My Week: Unaccustomed as I am: Paul Davies gets over his stage fright and gives the speech of his life at a friend's wedding

Related Topics
Friday: In the afternoon I leave the office with unusual reluctance. Working through the weekend would surely be preferable to what faces me.

For the last seven months, since Mark's irresistible invitation to be best man at his wedding, I've been inundated with advice on public speaking, reminders about my limitless duties, never-known-to-fail jokes and spoof telegrams - all with the reassuring counsel (Mark is a doctor) that it will certainly be the most stressful day of my life.

The weekend mood of fellow travellers on the Underground heightens my growing nervousness. At the clothes hire shop I am reacquainted with the morning suit I tried on several months ago, before that holiday in Portugal and the annual summer gut. By now I'm so distracted thinking up elusive punch lines that I leave my credit card behind.

Could I improve that gag? Do I toast the bridesmaids?

As I plunge into a cab, I accidentally let my top hat tumble on to the pavement. 'Best man, sir?', the driver asks with a knowing look, recognising the signs of distress.

Back home, I pass the nervous minutes with an uncharacteristic bout of flat cleaning. Mark arrives, looking disconcertingly relaxed and the evening passes with undue haste: a quick hamburger and surprisingly little alcohol are followed by a full dress rehearsal of my speech. We go to bed early, having taken several sleeping


Saturday: I wake up in the middle of a dream about Frank Sinatra. My mind dwells obsessively on public speaking, on talking humourlessly to a sullenly unresponsive audience, and on the speech's core - a Frank Sinatra joke - dying quietly on its feet.

As I write the speech out on index cards, the heavy-handed humour becomes more apparent with each redraft. No need for the audience to wonder what I do for a living. They will immediately think I must be an accountant.

In the cold light of day the hired morning suit looks even more ludicrous. The car journey from London down to Epsom in Surrey is spent in silent contemplation of our respective fates.

Two swift pints at the pub beforehand help the church service pass in a whirl, though all the hymns sound like My Way. Outside the church there is a lengthy photocall, and for several blissful minutes I'm too busy to visualise my impending stage debut. My first slip as best man comes during the rush to the reception, when I forget to check that everybody has a lift.

On arrival, I walk to the top table for my first view of the firing squad. Friends have begun to express concern at my condition: in response my furrowed brow deepens and my palms gush sweat. A sumptuous meal is served, but my appetite has gone.

Instead, I re-read my index cards, while a devil inside torments me. This simply is not funny, he says, you cannot be serious about using this joke?

Out of the blue a microphone appears (A microphone? Nobody mentioned a microphone]) and the speeches begin, to what seems like tumultuous applause. Despite my condition, I recognise that Mark's speech has finished and . . . am astonished by my sudden calm. The room is now generating such a welcoming hush that I stop sweating and start exuding sang-froid.

I read the cards (this is so easy) and my carefully crafted droll asides are met with unjustified hilarity. Just as I feel I'm really getting into my stride my 10 minutes are up and I reluctantly sit down, trying hard to look modest and relaxed. Perhaps I could do this professionally?

The Sinatra joke? It bombed - but who cares?

Sunday: I wake up dreaming of Frank Sinatra.

The author is indeed an accountant, and was best man at the wedding of Christine Wells and Mark Free on 12 September 1992.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

MS Dynamics NAV Developer

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: **MS Dynamics N...

Data Analytics Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client who are a leading organisation...

1st line call logger/ User access administrator

£9 Per Hour: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Warrington a...

Shine Night Walk 2014 - 'On the night' volunteer roles

Unpaid Voluntary Work : Cancer Research UK: We need motivational volunteers to...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Liberia immigration officers wearing protective gloves inspect the travel documents at a border post with Sierra Leone, 30 July (EPA)  

The Ebola outbreak teaches us an important lesson about aid

Natalie Bennett
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star