonderful woman who deserved a little of her story to be told. No-one else in the family felt able to speak in public. With some reluctance and trepidation, I decided to try to read the Eulogy in the hope that previous public speaking experiences would help. I thought about the last speech at the tech conference and wanted to speak with love, but without too much emotion this time.
Writing the eulogy was daunting, especially in the early stages of grief. Before the ceremony and alone, I sat in the church, just me and mum in her coffin – the tears are coming to my eyes remembering this as I write. I wanted to say my own goodbye before anyone arrived, I had to find inner strength to stand up and read the Eulogy and not blub my way through it. The minister was great, she said she’d support me if I couldn’t continue. I’ll always appreciate her for that. Writing and delivering that tribute is the hardest thing I have ever done.
After the ceremony, people started asking me to help them with scripts and I went on to conduct some funerals for the families of friends. I did so gladly, it is a privilege to help people at such a difficult time. If you can help just a tiny wee bit, it’s a job well done. A few years later, I decided to get out of the corporate world and establish Fuze Ceremonies. Society was changing, becoming more secular – people want more choices when they celebrate and commemorate life’s milestones. I could see there was a place for an organisation that brought industry standards of service, high quality training, competence and quality assurance and to a fledgling profession.
Watch this space – as the team at Fuze continue to push the boundaries, innovate and above all, help people at key moments in life.
What’s your story? Do write to me firstname.lastname@example.org, we’d love to tell your story.