The What House Awards 2010.. The gnomes have it.

I was incredibly chuffed when Rupert Bates, the golden boy above and the Editorial Director of What House? invited me to the 2010 awards at the Grosvenor House Hotel.  Mayfair Darling. The biggest and glitziest awards of the year for the housebuilding industry.  An opportunity to mix with the great, the good and the superlative from the industry and to hear from grass roots what was going on out there.

Driving down Park lane, I watch a sea of pin striped suits and jocular ties, glammed up ladies with heels higher and skirts shorter than would be prudent on a building site.  These were people with stomachs concrete-lined in readiness for some very serious ‘networking’.

Always tricky walking into these things solo but I firmly recommend the ‘nose in air, grab the boy with the champagne’ move.  One I have perfected.

A little schmoozing before the event itself, so who to force myself upon?  The groups of men looking uncomfortable out of steel-toed welly’s?  The groups looking like they only visited sites when the show house was heated?  Or the satin frocked packs of PR’s?… whatever they are.

No contest, the ‘welly boys’ are getting my attention.  ‘How’s things?’ seemed a sensible open question.  Responses are mixed.  Overall ‘OK’ was as good as it got.  As for subject matter, planning, sustainable, planning, affordable, planning, eco, bloody planning were the hot debates.

On to the ballroom where ‘luncheon was being served’.  Offering huge entertaining space, unsurpassable in it’s twinkling classic styling, this room would delight even the most discerning client. (Ah, that’s what PR’s do).

This was a big invite and mine came with top table positioning.  Slap bang in front of the stage, I am nose to feet with the stars.  This isn’t a shoe blog, but it could be.  Heard of ‘polish’ anyone?

I could have done with fewer younger, blonder and prettier women than me at the table but Rupert does his own table plans.

Our lovely lunch consisted of, salmon and beans, chicken and veg and cream with a banana in it. (I don’t do food blogs).

And we’re off.  Rupert bounds onto the stage.  Due to poor Rupert’s recent eye op, I now have enough retina, iris and aye, aye, jokes to keep the wards of Moorfields in stitches for years. However, they were not ‘a patch’ on the politically charged industry-centric ones to follow.

Apparently, Grant Shapps was unable to attend as he is unveiling the first home to be built by the Government this year.  He sends apologies for next year too, as he will be at the opening of the second.

Eric Pickles also sent apologies, he’d been led to believe it was 1000 lunches for one person, not the other way around.

More seriously, planning rears it’s head again.  Don’t tell us to build more houses Mr Government, we want to, we’re trying to.  You’re scuppering us with the horror that is planning. And while you’re at it Mr ‘whoever is Housing Minister this week’, d’ya mind defining for us what you mean by ‘zero carbon, sustainable’ etc.. We’d really like to know. As for ‘localism’, pfft, can we properly discuss ‘Nimbyism’ first?

Then onto the full time comedian, Jimmy Carr.  Sitting at the feet of the most caustic comedian in town in a low cut frock is not a relaxing experience.  I made even less eye contact than Rupert. The new slim-line (needed feeding if you ask me), Jimmy Carr got straight down do it.

‘What House?’ he says, ‘Isn’t that what MP’s say when they’re asked about their second homes?’.

I’m not repeating the ‘lunt’ joke.

On comes the ‘presenting assistant’.  We are all agog, especially Jimmy,  as the gnome appears.  I’m not sure that shorts are standard gnome garb but I am sure that ‘shorts’ is far too long a word for these particular ones.  Naughty house builders.

As he starts to present the awards, he assures the assembled masses that they are all winners.  Well, that’s not quite what he said but I thought it best to draw a blue tarpaulin over that bit.

Jimmy is a consummate professional, lots of awards, lots of happy people efficiently ushered on and off, until…one rather unfortunate and tardy lady made her way to the stage.  Jimmy had already called for the next recipient, a Robert, as she reached the stage for her award.  Jimmy eyes her curiously, points out the gender discrepancy and well, the rest is transgender, off the cuff, comic genius history.  And possibly one less entrant next year.

As for the award categories, I am struck by how the housebuilding world must have evolved over the past years.  Awards for sustainability, housing associations, shared ownership, mixed use. A genuine focus on quality and a focus on rewarding it.  These guys just want to build good stuff.

So, awards awarded, Jimmy makes his way backstage, followed furiously by an exuberant lady fan. Leaping over my ankles she manages to get to him, then that damn gnome blocked my view so I really can’t tell you whether his dignity is intact or not.

I bow out of the ensuing bar proceedings for ‘cos I’m a lightweight’ reasons.  Also, only one bloke invited me and he had a wonky eye.

So, as I hobble down Park Lane fishing through my goodie bag, what did I take away from my day with UK housebuilders, other than a foam gnome and a table arrangement?

This is the very clear message I received…

‘Come on Mr Shapps, if, of course you’re still the part time housing minister. There is a scandalous housing shortage. Home building is at the lowest level for decades and it’s not our fault. Pull your finger out, stop messing around with Daily Mail gimmicks and give us the practical tools we need to go out and build what the economy and people desperately need. Sort out bloody planning’.

The gnome was pretty memorable too.

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