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Charley Chau at No. 10 Downing Street

Charley Chau at No. 10 Downing Street

Wow! It’s not every day that one is invited to drinks with the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, and Chancellor of the Exchequer, Jeremy Hunt, at No. 10 Downing Street. What an amazing experience.

Invitation to Downing Street
An email arrived a couple of weeks ago, completley out of the blue, with an invitation to a drinks reception at Downing Street!

How? Why? You might ask? The drinks were organised by the Prime Minister’s events team and the Great British Entrepreneur Awards (GBEA). Jenny and I were named Family Business Entrepreneurs of the Year 2018 and GBEA kindly asked me to join their judging panel which I have been part of ever since, but I was still gobsmacked to be invited to this reception.

Charley Chau Snuggle Bed in Velour Teal
Jenny and I launched Charley Chau in 2010 with just one dog bed - our signature Snuggle Bed, shown here in Velour Teal. It was meant to be a quirky little hobby, but we now have a gorgeous collection of luxe dog beds and stylish dog blankets to suit all breeds of dogs, and customers in over 60 countries around the world! Our human custotmers are range from baronesses and billionaires to ordinary dog folk just like us, but they all have one thing in common - they want the absolute best for their dogs and that's why they choose Charley Chau. 

After a weekend of stressing about what to wear (my daily work wardrobe at Charley Chau is usually jeans and trainers – heels and a warehouse are just not natural partners), I hopped on a train to London and made a beeline for Westminster. At 6pm I duly made my way along Whitehall, past the Cenotaph, and up to the imposing iron gates at the top of Downing Street, armed with my invitation and ID. The police officer on the gate found my name on the invite list and I was ushered through to the gates and then went through a security check.

Wow! I couldn't believe I was actually in Downing Street!

I emerged from the security check and it was surreal - looking down an empty Downing Street. I wandered down the street to the door of No. 10 where a member of Downing Street staff welcomed me into a large entrance hall and asked me to switch off my phone and leave it in a cubby hole as all guests at Downing Street are required to do. It may sound silly but it was rather charming to see rows and rows of mobile phones just sat in this ancient wooden shelving unit.

Down a long hallway deep into the back of the building – I had been told No. 10 is a tardis and it really is huge. Then up the iconic main staircase, the yellow walls lined with engravings and photographic portraits of previous Prime Ministers, hung in chronological order. It was a moment that will be imprinted in my memory forever.

Drinks were held in the Pillared Room, apparently the largest of three drawing rooms at No. 10, and the room looked familiar – see dancing Prime Minister from Love Actually! There were around 100 British entrepreneurs gathered for drinks from all walks of life, running businesses across all kinds of sectors, from hugely successful to tiny little businesses like Charley Chau. It was quite something to be in a room with so many entrepreneurial superstars and I had a strong feeling of imposter syndrome in that “what on earth am I doing here?” kind of way.

Christine at No. 10 Downing StreetChristine at No. 10 Downing Street

The Chancellor gave a charming speech welcoming us to Downing Street and shared some insights into his own entrepreneurial background – three failed businesses before finally founding a hugely successful digital publishing business. The Chancellor’s main theme was resilience, acknowledging just how hard it is to take the risk to set up a business and then to have to deal with all of the challenges it brings, and to be able to get up and get going again even when the challenges seem insurmountable.  It’s definitely something Jenny and I have experienced even with a small business like Charley Chau so it was great to see that someone so important at the heart of Government has real insight into just how hard it is to run a business.

The Prime Minister also made a speech – warm, upbeat and thanking the business owners in the room for the contribution that entrepreneurs of all shapes and sizes make to the British economy.

I’m not one for business networking events generally – I find rooms filled with people very nerve-racking – but I was so thrilled to meet so many inspiring people last night. I lost count of the number of times that I started chatting to someone to discover I had their product in my home or had used one of their services – mind boggling really - but I was also gobsmacked and proud that most dog people in the room already knew of Charley Chau.

It has been almost thirteen years since we founded our tiny business - we've had a huge amount of fun doing what we do but there’s been a lot of hard work too, and my overwhelming memory of drinks at No. 10 will be how lovely it was to see the determination and hard work of so many British entrepreneurs recognised in Downing Street. My only regret is that I didn't get to meet Nova the Labrador or Larry the Cat! 

The Great British Entrepreneur Awards 2023 are now open for entries! Find out more about GBEA >

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