an evening with mary portas
mary portas shop girl...
As I haven't actually read this book as I write this post (I only bought it last night at the Chorleywood Bookshop launch of the shop girl tour), then I won''t call it a 'book review,' but simply my own recount of 'An Evening With Mary Portas.' For my readers outside the UK, Mary is Britain's foremost retail consultant, from fashion to food and everything in between, on a mission to save Britain's ailing high streets.
Last night was the start of Mary's UK book tour, encompassing live talks and readings, radio interviews and podcasts.
'Let's go along and support a local bookshop', I said to my sister, 'maybe not many people have heard about it...' What appeared to be around 200 people turned up to our local grammar school, filling the hall to the brim and then some, so no worries on the attendance front then... The perfect place for a bit of people watching, which I always enjoy and none more so than last night. The evening was held in Little Chalfont, part of an affluent commuter belt suburb, near to where Mary grew up and yet a million miles away from the world she actually grew up in. I guess the average age was 50-60, although it's so hard to tell these days-contemporaries of Mary's from her school days looked considerably more 'traditional' lets say, with a healthy dose of immaculately dressed home counties lunching-ladies mixing with young entrepreneurs and career hungry graduates.
I bought my copy as soon as I arrived, anticipating a bit of a bun-fight (in a home-counties type of way) at the end and had a quick flick before the lady herself arrived. Mary just has the kind of enigmatic presence that makes you smile, brings everyone down to earth and puts everything into perspective the minute she walks on stage. She is, as a certain TV advert says 'exactly what it says on the tin...'
The evening began with Mary reading an extract from the book, part of which I'd already listened to on radio 4, but all the more meaningful to hear from Mary herself. There were simple, homely recounts of her life growing up in the 70s, (as did I not so far down the road, but almost another world altogether), funny moments and touching moments when she spoke of her Mum's shockingly fast illness and death from meningitis.
Glancing around the room as Mary spoke, it was fascinating to see just how genuinely thrilled, interested and even a bit in awe her audience were to be there, some having travelled a long way for the evening. A quick question and answer session at the end consisted of those just wanting to say hello and express their admiration, business related questions from pop-ups versus permanent retail space to high street rejuvenation nationwide. It was a really enjoyable evening-as near as you can get to having a chat and a cuppa with Mary herself and I thoroughly recommend it. As for the book, try and buy yours from your own high street store rather than that rather famous on-line market place, because it is by Mary, Queen of Shops after all.
So, that's my impression after a brief encounter with Mary Portas from the 5th row, and her very personal, open and honest autobiography, sometimes hilariously funny, other times heart-wrenching, but always with a determined and positive approach to life. All from a woman who manages to say it as it is whilst remaining focussed and compassionate, just honest and straight forward. Part optimist, part realist, part show girl, part shop girl. Brilliant Mary.
find your nearest venue on mary's book tour here maryportas.com