Former envoy and hostage, Sir Terry Waite KCMG CBE, received a standing ovation at Somerset Chamber of Commerce’s annual business leaders’ dinner at The Castle at Taunton last Thursday.
Sir Terry spent four years of his 1,763 days in capacity being held in solitary confinement after he was abducted while negotiating for the release of Western hostages in Lebanon in the late 1980s.
Addressing around 40 business leaders from across Somerset, he recounted his experiences as a negotiator and a hostage and drew parallels with the current situation in Israel and Gaza.
Sir Terry said: “Every time I have been in these tough negotiating situations, the British Foreign Office has said to me you will never be able to talk to X, Y or Z, it’s impossible, you’ll never be able to do it and they always advised me not to do it. But I didn’t believe them and I was right not to believe them.
“I went out to see Gaddafi as he was illegally detaining innocent people. I was able to meet him. I was able to listen to him and I was able to discuss with him and I was able to bring these people home without payment or exchange largely because one worked on the personal element.
“One got to know him, got to try understand him, got to try and understand why he was doing this and that personal encounter was so important. It’s particularly important in the Arab world – if you make friends they will remain loyal to you.”
He secured the release of countless hostages and has since returned twice to the Lebanon and Beirut to lay to rest the ghosts of the past.
Emma Rawlings, Chief Executive of Somerset Chamber of Commerce and a personal friend of Sir Terry’s, said: “Terry is the humblest man and an absolutely, true gentlemen.
“I remember watching the news with my parents and seeing him coming off the plane when he was released and the relief my family and I felt.
“Terry now writes books, memoirs of his time in captivity and also children’s books, and in 2004 set up Hostage UK to support the families of hostages.”
The invitation-only business leaders’ dinner, which was sponsored by Chamber member The Visa Office, attracted key decision-makers from some of Somerset’s most influential employers.
They were able to meet for high-level networking before enjoying a three-course dinner.
Sir Terry is pictured (second from right) with dinner sponsors David and Louisa Faulkner-Bryant of The Visa Office and Somerset Chamber CEO, Emma Rawlings (second from left).