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A couple of weeks ago, I attended a somewhat surreal event in the grounds of Tatton Park in Cheshire. The surreality was down to the list of speakers - Peter Mandelson, Rory Bremner, Max Clifford and Neil Armstrong.

Now, having the first man to walk on the moon as your lead speaker is quite a draw, even if it means braving the dual horrors of Virgin Trains and Warrington Bank Quay Station. The other star name – Mikhail Gorbachev – had cried off, citing a pressing engagement in Kazakhstan, but Armstrong was enough to hold the day together.

Having paid £250 a head for the pleasure, delegates at the North West Business Convention would not unreasonably have expected the great man to reminisce about his time on the moon – ‘No, it wasn’t faked in a TV studio in Houston’, etc. Instead, they were treated to a boring discourse on the history of manned flight.

Given that big name speakers command between £50,000 and £70,000 per engagement, he could have made a bit more effort.

The only good bit was when he described an earlier mission in which he splashed down near Japan while his recovery ship was waiting in the Caribbean.

But, as many people like to point out, the astronauts were chosen for their robotic skills, not their back-slapping bonhomie.

With Max Clifford to coach him, Armstrong could have made millions from his legacy. Instead, he lives modestly at his home in Ohio. ‘Buzz’ Aldrin, the other Apollo 11 astronaut who made it to the moon’s surface, is quite the opposite – extrovert and funny.

It is a bit like Sandie Shaw, the 1960’s singer, who flies into a rage when anyone mentions Puppet on a string. Armstrong is a great man – just don’t mention the moon.

  • Jon Ashworth is business features editor at The Times.

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