Mayflower 400 Speaker Series headliners tell their fascinating stories

Dec 05, 2019

Well-known figures have headlined four special Mayflower 400 events throughout the UK, telling their own fascinating stories and bringing to life aspects of the key themes - freedom, humanity, imagination and the future - in their own unique way.

Sponsored by transatlantic law firm Womble Bond Dickinson (WBD), the Mayflower 400 Speaker Series is a carefully-curated sequence of seven landmark events taking place in the lead-up to the anniversary year in Plymouth in November 2020.

These talks aim to commemorate the Mayflower's 400th-year anniversary and highlight the importance of the transatlantic relationship between the UK and the US.

The first event in the series was held at the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth, where WBD has a key office.

The opening headline speaker was Debra Searle, who shot to fame after rowing the Atlantic solo and told the story of her amazing and gruelling three-month journey across the ocean – reminiscent of the historic voyage of the Mayflower some four centuries ago. 

Debra said: “I am delighted to be supporting the Mayflower 400 Speaker Series and relating my own experiences to that epic and significant voyage made 400 years ago. My solo journey across the Atlantic taught me a great deal about the importance of attitude and mindset.

“I’d like to also say a big thank you to Womble Bond Dickinson for inviting me to join them in celebrating their first speaker event of the series here at the National Marine Aquarium.”

The Southampton Harbour Hotel was the venue for the second event, which saw Bronwen Maddox, Director of the Institute for Government and former Foreign Editor and US Editor for The Times, discuss the trade partnership between Britain and America and explore how that transatlantic relationship has shaped both countries through trade, business and economics.

Bronwen said: “I am absolutely delighted to be supporting the Mayflower 400 Speaker Series and be part of an event where business leaders will explore how business might further work, linked with the anniversary, to develop more transatlantic business opportunities.

“Shaping the future relationship with the United States is not just the responsibility of the Government. There will also be significant influence from businesses who span the Atlantic – such as WBD – and, as a result, it’s never been more important that we continue to build and sustain communities and partnerships that will strengthen our economy.”

In the third episode of the Series, Terry Waite was at HMS Drake in Plymouth to share the story of his time as a hostage in Beirut, some 28 years since his release in November 1991.

He spent 1,760 days in captivity, and 20 years later he travelled back to meet his jihadist captors. His personal journey and recovery are testament to the notion that hardship can often be a source of strength; and his experiences can be assimilated to those of the Pilgrims who set sail on the Mayflower some 400 years ago.

Terry said: “The Pilgrims set sail to find a new life for themselves in unknown territory. The personal qualities they required then are the same as those required today: courage, innovation and conviction. In remembering that voyage we can take inspiration from the fact that human beings have the capacity to adapt and change. History has much to teach us.”

The most recent headline speaker was Sir Ranulph Fiennes, who spoke to a captivated audience at Drapers Hall in London - linking his unique experiences with Mayflower's voyage in a talk that brought to life his remarkable personal journey.

Described by The Guinness Book of Records as 'the world's greatest living explorer’, Ranulph has confirmed that he will be doing a book tour at the end of this year for his autobiography, 'Living Dangerously'. 

He said: “It takes a certain type of person to be able to keep moving forward on a journey or exploration, regardless of the issues that you are faced with such as raising funds and finding the means to make a project happen from the outset.

"These qualities link with those of the Pilgrims, and I imagine they faced similar challenges when having to raise the funds to buy the Speedwell and then replacing it with the Mayflower when the Speedwell started to take on too much water. I believe both myself and each of those Pilgrims who made that momentous journey all know a thing or two about Living Dangerously!"

As a lead national partner for Mayflower 400, WBD is proud to support the Mayflower 400 Speaker Series, and is looking forward to the remaining three exciting events which will take place next year.

Jonathan Blair, Co-Chair and UK Managing Partner, said: "The Speaker Series celebrates the key themes behind the historic voyage of this iconic ship: freedom, humanity, imagination and the future.

“These themes are an integral part of our collective heritage and remain highly relevant today, and we look forward to hearing a fascinating range of speakers bring them to life in a modern context.

“Nearly 400 years ago, the Mayflower sailed from Plymouth – where we have one of our long-established eight UK offices – and landed in Boston, where we have one of our newest US offices. It's fantastic to celebrate the close ties and ongoing relationship between the US and the UK with all of the benefits this brings.”

Charles Hackett, Chief Executive of Mayflower 400, added: “Mayflower 400 is a multi-location programme of heritage and modern culture that explores arguably the most influential journey in western history.

“The Mayflower 400 Speaker Series explores the different themes of this venture and its modern relevance, and we are very excited to have a transatlantic organisation, Womble Bond Dickinson, supporting this and the wider Mayflower 400 programme.”

Sign up for the latest Mayflower 400 news

You'll be the first to hear the latest Mayflower news, events, and more.

Emily Johnson will be featuring in the latest Red Brigade Films documentary which premieres today at 6pm UK time an…

Follow @mayflower400uk

Mayflower 400 Proudly Supported by our National Sponsors and Funding Partners