When it comes to the diversity and bizarreness of human character, reality always beats the wildest of imaginations… You only need to be lucky enough to travel widely and have the capacity to enter as broad a range of inner circles as you possibly can.

I seem to be in that category. I have developed a research portfolio with varied appeal… (though the number of weird requests seems to be on the increase, what kinds of databases have I been entered into lately???). I travel across the world, and I am invited to speak to those interested in art, as well as those interested in money; those interested in theory, as well as those interested in policy and practice; those interested in the past and those interested in the now; those who only want a micro-local focus, and those who only care about international comparators; those who want numbers, and those who want stories; those who want impact and those who want promise.

The latest adventure has taken me just around the corner, to London, but into a world previously unknown to me, a surreal gathering of ‘world leaders’ (mostly from developing countries) in fantastical attire, within a sumptuous old-fashioned English palace. We were treated to some Brit-regalia under the grand chandeliers and the impassive eyes of multiple generations of kings and queens framed and crowned in baroque excess.

Who were these leaders? A beauty queen from Indonesia (dressed top to toe in silver sequins); a chilling female psyquiatrist from Serbia (dressed in a scary goth suit, supported by an entourage of equally scary women in black men-suits taking pictures of her every move, all dark tones except for their vampiresque red lips); a broad brush painter from Angola with an expertise in “execut[ing] false ceilings”; the president of the National Union of Beekeepers from Kyrgyzstan… And the list goes on, for pages and pages, of the most incoherently rich and diverse range of backgrounds and countries… (None of this is INVENTED!!)

If nothing else, this gathering made me think about the notion of ‘leadership’, indeed. Who is a leader? Who determines who deserves praise? (The event was an ‘Experts Conference’ as well as include a regal International Awards Ceremony, full of the most extravagant titles and types of nominations imaginable. I should have kept the Night Proceedings…)

Sadly, I suspected there may have been a bit of opportunism on the part of the British organisers (attending the lavish dinner offered to the chosen – & awarded – international leaders came at a ‘premium’ price). Regardless, it was a completely new experience for me and a chance to be acquainted with yet another of the many layers of conferencing, international networking and mutual back-patting gatherings in existence out there.

Not sure I came out of this event with much renewed confidence in these kinds of affairs… but I certainly came out feeling a bit more savvy and self-aware about the responsibilities that come with the job if one joins in the ‘world experts’ & global-summit bandwagon.

(Most memorable lesson: the wonderfully crazy fashion sense and style statements available on the global high street…)