Highland Business Dinner Over The Years

(Image: Paula Nicol with Clive Coleman, 2022 Highland Business Dinner Keynote Speaker)

As we look forward to tonight’s flag-ship event it’s hard not to reminisce, thinking back to all the speakers we’ve welcomed, table plans that have been created and menus we’ve tasted over the years.

Paula Nicol, our Head of Events and Deputy Chief Executive, tells us about how the event has changed over the past 18 years and gives us her highlights from the Highland Business Dinners she’s managed and what she’s looking forward to most tonight (Friday 17 May).

Well, it’s been quite a journey. I’ve managed the last 17 Business Dinners and I’m so proud of this event which has continued to grow in numbers and prestige amongst our Highland business community. It’s truly a celebration of what is great about our region – its diversity, its strength and its ambition.

Over the years we’ve welcomed an illustrious list of high-profile speakers including Andrew Marr, John Sergeant, Hazel Irvine and Jon Snow – to name just a few. They’ve entertained, educated and enthralled us with their stories, insights and lessons they’ve gathered over their amazing careers. I know our guests always take so much away from their experiences.

There have been some very funny moments with our speakers. One that stands out is the year we had Ann Widdecombe and one of the guests asked her a great question – who would win in a fight between John Prescott and A N Other politician (I can’t remember exactly now, probably a Tory who had also been in trouble/a fight at some point).  She paused on stage for quite a few seconds before answering: the electorate!  The audience absolutely loved that, as did I.

It’s also the conversations and networking taking place in the room that make delivering this Dinner year after year so worthwhile. I love taking a minute to look around and see so many connections being made, whether it’s a new introduction or old friends catching up over a dram at the end of the evening.

I think the 2022 event will always stand out for me. It was the first Highland Business Dinner after a three-year break because of Covid (don’t ask me how many times I had to postpone the 2020 event!). Welcoming back almost 300 guests felt really special. You could feel the energy in the room and the excitement of being together again. There was a very real sense of the resilience of our business community in having come through it.

What I’m most looking forward to this year – and it’s probably the same every year to be honest! – is relaxing and catching up with people over a glass of wine once the formal part of the evening is over. The various conversations are always a reminder of what’s great about business in the Highlands as it’s the relationships that matter. And hosting the Highland Business Dinner allows us to truly celebrate that.

When I think back to how this event has evolved I have to laugh – when I inherited the Highland Business Dinner it was my mission to make it the event that ‘matters’ and to do that we’ve had to make sure it’s evolved, stayed relevant and continues to be aspirational.

So tonight, let’s raise a glass and toast the Highlands – cause there’s no better place in the world to live, work and play! Slàinte Mhath.

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