Cry Me A River: What nearly drowning at a PR party has taught me

At the weekend I fell in the Thames. It wasn’t planned, and for the record, I was sober – I was on my way to a party, prosecco and flowers in hand.

I was incredibly lucky that I had four very strong men to fish me out of the incredibly cold water. Had I been alone, I could very easily have died. On average, one body a week is retrieved from the Thames. Two of those men I had met before. One I knew by (excellent) reputation and follow on Twitter and the final one I hadn’t been aware of, but am now going to use his photography services whenever possible.

I can swim, although I prefer not to do it in the dark, fully clothed, and in open water in January. Falling in was a huge surprise. I hadn’t tripped or stumbled I just walked into the water by accident. I thought it was a path but it was a strip of very dark river and my eyes had played tricks on me. I took a step too far left and, splash.

I didn’t panic, I wasn’t upset, but I was hugely embarrassed.

I went under and once I’d bobbed back up and reached the water’s surface I managed to save my glasses, my handbag, the prosecco and the flowers first. My priorities may have been slightly skewed.

The four men, Wadds, Paul Clarke, Jon White and Mark Pinsent fished me out and it took quite some effort because I’m not the smallest woman in the world – weight loss is on my to do list with much more urgency- and the water level was about three feet below the pontoon I’d fallen off of so there was no way for me to push myself up. They were all absolutely gentlemanly about it and once they’d caught hold of me they never let me go until they had hauled me up out of the water – I have the bruises to prove it.

The party I was on the way to was on a boat and hosted by CIPR President Sarah Hall and her partner (and former CIPR President) Stephen Waddington. They dried me off and gave me dry spare clothes. I promptly set the socks on fire by accident with some tea lights. It took two G&Ts to fess up to that – they laughed like drains.

All the guests at the party either worked in comms, or were one of the boat’s neighbours. Everyone saw the funny side. Everyone was concerned for my welfare, everyone was so incredibly kind that I had to fight back tears more than once.

So here’s the thing – lots of people at that party are people I would hope to do business with for the Taylor Bennett Foundation. This is not the way I would choose to introduce myself to them but actually, it was a great icebreaker and there was never an awkward silence. I still don’t recommend it as a networking technique, but it was less hideous than it could’ve been. I chose to stay and enjoy the party – it seemed pointless to leave at that point as I wasn’t hurt and anyway, it was quite a story to tell.

I tweeted PR Week about it the morning after because it’s a story that’s bound to do the rounds and I might as well get in first. Crisis comms in action. I was also slightly concerned I might get a reputation for being drunk and drowning/setting fire to things – I was sober (at that point) and it’s a first on both counts.

I was staying in a hotel that night. When I arrived there after the party I cried, (I am not by nature a crier so this is almost as hard to admit as falling in the Thames), because it hit me I could’ve died and my children would be left without a mother. Which is HUGELY catastrophising it, but I was honestly very grateful to be alive. Even if I was going to have to go to M&S on a Saturday morning in borrowed clothes and slippers to buy something to wear.

Here’s what I learned:

1) When someone falls in a river, everyone nearby drops everything (including £10k of photography equipment) and helps. Nothing else matters but getting that person out of the water as quickly as possible.
2) Fitbits are waterproof (mine’s still going strong)
3) The iPhone 6+ is not waterproof (although I’m assured the iPhone X I’ve now got is waterproof to 4 metres depth. Here’s hoping I never have to test it out)
4) EE shops are not open in the City at the weekend (and the EE Twitter account refused to call another shop in the West End to see if they had the handset I wanted in stock, even when I explained my situation)
5) Doing those swimming lessons where I had to wear my PJs and pick a brick up from the bottom of the pool paid off eventually
6) A sense of humour is vital in a crisis
7) A crisis is only a crisis if you let it be. If you brush it off, the enormity of the situation can be downplayed – although it may hit you later
8) People are inherently kind – which I already knew really, but this confirmed it
9) Work friends and real friends are the same thing
10) Wadds takes size 11 socks.

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