"My lords, ladies and gentlemen, and workers in the press media. This is not a ceremony like other ceremonies. For one thing, we will not be presenting a prize to any Personality of the Year.
"To be a Personality is a dreadful thing. Whenever I hear someone greeted as a Sports Personality of the Year, for example, I feel sorry for that person, for I know that he is doomed to stop being a personality at the end of the year. How dreadful to see 1 January approaching, and know that you have only a few days left as a personality!
"Indeed," continued Lord Shareholder, to appreciative chuckles, "I myself, if nominated as a Personality, would be very worried indeed. Not just at the prospect of becoming an ex-personality, but also at the prospect of not surviving much longer. I do not know how many of you listen to the Radio 4 programme called Today ..."
Here the noble Lord looked round the Independent Ballroom 'n' Conference Suite, but it was far from obvious from the glazed faces whether the guests had taken in his remark. He continued:
"Let me tell you, then, that recently the Today programme has been organising its Personality of 1995 Listeners' Poll. There were six people on the shortlist to succeed last year's winner, Roy Castle. These six were as follows: the Princess of Wales; HRH the Queen Mother; Yitzhak Rabin; the murdered headmaster Philip Lawrence; John Major; and Tony Blair."
A murmur of incredulity swept round the Independent Heritage Banqueting Suite (audiovisual facilities available).
"Think about it. Last year's winner is dead. Two of this year's nominees are already dead, and one is very, very old. I am no actuary, but it seemed to me either that the death risk among Personalities is very high, or that people think that dying confers Personality on a person. Either way, I would be worried if I were told that I were being considered for a Personality shortlist, and I would adjourn to a health farm until it was all over."
A brief chuckle raced through the throng and expired.
"But do you notice another thing about that shortlist for Personality of the Year? Do you notice that none of the nominees is famous for their personality, and that at least one or two of them are famous for being deficient in personality? My lords, ladies and gentlemen, may I suggest to you that if we are giving out prizes for personality, we might as well select people who are all personality. I think of people such as Janet Street-Porter, Paula Yates, Jeffrey Archer ..."
At this there was a friendly heckle from the audience when someone called out: "Have you read any of his books?"
"Yes, I have," replied Lord Shareholder, "and that is why I tell you that Archer is all personality. There seems to be no other contributory factor to his success."
After the laughter had died down, he continued:
"If we are to award prizes for personality to dead people, why not give them to real personalities? Why not to the late Peter Cook? Or Robert Stephens? Why not to John Lennon?"
"Because he didn't die in 1995," came another cry.
"And nor did Henry Purcell," retorted Lord Shareholder, "but he for my money was the musical personality of 1995 ...
"However, I have spent enough time telling you why we are not choosing a Personality of the Year. Let me tell you instead which areas are in the running to win the coveted prize as Trouble Spot of the Year, for which Brixton, south London, has made such a spirited late bid."
Which place will win the Trouble Spot of the Year Award and take over the trophy won last year by Haiti? Will it be Northern Ireland? Bosnia? Rwanda? Wherever Manchester United play away? We bring you the climax of the ceremony tomorrow!