Glamour model, author, media personality and equestrian enthusiast Katie Price will totter into the august chambers of the Oxford Union Debating Society later today to deliver an address, putting her in a class of public speakers that includes Winston Churchill, the Dalai Lama and Henry Kissinger, all of whom have previously appeared at the Union’s lectern.
But while they’re a worthy bunch, they’re not the sort of speakers the Union’s really famous for. After all, we hear politicians waffling away every night on the news. No, the real stars of the Oxford Union are the eccentrics, rebels and outsiders who’ve ascended its dais.
In fact, all those scoffing at the idea of Price, a successful businesswoman and modern-day icon, speaking at such a prestigious institution would do well to remind themselves of some of the other seemingly unlikely characters who’ve held forth in years gone by…
Kermit the Frog – The first amphibious speaker in the Union’s history gave a talk in 1994 to a packed hall of students, while clad in a mortarboard and gown. “The responsibility of representing an entire species rests on my shoulders,” said the frog during his address. He also explained how biology had conspired to keep him out of higher education: “When I was a tadpole, I had over 4,000 brothers and sisters, so my parents couldn’t afford to send me to university… Like most frogs, I could have gone into biology and majored in dissection, but I wasn’t really cut out for that.”
David Icke – Conspiracy theorist and self-declared Son of God David Icke took the floor in 2008 to share his leftfield ideas about reality with the Union. He spent two hours telling students that humans are “holograms” and that the world is heading towards a “fascist dictatorship” or a “One World Government”, which apparently orchestrated 9/11. He also pulled the rug out from under the very Union itself, declaring in a fit of neoplatonist mysticism that the physical world is nothing but an illusion. Blimey!
Michael Jackson – Jacko spoke at the Union in 2001 and delivered a talk about child welfare to a packed auditorium. Trouper that he was, the singer refused to cancel his appearance despite having recently broken his foot. Which meant that, alas, the Union was denied the chance of an impromptu moonwalk or two from the King of Pop during his address.
Diego Maradona – The footballer with the Hand of God popped into the Union in 1995, promising a brief address but actually going on to speak at some length about his life and on-pitch career. Naturally, his audacious bit of cheating at the 1986 World Cup that knocked England out of the tournament was the focus of the students’ attention, but despite this particular blot on his copy book he was still dubbed “Master Inspirer of Oxford Dreams” at the event.
OJ Simpson – The fallen US football star headed to the Union in 1996 to deliver a 90-minute address designed to rehabilitate his public image after his acquittal for murder. He spoke of racism in the Los Angeles Police Department, apologised for hitting his wife and castigated the American news media during his speech, apparently proving so convincing a speaker that he managed to elicit such positive responses from those in attendance as this, from student Paula Taylor: “When you hear what he’s got to say about how racist the police were, you begin to believe him.”
Dana White – As president of the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship), the shaven-headed American is perhaps used to seeing people settle their disputes with fisticuffs instead of learned academic debate, but he shone during his address in 2010, elaborating on what had made UFC a billion-dollar concern and setting out his mission statement: “The end game is to create a sport. The most popular sport in the world.”
Richard Nixon – In 1975, foul-mouthed, disgraced ex-US president Tricky Dicky gave his first public speech to the Union since being booted out of the White House. Say what you will about the man himself or his underhanded professional life, at least he had the decency to admit his mistake to the assembled students, saying: “I screwed up – and I paid the price.”
David Blaine – Everyone’s favourite magician with a Tommy Chong drawl had the Union in the palm of his hand in 2003 when he pitched up to explain the meaning of his stunts and tricks to an adoring crowd of students. Though, sadly, he delivered his address quite sensibly from the Union’s floor, not dangling upside down in a Perspex box or anything…
Ron Jeremy – The world-famous porn star called in at the Union in 2005, while touring Britain to promote what was euphemistically called a “new technological product”. And while his X-rated career anecdotes raised smiles and blood pressures alike, he sadly failed to address why Bob Hoskins was cast ahead of him as the lead in the Super Mario Brothers movie.
Tinie Tempah – At only 21 years of age the rapper was probably younger than some of the students he addressed when he spoke at the institution in 2010, enlightening them on the ways in which his Peckham and Plumstead roots had informed his craft and looking the bees knees in a knitted turtleneck.
Quite the diverse array of personalities, I’m sure you’ll agree, and now Katie’s set to join their ranks. Best of luck to her! But one wonders just who the Union will invite to be its next speaker…