Backstage at TEDx Bucharest


Watch Nick’s talk on YouTube 

Romania’s Palace of the Parliament is designed to intimidate. Twelve stories tall, with 1,100 rooms decked in a million cubic meters of Transylvanian marble, it was originally built by the Ceaușescu regime at a cost of 3 billion euros.

I first took a tour of its vast, echoing halls about ten years ago when I was in Bucharest on a story for the Guardian, and could only imagine how this opulent white elephant (the chandeliers and lights alone required 3500 tonnes of crystal) must have seemed like a raised middle finger to Romania’s struggling people.

800px-Palatul_Parlamentului_1bSo it was strange and wonderful to return this winter and find its symbolism transformed by a new generation of social entrepreneurs and visionaries, gathering for TEDxBucharest. In contrast to the hollow excess of Ceaușescu’s residency, the theme for the conference was Driven by Meaning, focusing on the way in which “brave people can create positive change while following their true desires, principles and values”.

You can see my take on that theme in my talk on YouTube here. If you like it, please do share it around (and check out my books for an expansion of the themes). It was an experience I’ll never forget, made more terrifying by the customary TED time limit of 20 minutes and lack of a script. But the 1000-strong audience were also one of the warmest I’ve known, characteristic of the global TED ethos of positivity and potential, and found that once I got started, I lost my fear and loved every adrenaline-charged minute.


If by some miracle you haven’t yet stumbled on the concept of TED talks, you’re in for a treat. More likely, you’ll already have your favourites. But do check out my fellow speakers at TEDxBucharest as they go online. (I’ve linked to the ones already online as I write this).

I was particularly moved by Tom Andreassen, who told stories of life-changing encounters with people on the margins of society, and Marcus Orlovsky, whose vision of education and children’s potential chimed in brilliantly with my Damascene experience of Summerhill School.

For some mind-bending glimpses of the future, check out pioneering keyhole surgeon Adrian Lobontiu (whose robot arms enable him to operate on your heart from a another country), freight logistics guru Benoit Montreuil (inventing an eco-friendly “physical internet”) and astrophysicist Aurora Simionescu, who brought unusual clarity to our vast universe by way of Sherlock Holmes. Other highlights included a hardcore motorbike odyssey around Africa, a stand-up comic’s dissection of the weirdness of laughter, a grassroots social activist dressed as a superhero, and an unforgettable evocation of Neanderthal singing.

Oh, and don’t miss the motivational big bang of Andrei Tudose, who also videoed our chat about happiness the following day.


The people running this huge event were truly lovely people with real passion for change – a heartening example of Romania’s antidote to the Ceaușescu era. Thanks to all of you.

And to Stephen D’Souza and his inspiring TEDx2011 talk in Praise of the Ordinary, who got me involved in the first place.

Photos by: Tiberiu Minzu

Posted on: 23 Jan 2013 in Adrift in Caledonia, Books, Eight Men and a Duck, Features, The writing life, Urban Worrier

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