I first visited Las Vegas in July 1989 when I travelled by Greyhound bus across the US after quitting my corporate career. I got the bus from Albuquerque to Vegas and then to San Francisco after that. I had a plan – to spend 48 hours in Las Vegas, hate it, judge it, and vow never to go back again and tick it off my list.
What actually happened was that I quite liked Las Vegas. I loved the endless breakfast buffets for a few dollars. I loved all the entertainment. I even enjoyed some of the tackiness of it. I even went to see Tom Jones live at Caesar’s Palace and love it too, (and yes, women did throw underwear at him!) So after 48 hours, I had many of my perceptions thrown up in the air, I’d enjoyed myself and wondered if I would ever get to return.
Fast forward to 2001, and I had become friends with the American writer and educator Barbara Winter, author of the best-selling, Making a Living Without a Job. She was living in Minneapolis at the time, but we had met in London and ran events in London and Denver together.
Then Barbara invited me to her sixtieth birthday party. There was only one drawback – it was in Las Vegas. It was an unusual invitation. Did I really want to go back? Did I really want to fly from London to Las Vegas for a birthday party? I had never done that before! But when she also offered to use some of her air-miles to help me get there, I consulted Helen, and I said yes.
I had a lovely few days there with Barbara and her friends, and discovered that it was almost literally a new city. Another whole part had been built a few miles from the old city that I had visited 12 years earlier. Now it was even more grand and glitzy with new hotels, even more entertainment, and to my delight, several Cirque du Soleil shows. I fell in love with the fountains outside the Bellagio Hotel and we went to see the Cirque du Soleil show “O” at the Bellagio and I was moved to tears by its beauty and artistry. I loved the Dale Chihuli glassworks in the Bellagio reception.
As we wandered around, Barbara said, “Wouldn’t it be fun to run a programme together here?”
Fast forward another six months and Barbara and I were backing in Vegas running a three day programme together. We attracted a group of students mainly from the USA, but a few came from UK and Europe too.
On day one of the programme, it suddenly dawned on me – for the rest of my life I would be able to say “I was Live in Las Vegas!” That thought made me giggle. If I could go back and talk to the young boy I was and tell him that one day he would be “Live in Las Vegas!” he would never have believed me. I felt thrilled.
When we went to see the Cirque show Mystere at the Treasure Island hotel, I got pulled out of the audience and was on stage actually in the show for about ten minutes, so I can also say I appeared with Cirque du Soleil Live in Las Vegas too!
I had no interest in the excesses of drinking, gambling or drugs but there something else was pivotal about my visits there too. It was this: Las Vegas awakened something in me. From my British suburban restrained background, I enjoyed the boldness and audacity of the place, the sheer size of the creative expression there. People didn’t censor themselves in Vegas or play small. It helped me see that so many of my limits were self-imposed and self-perpetuated. No-one had ever encouraged me to be bold or audacious, quite the opposite. Las Vegas is no place for dreaming small. It awoke in me something about dreaming big and encouraged me not to limit my dreams.
This is another story from my forthcoming book Pivotal Moments due to be published by the end of 2015