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The Real Value of True Stories...

I'm a huge advocate of telling true stories in presentations. They are a powerful tool to engage an audience and make any presentation more effective and memorable.

I’m always looking for stories I can add to my keynotes and training sessions, so I'm always delighted when I have a new one to share - and what a brilliant one this is ....

One of my hobbies is maritime history which stems from my career with Cunard Line. In my spare time, I now deliver lectures to groups of enthusiasts, and will soon be presenting them on board the ships where I once worked.

I was in Glasgow last weekend, so took the opportunity to add to my research by visiting Clydebank, the home of the John Brown shipyard which built so many of the famous Cunarders including the Lusitania, Queen Mary, and the legendary #QE2 where I had the privilege to work and see the world, including here in Spitsbergen in the Arctic Circle.

After a short train journey to Clydebank station, I walked across the abandoned wasteland which was once home to a bustling shipyard employing over 7,000 people when the QE2 was launched, ironically this week in 1967. Now, after 54 years, as the area is being slowly redeveloped, there was little sign of the engineering craftsmanship that once took place here - just a few rusty remnants of the cranes that would have created a very different skyline to the one I saw.

As I headed towards the Clyde, the river that saw the launch of hundreds of ships, I saw a figure walking along the newly constructed footpath along the banks of the river, and as the elderly gentleman came into view, I thought I would see if he was local and if he had any stories about the area.

Well, what a chance meeting it turned out to be, because Stuart Orr was not only a local, he once worked in the yard as a welder on many ships, including the last ship to be built there - the QE2.

I mentioned that I once worked on the legendary liner and Stuart was thrilled to talk about his days working for the John Brown shipyard. He shared so many phenomenal stories about his experiences working in the yard, from being the errand boy for John Rannie (the shipyard director), to working with the Big Yin himself, Billy Connolly who worked briefly as a welder while in the band, The Humblebums with Gerry Rafferty!

Stuart showed me where the slipway once was – with a small part of it still showing in the water, along with what was called Dead Man’s Point near the end of the slipway, marking the overhang of the liners before they were launched.

I took lots of photos and as you can imagine, steam was coming off my pen as I wrote notes on the back of train tickets and any scrap of paper I could find in my pocket - I didn't want to miss anything.

He took out his iPad and showed me the picture of the section of QE2 that he welded, (highlighted below), but admitted that because of the angle of the aft deck, he wasn’t particularly proud of that bit of welding. He added that he was very nervous in 1982, when he saw the QE2 being refitted to go to the Falklands and whether his welding would hold up to the extra weight of a helicopter flight deck that was being added in preparation for the conflict in the South Atlantic.

He described the surreal atmosphere as he left the shipyard for the last time, with fellow shipbuilders facing a bleak future, and how in the years that followed he had to move around the country to find work.

I walked away with so many moving, amusing and fascinating stories, and with Stuart’s help, I am now looking at writing a new lecture on the history of the John Brown shipyard. Stuart has also invited me back to meet some of the surviving friends he has from his John Brown days and as you can imagine, I can’t wait.

And this treasure trove of stories, all because I asked a stranger to share his experiences.

The real value of true stories… priceless!


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