Did you have someone in your class at school who fell into the "Most likely to succeed" category? You know the sort. Very clever, but not geeky. Confident presenter. Charming. Good looking. Probably plays a musical instrument or two. Captain of rugby or netball. You try desparately not to like him or her but find yourself feeling strangely pleased when they glance over, smile, wink and point a finger at you as if to say "Just you and me, Tom, you and me. Nobody else in this room matters".
Well last week I met about 40 young people all at the same time, all of whom fall without question into the Most Likely To Suceed category. Phew!
The event was a conference at Wilton Park. Have you heard of Wilton Park? Me neither, until I was invited to speak there. It's an unusual place. For one, it's not at Wilton Park, which is in Buckinghamshire, UK. It is in Sussex set in an amazing country pile in acres of grounds called Wiston House. As a recently published history of the place says "Wilton Park has never been a secret. But you will not find it on a map". It's not the sort of place you will stumble across (in fact even aided by my SatNav I nearly didn't manage to stumble across it!). Wilton Park has been holding quiet, intellectual, off the record conferences in true British diplomacy style amongst movers and shakers from around the world since 1946.
The event that I spoke at was called the Atlantic Youth Forum 2008. About 40 young people aged 18-24 from USA, Canada and Europe are nominated to attend this week long event at Wilton Park. They hear presentations ranging from nuclear deterrence to sport as an agent of social change. They listen to speakers from the Private Office of NATOs Secretary General to the Football Association. (oh, and me :-). They visit the Houses of Parliament, the US Embassy and the Foreign Office. So when you were 18 and learning how to balance a glass of beer on your nose to impress the girls, these guys are learning how to balance geopolitical superpowers to impress Members of Parliament. Wow!
So how did I get on with the Most Likely to Succeed? Well, I presented on privacy and identity in the digital world, relaxed and sat back in my chair for the usual one or two polite follow up questions that you typically get from a group of young people, that's if you manage to coax a question or two out of them. The "Most Likely" lent forward in its collective seat, charming eyes gleaming and in accents from Albuquerque to Zurich they fired questions at me for well over the allotted time. Fifty or so erudite and probing questions later, drained of everything I know, have known or ever will know, my emptied intellectual husk was cast into the Sussex countryside.
Fascinating. I will keep an eye on this group of young people. I have a feeling that we will be seeing more of them and I half wonder whether there were one or two future heads of state sitting in the room there, although like true Most Likelies, they would be far too self effacing to give that impression right now...