The independent action group for current and ex Equitable Life policyholders, funded by contributions.

Equitable Members Action Group

Equitable Members Action Group Limited, a company limited by guarantee, number 5471535 registered in the UK

Documents: 22/08/2001 - An extraordinary day in the life of an Equitable activist

August 22nd 2001 - An extraordinary day in the life of an Equitable activist

I don't normally rise at 5am. Nor am I one for a jacket and tie but this was to be my BBC television debut. I'd been on Radio 4 a couple of times before, but they had been low key appearances. Casual clothes and a bicycle ride through the dawn or late at night to that holy shrine -the BBC in Langan Place. Sit alone nervously in a studio the size of a broom cupboard and have someone invisible, miles away ask you a couple of questions. Just when you're getting going, he's gone.

Today I'm being chauffeur-driven in a Mercedes to the BBC Television Centre in White City. I'm there to do the 6.20am "BBC Breakfast" TV business spot. I'm told that there are 1.6 million viewers. I wonder who. The interviewer distracts me and I hesitate, which causes me to smile. This wins me a new fan in Edinburgh. Later I receive an E mail from a bulletin board critic telling me it just didn't work. Oh well.

What comes next gives me far more of a buzz. A hundred yards away the "Today" programme is airing and I have a slot. I wait outside Studio 4B and through the glass I can see people who've been part of my everyday for many years, calmly proceeding with "Today". Then I sit at a big round table directly across from legends John Humphries and Sue McGregor.

At 8.40am I say upbeat things about my hopes for a promising new chapter because the new board, for the first time in Equitable's history, is going to listen to policyholders representatives. Whilst I do know that 25 seconds is about the ideal answer length, when you're doing it you have NO idea of time. Ms McGregor pulls a face and with arm waving makes it absolutely clear that I am going on too long. It's strange that, such is the intensity, I have absolutely no recollection of what I've said. But, adrenalin-induced elation when it is over and home in a Jeep for breakfast by 9am.

The morning is spent catching up on reading the amazingly helpful websites dedicated to the Equitable (see list). The Society has been so worried by media interest that late on Tuesday they told us they will move the meeting's venue. At noon I ring Equitable's city HQ and leave a message on its answerphone, pointing out that never before have I not known the location of a meeting three hours before it's due to begin.

Off to lunch with Ron Bullen (EPHAG) and Liz Kwantes (ELMHG) to agree our positioning and expectations. We really do co-operate - though not on everything. It was Liz's good idea that we write to all directors and hold out the olive branch, which we were pleased had been welcomed. An excellent lunch in Hak Kasan (Chinese dim sum) chosen strategically between the City and Paddington for Ron, who took the train from Wales and gave an interview on "Five Live" at 4.45am. No-one can say that we Action Group people don't work hard for the money that we're not paid!

At 2.15 pm, lunch over, and 45 minutes before the meeting is due to start, we learn from a message on my mobile that fortunately the hotel chosen is in Holborn, just 10 minutes walk away. Into the lions' den?

Every single board director is there. In mid August! Nigh impossible for any company. Representing Stuart Bayliss for the GARs is his partner Brian Philpot. The meeting is led by a professional facilitator, who chaired the three prior "compromise" meetings between action groups and Equitable's management.

But this is the first time chairman Vanni Treves or any members of his six new non-executive directors, just 4 months in situ, have participated. For obvious reasons I cannot describe the next three hours. But it is, as the joint press release later put it, "a frank exchange". I can assure readers that the board has definitely witnessed, if not heard, strong representations from policyholders at a time when the draft compromise proposal has not yet been finalised. And this specifically on behalf of the nonGARs and with-profits annuitants. We'll be invited back in a couple of weeks to hear, in confidence, the details of the compromise proposed.

I find the intensity of such meetings totally exhausting. Having helped draft the press release Liz and I leave together and have a wind-down chat in the lobby. I turn my mobile phone on. An astonishing 18 messages from the media in the four hours "off air".

I leave the hotel at about 7.30 pm into a balmy August night. I feel like a breath of air so I walk north listening to the journalists' messages wanting some real news about a real situation. There are five invitations to do broadcasts that night. But I am tired.

I meander up towards Euston. I phone my partner, Susan, who has had just as many calls at home. Please say, "Not tonight."

I walk the two more miles home, stopping only at Sainsbury's to pick up a pizza , which I enjoy with a glass of Chianti as the phone rings on and on - I confess unanswered.

I doubt I'll have another day like it. I hope I spoke persuasively for the majority ordinary policyholders like me who are not "fat cats". I have less invested in the Society than Vanni Treves apparently lost in the July 16th devaluation, but the Equitable is very important to me as my main pension provider. I became actively involved more than a year ago out of a sense of outrage at Alan Nash and John Sclater's behaviour and I just got drawn deeper and deeper into the process.

Sometimes it's just hard grind but sometimes it's great fun! Sitting across from John Humphries. Working alongside really talented committee colleagues. Getting calls from old friends who heard me on the radio yesterday morning. Delivering a letter to Number 10 Downing Street with Vincent Cable then coming home on an 88 bus. I'm no "Equitable patriot", I'm just "an ordinary Joe", and I'm doing my best to help secure a long-term future for our once-great Society.

Paul Braithwaite

Chairman of EMAG (Equitable Members' Action Group) www.emag.org.uk

Paul Braithwaite is a 54 year old entreprenneur who started a childrens educational shop, Fun Learning, seven years ago, after a career in marketing and advertising. He is chairman of EMAG, the independent, member-funded non-partisan action group that seeks, on behalf of ALL policyholder classes, to influence the Society and to ensure policyholders have all the information they need to make personal decisions.

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