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The expense of motivation

14 November 2014

WHAT do you do after dinner? That is when some people earn their living, and it can be a good one.

You are looking for an after-dinner speaker: confident on his or her feet, with something to say, and, of course, possessing a little bit of celebrity. So you check out the website of the Gordon Poole Agency, where you find a famous name for every occasion. They are each individually priced; and it is worth checking the price before choosing. Celebrity wisdom, it emerges, is not cheap.

So what are you looking for? Someone who will inspire, such as the most successful UK Olympian Sir Chris Hoy, or the ace yachtswoman Dame Ellen MacArthur? They are both willing to speak about determination and overcoming the odds for a fee of £20,000-plus. And Jessica Ennis, the 2012 Olympic gold medallist, is available for a similar fee for a "motivational Q&A". But, if you do not have that sort of money, but still want a motivational sports person, Amy Williams - who won a gold medal for Britain in the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics in the skeleton bobsleigh - will speak about "drive, relentless determination, and striving for excellence" for a mere £3000 to £5000.

And it's not all sport. The former SAS hero Andy McNab will tell you about leadership and motivation - if you can stump up £10,000 to £15,000. More entertaining, however, might be Jeremy Clarkson, from Top Gear, who will give you blokeish laughs and a bit of offence for £20,000 or more.

A more cultured audience might warm to Kevin McCloud, of Grand Design, explaining the importance of designs that consider the trinity of landscape, place, and neighbouring buildings. At £15,000 to £20,000 for the evening, he is about the price of a small home-extension, which feels appropriate.

Loyd Grossman can talk about museums, hospital catering, sculpture, restaurants, or Through the Keyhole for £5000 to £10,000, which will also get you the cricketer Andrew Strauss on leadership, teamwork, and strategy. But if you want Gary Lineker on football and advertising crisps, be warned: he will want more than £20,000.

There has to be a good reason to listen to a motivational speaker, as if someone other than ourselves can lead us to performance heaven. We imagine that listening to anecdotes of another's bravery will make us brave, but it doesn't. It matters little to me what someone else has done; for their story is not mine, and can never be. Quite apart from the luck involved in success, drivenness is not the same as well-being; and success remains unrelated to virtue.

To attach myself to anyone else's story is a serious abdication of personal responsibility. When considering fees for a celebrity speaker, £1 is generally too much.

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