When you live an alcohol-free life it can be a real challenge to find sober events that allow you to meet like minded people, experience new and exciting alcohol-free drinks and listen to incredible and inspirational speakers. These kind of events can serve as a great reminder that we aren’t alone on our journey, as well as being an opportunity to be able to have fun with other people who understand and embrace the alcohol-free lifestyle.
Well, I am pleased to say that the Club Soda Mindful Drinking Festival has all of this and a whole lot more.
Hosted by the incredible Laura Willoughby MBE, founder of Club Soda and all round sober superstar, the Mindful Drinking Festival is held at the Truman Brewery (brilliantly ironic, I know) near Brick Lane in a rather hip and trendy part of London.
I can’t begin to image how much work Laura and the Club Soda team put into organising the event, but all their time, passion and efforts certainly paid off with hundreds of sober and sober curious people visiting across the two days in January.
I was fortunate enough to spend some time with Laura when we both spoke at This Naked Mind Live in Denver and I found her to be an incredibly driven and highly likeable person (even though she enjoys insulting me at every opportunity – it’s part of her wonderful charm), I massively admire how much she has done to shift the culture of change around mindful drinking forward.
So when Laura invited me to speak at the Club Soda Mindful Drinking Festival in January 2020 I was incredibly honoured, I had never spoken about sobriety or my story on stage in the UK before and this was an opportunity I was not going to pass up on
My talk was on Saturday 18th January and I was over the moon when my wife and dad said they would come along with me, both of them drink moderately but they are becoming more and more curious about the sober-life and I was interested to see what they would think when they entered ‘my world’.
If you have read my book The Sober Survival Guide you will know that my dad and I fell out over a petty argument six years ago and didn’t see each other or speak for that entire time. I am pleased to say we have now healed the rift, largely due to my clear mind (and not being a stubborn arsehole any longer) from quitting drinking, so to have him come to the event really meant a lot to me.
When we arrived at the Truman Brewery the festival was packed and I was impressed to see how many more drinks brands where showing off their creations this year. The area where the speakers stage was located last year had been moved to another part of the building to make space for all the extra stalls, this just shows how awesome the UK alcohol-free drinks market has become. I truly believe here in the UK we have the best selection of zero-alcohol drinks and the Mindful Drinking Festival is without doubt the best place to sample them all.
I didn’t count how many stalls there were, but I am certain it was getting on for around one hundred! My wife, dad and I had great fun taste testing some incredible drinks and we enjoyed a few alcohol-free mocktails as well as a cold pint of zero-alcohol Ghost Ship ale, which was delicious.
Some of my drink highlights were:
- An Elegant Fusion – loved their candyfloss zero-alcohol prosecco cocktails.
- Adnams Ales
- Nine Elms Drinks
- Abstract Flavour – loved their basil lemonade!
- Double Dutch
- Heyday Mate
Zero-alcohol prosecco cocktails with candyfloss on top from An Elegant Fusion.
Across the weekend the event is jam packed with masterclasses, panel talks and tasting sessions. All in an incredibly friendly environment where there is no judgement or pressure. I talked to several people who were drinkers who had come along out of interest and they told me they felt totally at ease and were excited by how cool the sober-revolution had become.
There were many big names in the ‘sober-influencer’ world (or heroes as I like to call them) mingling around the event too, so it is a great opportunity to have a chat and grab a selfie with the people who have inspired you on your journey.
It was great to see:
- Mandy Manners and Kate Baily from Love Sober
- Janey Lee-Grace – Sober Club Podcast
- Sober Dave – Instagram Legend
- Milly Gooch – Sober Girl Society
- Amy Louise Harding-Smith – All round sober legend and an upcoming author in the making!
- Clemmie Telford – Honestly Podcast
- Alex Sam Walker – Sober Experiment
- and Stephanie Chivers
To name just a few! I didn’t get a chance to say hello to all of them, I wish I had allowed myself more time.
Me and the inspirational Janey-Lee Grace from the Sober Club Podcast.
As you may well know, I tend to get a little nervous before I speak on stage, my wife kept reminding me that nerves are a good thing but I didn’t want them to spoil the day so I was trying to distract myself ahead of my allotted speaking slot on the Motivation Stage. So I was really pleased when several members of the Be Sober group and the Alcohol Experiment came and introduced themselves to me, it took my mind away from my upcoming talk. It was wonderful to hear their stories and share our sober journeys together, I wish I could have had more time to spend talking to everyone as the personal connections were one of the highlights for me.
As the time for my talk got closer, I headed over to the Motivation Stage to prepare. Due to the growth of the festival this year the talks were being held in another room called the Dray Walk Gallery. I watched Stephanie Chivers captivate the audience as she was talking about how to stay connected when you are alcohol-free before it was my turn to take to the stage.
In the couple of months ahead of the festival I had been practising my talk on an almost daily basis and felt like I had it nailed, however I was slightly concerned that all the practice might make me sound like an alcohol-free robot and I wanted the ‘real-me’ to come across when I spoke. The Club Soda event is also quite laid back and informal and I had prepped for this rather like I was going to do a TED Talk, I started to worry if I had over-prepared.
Before long I was introduced onto the stage and couldn’t believe that the room was almost full. I had to take a moment to comprehend that all these people were here to listen to me, a normal guy who gave up drinking but isn’t afraid to share his story. It sent a tingle down my spine.
I had taken my notes with me and had them to my side on the stage, but as I started to speak I found that everything was coming from the heart and I wasn’t reading from my notes, I talked about how alcohol had impacted my anxiety and prevented me from living my best life and that since I had found freedom how my life had changed in so many incredible and wonderful ways. I also shared some tips for success in sobriety that worked for me and I hope they served to give some of the audience actionable tactics they can use themselves.
I was rather pleased that I didn’t see anyone leave during my talk, I think that may have put me off my stride and I only noticed one person yawning!
My super sober-friend Mandy Manners who is the co-founder of Love Sober (check them out) was in the front row and she really helped calm my nerves, I just pretended that I was speaking to her and it helped put me at ease, thanks Mandy, you are a star!
Mandy Manners from Love Sober – thanks for calming my nerves!
Then something happened…halfway through the talk I was sharing how my son had faced some challenges around his gender and sexuality and that I felt I had been the best dad I can be in the circumstances because I no longer drink. As I spoke the emotion of it all washed over me, I could feel it choking me up and guess what…I cried, right there on the stage.
Me on the stage – before I cried!
Thankfully the audience didn’t think I was a complete lunatic for crying, in fact they seemed to share the emotion and broke into applause, which was incredibly touching.
The talk seemed to be over in a flash, even though I went over my allotted time. Apologies to the Club Soda team for that, I could see them out of the corner of my eye reaching for a long hook to yank me off the stage so the next speaker could come on.
So my talk didn’t go quite as planned, it wasn’t what I had practised over and over at home. But it was from my heart, it was true and I felt like it resonated with many people in the room for that reason.
You can watch my talk in full below.
Once my talk was over we had an hour to spare around the main festival hall and took the opportunity to talk to more people and enjoy some more excellent drinks. I also checked out the book stand and felt very proud to see my book available for people to buy.
The Sober Survival Guide – my book on the bookstand – felt rather surreal.
I headed home feeling emotionally drained but incredibly happy that my talk went down well with everyone. The fact my wife and my dad were there to see me speak just made it all the better.
I don’t know of any other mindful drinking events like this one, it has a unique vibe and they have completely nailed it. It caters for people who have been sober for years through to current drinkers and the sober-curious all in a venue that feels like it was purpose made for the event.
If you have never been to the Mindful Drinking Festival, make the effort, you won’t regret it and will come away feeling super-charged about sobriety. I honestly thing this is the best in class sober event in
London, the UK – actually – the WORLD!
You can find out more by visiting the Mindful Drinking Festival website here.