Profile: Phil Talbot, British Red Cross

Phil Talbot says one of his claims to fame is that he persuaded his former boss Anita Roddick to enjoy horseracing. By the end of a charity race night, he recalls, the animal rights activist was ‘standing on a table and yelling "go on my son!"'

There is a playful side to Talbot but this is combined with a steely professional calm - crucial in co-ordinating comms for the British Red Cross around its relief effort after the Asian tsunami just over a year ago.

On Boxing Day 2004, he received the ultimate wake-up call. He got up at 5am as the phone started ringing, and by 10am held his first teleconference.

Among calls from international partners in south-east Asia was one from British Red Cross fundraising director Mark Astarita, who happened to be on holiday in Sri Lanka. Astarita managed to contact the office from his hotel while knee-deep in water just before being evacuated.

'It soon become obvious this was going to require a major response,' Talbot recalls. 'The death rate kept rising, from hundreds, to thousands, to tens of thousands. It was all hands on deck.'

Dealing with disasters is what the British Red Cross is designed for, so being in emergency response mode is normal to a certain extent, he says.

He was on call 24/7 as his team geared up for the relief effort, helping assess the situation overseas and making plans for how to spend money raised in the appeal (currently £86m).

A year on, Talbot says dealing with the aftermath of the tsunami has taught him above all that his staff must get enough rest during a crisis and that donors are kept up to date.

'People continue to donate to our appeals,' he adds. 'They trust us to respond and spend money wisely.'

Surprisingly, and despite admitting a lack of interest in the subject, Talbot studied for a degree in electrical engineering. But he says he has always possessed a keen sense of adventure and an interest in international affairs.

At 18 he hitchhiked around South Africa and Zimbabwe for a year. He also went backpacking in Asia after university 'before it was what everybody did. It seemed like a normal thing to do; I had a sense of adventure'.

Talbot says his experience of apartheid in South Africa, and of civil war in Zimbabwe, had a big influence on him. The shock and anger of witnessing apartheid first hand, he reveals, is something that has stayed with him ever since: 'Once I was travelling with four Asian guys, and when we stopped at the services we had to use different bathrooms.'

Despite his travelling experience and concern for human rights, a lifelong interest in horseracing took Talbot into the betting world and gave him entry to the PR industry.

He joined Ladbroke Racing as PR manager at a time of boom for the ambling industry. He was charged with promoting the fact that there was much more on which to gamble than just dogs and horses - from the weather to the next pope. 'It was fun but after three years I wanted a change,' he says.

Talbot also worked at the Body Shop - an organisation he admired for its 'ethos and quirkiness' - for eight years in the UK and Australia, before he broke into the voluntary sector via the NSPCC in 1999. This was just prior to the charity's launch of its Full Stop campaign, which Talbot characterises as one of the biggest campaigns the sector has seen in terms of scope and budget.

It is difficult to imagine Talbot becoming easily stressed. But he does find it difficult to switch off from work when he leaves the office. 'My five-year-old helps distract me,' he says.

Another distraction from work is his love of real ale. The 45-year-old is a member of the Campaign for Real Ale and pledges, jokingly, to grow a beard and smoke a pipe when he is older. He also enjoys rummaging in boxes for second-hand vinyl, and reading in his 'book room' (aka the shed).

Every weekend Talbot has a 'flutter on the gee gees', but claims he is unable to give any useful tips: 'I wouldn't be sat here if I could,' he laughs.

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