By Lord Ashcroft, KCMG.
I am full of admiration for Ffion Hague and other fund-raisers who tomorrow will abseil off the Shard, Western Europe’s tallest building, to raise money for charity.
Does it surprise me that Ffion is prepared to risk life and limb by stepping off the 1,016 ft building in central London? No, not one bit.
I was fortunate enough to get to know her well when I served as Conservative Party Treasurer under her husband, William, from 1998 to 2001.
I took an instant liking to her when I met her and everything that I have seen of her since has confirmed that my early impressions were spot on. She is bright, witty and delightful company.
During the run-up to the 2001 election, Ffion was a wonderful support for William (not to mention me, too, when I had The Times newspaper conducting a vindictive and almost daily campaign against me).
There were many reasons why I was so bitterly disappointed by the 2001 general election result. One of them was that I had no doubt that, as a supreme statesman, William would have made a splendid Prime Minister. Time has only reinforced that view.
However, I was equally convinced that that Ffion would have made a wonderful “first lady”. Indeed, she still would because she is exceptionally loyal, charming and discreet.
I quote from a blog that she wrote for The Huffington Post last month (why wasn’t it for ConservativeHome?) about the motivation for her actions:
“What would make me step off a building 93 floors from the ground? I am 44 years old, a business consultant and author and I like to think of myself as sane, but now I know the answer: Outward Bound.
“Nothing less than the chance to raise £1m to send kids from all over the UK to Outward Bound's six UK centres would do the trick; that much I know. And I have to hope that, come 3 September, it will be enough to give me the courage to step off the top of Europe's tallest building, London's newest skyscraper, the Shard. Why?
“I think it's fair to say that my friends would never describe me as out-doorsy or sporty in any way, so it was quite surprising to be invited to join the board of Outward Bound ten years ago.
“But the organisation has its roots in Wales, in Aberdyfi on the West coast, a couple of miles from where my father was born, and that was a big draw for me. I also know from my experience of living in North Yorkshire that a day walking the hills gives you much more than muddy boots and a raging appetite. But it wasn't until I went to our OB centre in Ullswater that I realised just how much Outward Bound can do for our young people…”
Ffion is currently Deputy Chairman of the Outward Bound Trust, having been a trustee since 2002. She writes on The Descent of the Shard website:
“I will be leaving the board in December 2012 at the end of my ten year term and I really want to do something to help secure the Trust for the future before I go.”
I have had a 50-year interest in gallantry and I have no doubt that Ffion and her fellow fund-raisers will have to dig deep and show real courage in order to abseil down the Shard. It is certainly not for the faint-hearted (and rumour has it that John Caudwell, who is also taking his fund-raising seriously, dislikes heights!).
If Ffion is brave enough to step into the unknown, then I, for one, am willing to support her all the way. I am sponsoring her to the tune of £50,000.
May I strongly urge others to sponsor her too: she is a great “girl” and she is supporting a truly worthy cause. Let’s show our admiration for both.