Titter ye not.
One of Britain's busiest after-dinner speakers, at 30 already breathing down the necks of Bob Monkhouse and Nicholas parsons, is a humble barrister. Profile by Richard Clayton
Accustomed as he is to public speaking, barrister Graham Davies is not content, at the end of a day's graft in court to pack away his voice with the wig, the Archbold and the sachet of liquorice flavoured Fisherman's friends. No. On around 120 nights a year he's on the menu, after the coffee and mints and during the half-coronas, at a variety of corporate functions as professional after dinner speaker. Moderately prices - though he won't say how much - and therefore affordable by those companies unable to splash out, he's been travelling the after-dinner circuit as a full blown business sideline for the last five years. An article in the mail on Sunday earlier this year rated him as one of the country's top speakers and estimated his fees at ï¿½1000 to ï¿½2000 per function: better than a poke in the magistrates court with a sharp beak anyday. He sounds the part, too: his conversation has the jocular lilt of a game-show host and he boasts one of the few laughs in the country, presumably a business asset, that actually sound like "ha, ha, ha".
Given his showbiz proclivities, how on earth did he end up in the law? "Ha, ha, ha! Well there certainly wasn't any law in my family. My father comes from a farming background and became an engineer and he met my mother working for Rolls-Royce in derby during the war". Davies did a law degree at Cambridge because he reckoned it was the only subject he could get into Cambridge to do (That's true, sadly), found he liked it and opted to go to the Bar. "I suppose I've always has a love affair with my own voice, which of course is a very unusual phenomenon for a barrister". Now based at Howard Shaw QC's chambers at 3 Dr Johnson's Buildings, he ploughs through the usual common-law melange of personal injury, general contract, matrimonial, crime and landlord and tenant." It's pretty much a mixed bag", he says, the ha ha fleetingly on ice. "I wouldn't call myself a specialist in anything".
Davies developed a taste for public speaking while debating at the Cambridge Union and claims he got his first big break courtesy of Nicholas Parsons, a veteran of the after-dinner circuit, who remembered him from the union and passed on to him an engagement he couldn't make. "But I only discovered that some form of remuneration was in order about five years ago. Before that I thought the only people who got paid for this sort of thing were former rugby players, game-show hosts and ex-politicians. But fortunately there's a thriving business for non celebrities who are charging just that little bit less, but hopefully are reasonably competent at it".
Some of Davies' gigs come about by word of mouth, though most frequently he's booked through one of the country's 20 or so "specialist speaking consultancies". "I suppose in some ways they act almost like solicitors. A large company would be organising a dinner and they'd phone up a consultancy with their budget, what sort of speaker they'd like and what category of dinner it is, and the agency would come back with three of four recommendations. I think now, after some aggressive self-marketing, I'm on the books of all of them".
Recently Davies has entertained audiences as multiform as computer salesmen, road-marking engineers, condom salesmen, insurance brokers, nurses and rugby players. Only very rarely is he booked for a legal do. "I think the nearest I've got recently was speaking at the CID annual dinner a couple of weeks ago, which was ... interesting. I tend to be a bit shy of legal do's I suppose. Can you imagine a more intimidating audience than solicitors or barristers? I certainly can't. Ha, ha, ha!"
To pick one dinner entirely at random, what does one say to a condom salesforce? "Well, as well as going through the Government's economic policy, the ERM and the inadequacies of the democratic condition, there was just the odd passing reference to the sexual conjunction between male and female". Usually Davies works to a brief, in this case from the London Rubber Company. "Obviously they do have a major product which they sell. That gave me an absolute wealth of material to play on. I try and find out about the company, what it makes, what it's potential customers are and try to find out about a few personalities I can point out as well. I've collected loads and loads of material over the years in various different categories that I keep on a database and I refer back to it depending on what that particular company does"" Preparation can sometimes take "as little as half an hour" - a testament, surely, to the power of the modern PC - or several days.
Like any entertainer, Davies is resigned to the fact that a performance may be badly received. In an incident before Christmas, 300 chartered surveyors started to chant helpful, "amusing" obscenities. Really? Chartered surveyors? "Oh yes. Ha, ha, ha! I was also once attacked by a photocopier salesman who didn't like a remark I'd made about him. Fortunately he was too drunk to get to the top table to take a swing at me".
Davies describes himself as "aggressively single", whatever that may mean and luckily he likes to eat. "I suppose I eat a lot, really, which is good, because it's a perk of the trade, but fortunately I go to the gym a lot as well", he says. He probably wouldn't cook for himself even if he had to. "I'm a professional bachelor in that I've got a cooker in my kitchen that still has the polythene wrapper on it. I occasionally might do a fried egg on toast. But the chance to speak at a dinner in Gleneagles and stuff down their gourmet food is an incredible privilege".
Does he harbour ambitions to follow in Clive Anderson's footsteps or is one balding barrister on TV enough? "If Michael Grade were to ring me up tomorrow and offer me my own chat show I'd have to seriously consider it. Ha, ha, ha!"