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Rochester toastmaster Ken Tappenden shares his Nelson Mandela memories

10 December 2013
by Medway Messenger reporter

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela

As thousands of people gather in Johannesburg for a memorial service for Nelson Mandela, a Rochester toastmaster has shared his memories of meeting him. 

Mr Tappenden had been booked to appear at a Jewish function at the Park Lane Hotel in London in the 1990s but was unaware until he arrived at the venue that such an important speaker had been booked.

Mr Tappenden, a former police chief superintendent, said: “I didn’t know Nelson Mandela would be there when I was booked by the Board of Deputies of British Jews. The event was a sell-out.

“I got my brief when I arrived. It was only then I discovered I had to introduce him to the stage after the starter as he had a 14-minute slot to make his speech.

“He was with three bodyguards and he came on stage and I had to stand behind him for that time.”

However, his speech went on for longer and Mr Tappenden, 75, says it was the most gripping thing he has ever listened to.

He added: “I was just standing there behind him and he never stopped talking, it was the most gripping talk I’ve ever heard.

“It was about finding peace during apartheid and how he turned hatred into peace.

“Some people in the audience were crying, it was so moving.”

After the speech Mr Tappenden says lots of people left the event and did not stay for their main course, as he presumed they had just come to hear Mr Mandela talk.

Toastmaster Ken Tappenden

Toastmaster Ken Tappenden

Mr Tappenden added: “This man was locked up for 27 years and 17 of them he was kept in solitary confinement. How he kept his sanity is beyond me.

“He was so peaceful, it was like he had powers of the Lord.

“It was interesting when he did come off stage.

“He had a little glint in his eye and he touched my shoulder, shook my hand and said thank you very much.

“It was like he was saying, thanks for letting me speak for so long – I’ll never forget it.

“The man was an inspiration to this world.”

US President Barack Obama, Cuban President Raul Castro and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will address the service at a stadium in Johannesburg today, as will four of Mr Mandela's grandchildren.

The country is observing a series of commemorations leading up to the funeral on Sunday.

A minute's applause for Nelson Mandela at Notts County V Gillingham

A minute's applause for Nelson Mandela at Notts County V Gillingham

A prayer station has been set up in the Lady Chapel at Rochester Cathedral for people who want to say a prayer for the former South African president, who died aged 95 last Thursday.

Services held over the weekend also paid tribute to him and Gillingham players held a minute's applause with Notts County ahead of their game on Saturday. 




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