Friday Lectures

The Friday Lecture is a treasured St Paul’s tradition. Despite the prominence of some speakers (George Osborne, or Lady Hale, the first ever female Supreme Court judge), the Friday Lecture is not a fame parade. It is an opportunity to think about life in a new way.

From the first person to circumnavigate the world under human power to the country’s foremost expert on how to bury a king; from restauranteurs to army medics, artists to diplomats, nothing encapsulates the enquiring atmosphere of the school better than the guests who address it and whose work is debated vigorously every week.

Emma Colliver OP

Oracle Cancer Trust

It was a real pleasure to welcome back Emma Colliver, OP and Head of Fundraising for Oracle Cancer Trust. Starting with an emotional recount of her own experience with the disease, she then explained how this has helped fuel her passion to effect change and make a difference. Her lecture was filled with advice for a scientific career, yet also for business and charity work; her part-time studies as a Data Science Master’s student at UCL meant she was able to share some of the incredible research behind tackling head and neck cancer. Her anecdotes from St Paul’s and Cambridge was a real treat, especially for those of us completing university applications at the moment. She helped us realise how anyone can make a difference and contribute to a bigger cause.

Dame Celia Hoyles

Womens impact on scientific and mathematical fields

It is often easy to accept the stereotype of men leading the scientific and mathematical fields, yet Dame Celia Hoyles’ lecture on how women impact discovery in these areas inspired us all. She invited us to question the shortage of women in faculties of leading universities, and inspired us to consider futures in the mathematical and scientific fields with the stories of historical female mathematicians such as Ada Lovelace, and contemporary role models such as the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Maryam Mirzakhani, (the first female recipient of the award). Despite being such an outstanding mathematician, Dame Celia stressed that Mirzakhani continued to have a real lack of confidence, so we should have faith and confidence in our own ability as we pursue our interests.

Dr Angus Lockyer

The entire history of the world.

On 8 September, as the first in a series of Friday lectures, Dr Angus Lockyer from the history department of SOAS spoke to the Senior School. Dr Lockyer promised an engaging talk which would supposedly explain the entire history of the world. Although the audience was somewhat doubtful of Dr Lockyer’s ability to summarise global history in under half an hour, somehow his simple model did just that. Its system of interlocking factors was equally applicable to neolithic society and the present day. Dr Lockyer criticised the Eurocentric nature of historical teaching and the stagnancy of much present historiography. This lecture made us question the purpose of history and the narrow focus of many curricula.

Sophie Murray

Head of Marketing at Harrods and OP

In the penultimate Friday Lecture of the year, Miss Murray told us about her career path, giving a couple of anecdotes surrounding her current job, from tackling publicity scandals to sourcing (and wrapping) a helicopter for a client to give to his wife within 24 hours!

Dr Arabella Simpkin

Founder of Greyscale Spaces, Paediatrician and OP

Dr Simpkin is the founder of Greyscale Spaces, which provides training in resilience and tolerance of uncertainty to professional organisations. She described how her experience of studying medicine at Oxford had not trained her for the highly unpredictable environment of a hospital, and stressed importance of adaptability in an erratic world. The talk was particularly relevant to aspiring medics, in its demonstration of the links between a fear of uncertainty and stress amongst doctors.

James Harpur

Poet and Creative Writer

After travelling from Ireland, Mr Harpur focused on the subject of the imagination, which he calls the ‘yeast of the brain’. He described how poetry has a power to connect people, recounting a story of how, during World War Two, a British officer and his German prisoner bonded over the poetry of Horace.

Professor Dame Hermione Lee

Literary Biographer and President of Wolfson College, Oxford

Dame Hermione drew on her experiences writing the biographies of Virginia Woolf, Willa Cather and Edith Wharton to speak about challenges involved in attempting to record a whole life. Through reading excerpts of her work, she emphasised that the opening of biography is crucial as it frames the whole work. As we crafted the first sentences of our own biographies, we all considered the question: ‘what’s in a life?’

Sir Anthony Seldon

Contemporary historian and political author

On the historic day that Theresa May met Donald Trump for the first time, Sir Anthony explained the ‘special relationship’ between the USA and the UK, including the history of relations between the two countries since 1776, and the peaks and troughs in the interactions of their leaders. He considered how successful May would be in Washington, and how the ‘special relationship’ may change as the new president takes office.

Madeleine Wickham

Author (who writes under the pseudonym Sophie Kinsella)

Having penned 23 novels, Ms Wickham reflected on her unconventional route into the writing profession, drawing similarities between her own workplace experiences and those of her most famous protagonist, Becky Bloomwood. She encouraged all to embrace creativity and view writing as a means for finding a voice.

Dame Julia Peyton-Jones

Former director of the Serpentine Gallery

Dame Julia took time out of her busy schedule to give us some fascinating insights into the inner workings of designing and building the Serpentine pavilions since 2000. She talked about each pavilion and its inspiration in the context of the architect's background, including the process of choosing the architect each year.

David Benefer

Artist and former St Paul’s Director of Art

Mr Benefer, an avid drawer himself, aimed to illustrate the virtues of drawing through exploring the lives and works of various artists, including Agnes Martin, Lao Dan and Marlene Dumas. He encouraged us to visit the art on display in the city and to be creative in our own lives, regardless of our discipline.

Thomasina Miers

Founder of Wahaca and OP

Ms Miers, winner of BBC MasterChef in 2005, reflected on the difficulties of balancing family life with a busy work schedule, before discussing the importance of sustainability in her Wahaca restaurants. She then spoke about the impact of the recent norovirus outbreak and the increasing importance of PR at such times.

Michael Slavinsky

A Founding Director of The Brilliant Club

Mr Slavinsky delivered a lecture on educational inequality in the UK, which succinctly conveyed the benefit of privilege in our education system and he the importance of equal educational opportunities. The Brilliant Club aims to widen access to highly selective universities for under-represented groups by bringing academic expertise into state schools. 

Reverend Nicholas Mercer

Ex-army Lawyer 

The Liberty Human Rights Lawyer of the Year 2011-12, spoke about the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act, particularly how both documents affect our everyday lives. The discussion then moved onto the future of the Human Rights Act under Theresa May and the ECHR in wartime.

Simon Stevens

Chief Executive of NHS England

Mr Stevens reflected on the issues the NHS faces, particularly with funding, and the difficult, but necessary, task of prioritising certain areas of healthcare. The effect of Brexit and advancements in technology were discussed and questions were fielded on the future of mental healthcare and the recent junior doctors’ strikes.

Lord Green

Ex-Minister of State for Trade and Investment

A member of the House of Lords EU Select Committee, Lord Green outlined the impact of the Brexit vote on the UK and Europe, particularly the relationship between France and Germany and their leadership of the EU. References were made to Trump and Le Pen regarding the worldwide rise in populism.

Helen Carter

Prison governor

Helen Carter spoke about dispelled myths about perceived dangers of the prison service. Questions at the end led to a fascinating discussion about women in the prison service, the nature of custodial treatment in the UK and the USA, and also of what the UK can learn from other European countries.

David Bodanis

Writer and futurist

David Bodanis returned to St Paul’s to deliver a lecture on his new book, Einstein’s Greatest Mistake, which argued that Einstein’s belief in his own infallibility was his eponymous flaw. He compared this to Blair’s criticised but successful involvement in Kosovo, and his subsequent hubris leading to the Iraq War.

Mabel van Oranje

Founder and Chair of Girls Not Brides

The 2016 lecture series ended with Mabel van Oranje, who detailed the formation of her global organisation, Girls Not Brides. She described how her sudden realisation of the extent of child marriage in the twenty-first century drove her to unite over 550 organisations to tackle child marriage together.

Richard Bradley

Managing Director of Lion TV

Richard Bradley demonstrated the techniques he uses to engage his viewers in history by screening an eclectic mix of shorts from his works, including Horrible HistoriesCaligula and Victorian Farm. He emphasised that conveying the general atmosphere of a period is dependent on the narrative.

Dame Nicola Brewer

Vice-Provost (International) of UCL
and former diplomat

Dame Nicola Brewer recounted her 30-year career as a diplomat at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. She gave glimpses into the good, the bad and the ugly, all the way from her involvement in EU negotiations in France to battling cobras in India.

Lord Bilimoria

Founder of Cobra Beer

Lord Bilimoria encouraged Paulinas to follow in his entrepreneurial footsteps with integrity and passion. Having sold his product in both India and the UK, he detailed how the two countries differed business-wise and his gave his predictions for their futures.

Brenda Trenowden

Chair of the 30% Club

Brenda Trenowden, chairs the 30% Club alongside working for ANZ and raising her children. Launched in 2010, the Club has raised the percentage of women on the FTSE 100 boards from 12.5% to 26.1% through lobbying companies and showcasing the benefits of female presence in business.

Andrea Rose

Former Director of Visual Arts at the British Council and OP

Andrea Rose showed us uncensored photographs taken in North Korea for a project connecting UK art with the world. She provided a unique opportunity to see what everyday life in the highly secretive country is like, which contrasted the oppression of the state with the individuality of its citizens.

Major General Jonathan Shaw

Chairman of the Optima group and former British Army officer

Major General Jonathan Shaw used the motives of the countries involved in the Syrian conflict to demonstrate the difficulties in decision making. He impressed the importance of recognising our ingrained biases and realising the difference between military and political tools, especially when making voting decisions.

Jackie Duff

Strategic Project Director for Global Women’s Economic Empowerment at Coca-Cola

Jackie Duff focused on Coca-Cola’s 5by20 scheme, a programme which aims to support the economic empowerment of five million women by 2020. Her team of three makes a difference to women’s earnings by running training and technology programs in all but two countries.

Dame Barbara Stocking

President of Murray Edwards College, Cambridge, and former CEO of Oxfam

Dame Barbara Stocking spoke about both Oxfam’s aims and her work in education, which has involved investigating possible gender biases in the testing and evaluation of women at university level and also their workplace experiences after single-sex education. Highly relevant to Paulinas, Dame Barbara’s lecture kicked off 2016 in style.

Henrietta Lovell

Founder of Rare Tea Company and OP

Henrietta Lovell, is a pioneer in the tea industry. She impressed upon the audience that the direct involvement with farms and vendors is crucial to her company’s aim to better both the tea-makers and drinkers lives. This informs her decision to hand-pick her selections from individual plantations across the globe.

John McAslan

Executive Director of the John McAslan & Partners

John McAslan not only heads an award-winning architecture practice, but is also the architect in charge of our own building works. As most Paulinas are Londoners, he described the housing crises in London and New York; his own solutions ranged from micro-housing to increased focus on building on derelict land.

James Tagg

Founder and CTO of Truphone

James Tagg told us about his experiences as an inventor, company-owner and author. Tagg started with the history behind innovation, before sharing with us some of his best and worst inventions, including developing the first touchscreen LCD display after a ‘Eureka’ moment.

Cressida Hogg

Managing Director and Head of Infrastructure for the CPP Investment Board and OP

Cressida Hogg focused her talk on her experiences in the world of work, specifically considering the things she wished she had known when starting her career. Her practical advice ranged from how to present yourself and interact with co-workers, to making your own decisions and choosing priorities.

Karen Goldie-Morrison

Director of the Charles Darwin Trust and OP

Karen Goldie-Morrison delivered a lecture on Charles Darwin’s life, work and legacy. She explained how Darwin’s unique way of working informed the Trust’s development of Darwin-inspired learning and detailed her own work in pedagogy. She also spoke a little about her career in wildlife publishing.

Mary Anne Aytoun-Ellis

Distinguished landscape painter represented by the Portland Gallery

Mary Anne Aytoun-Ellis offered glimpses into her studio and artistic processes. After exemplifying the drastic changes some of her pieces undergo across two years, she described her exciting path as a painter from attending tours with Prince Charles around the world to her studies of the autumn leaves in Somerset.

Professor Jane Ridley

Professor of Modern History at Buckingham University and OP

Professor Ridley drew parallels between the long-serving monarchs Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II and evaluated the validity behind much of the general belief about Victoria and her personal life from a biographer’s perspective. The subject matter was particular apt, given the Queen recently surpassed Victoria as longest-serving monarch.

Professor Sunetra Gupta

Scientist, novelist and translator of Bengali poetry

Professor Gupta chose to explain her work in theoretical epidemiology at Oxford. Using an extended metaphor of a virus’s wardrobe (with articles of clothing representing its various weapons) to explain mutation in viruses, Professor Gupta concluded that there is nothing worse than ‘a bug dressed to kill’.

Professor Mark Bailey

High Master of the boys' school and professor of Medieval History

Mark Bailey spoke on ‘the greatest disaster in human history’: the Black Death. He not only demonstrated how devastating the pandemic was on human health, but also exemplified the inter-disciplinary nature of history through his collaboration with epidemiologists to economists when investigating roots and effects of the Black Death.

Diana Darke

Arab-world specialist and author

Diana Darke lectured on some of the topical events in Syria. Her decades of experience as a translator, travel-guide writer and broadcaster led to an interesting discussion concerning the dichotomy between the portrayal of the Syrian crisis in the media and the real events.

Cressida Pollock

CEO of the English National Opera and OP

The first external lecturer of the academic year was Cressida Pollock, who described her exceptionally vast and varied career path. From Cambridge to MIT, and from barrister to aid worker, she ended with her upcoming plans for the ENO after explaining a little about her own position.