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A great spiritual leader delivers a powerful message in Yorkshire. Chris Titley is there to hear it Photographs by Joan Russell
They were every bit the celebrity entourage. A frantic gaggle of security men, PRs, personal assistants and officials. Some jabbed at their mobiles, others waved away members of the public or glanced ostentatiously at their watch to make it clear: were on a timetable here, people. Anyone who has watched one of those shows documenting the daily routine of Katie Price or the like would have recognised it as a typical example of the modern showbiz retinue.
Yet in the centre of the scrum wasnt an ex-model with a jewellery range to flog. In fact it wasnt a celebrity at all, although he has one of the most recognisable faces in the world. This was an elderly gentleman in red and yellow robes, whose eyes twinkled behind unflashy spectacles. It was the Dalai Lama.
While the immediate world around him seemed to be in a perpetual spiral of movement, he remained the calm centre, the only figure who stayed in focus against the blurred human backdrop.
Those of us gathered at the Yorkshire International Business Convention could scarcely believe it. The Tibetan spiritual leader, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, one of the worlds few genuine statesmen, was among us in a marquee fastened to a muddy patch of ground behind a hotel in Leeds.
The Dalai Lama was on a tight schedule, though you wouldnt have known it. He gave his time to everyone, from the schoolchildren who greeted him at the gate to myriad TV camera crews.
He was also at the centre of a political storm, after China threatened to pull its athletes out of their Leeds Olympic training camp in protest at his visit; a threat which put the Chinese-courting city council into quite a pickle.
But this is a man who has been at the centre of a political storm ever since he was recognised as the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama at the age of two, and particularly after China invaded Tibet when he was 14. He dismissed the threatened Chinese boycott as almost routine.
He was in Leeds at the invitation of city MP Fabian Hamilton, chairman of the all-party parliamentary group for Tibet, and Mike Firth who founded the convention, and had been asked to talk on the subject of ethics in business.
To add to the slightly surreal air of the day, His Holiness followed former Olympic gold medallist Steve Cram on to the stage. Introduced by TV presenter Clare Balding, the Dalai Lama who turns 77 this month shunned the offer of a chair, saying he needed the exercise after spending five hours meditating.
And then he told the gathering of business leaders, who had paid the best part of 300 for their ticket, that greed, speculation and ignorance had created the economic crisis.
Occasionally turning to his translator to find the right word, he talked of the huge gap between rich and poor here, in the US, and globally.
This was not only morally wrong, but practically wrong. How to put things right? With trust, transparency and respect for one another.
Those in business had to develop the self-confidence to deal with others in a transparent and truthful way.
Millions of Tibetans consider the Dalai Lama to be a living god.
It is a burden he carries lightly, telling the assembly: I am just an ordinary human being. But when I meet people I want truth, honesty that brings more friends Be proud to be transparent.
Inner peace, self confidence and compassion would help people make better decisions. A calm mind is very important in order to carry our human intelligence properly, he said. If your mind is too much disturbed by emotion, anger, at that moment you cant utilise your intelligence properly because your mind is already biased.
Although delivering a serious message, the Dalai Lama drew laughter on several occasions during his address, including when he unbuttoned his robe from the shoulder and told delegates they should shed a layer or two in the humid heat.
Afterwards we were granted a few minutes with the Dalai Lama. He greeted each delegation of journalists with grace and charm and answered every question at length, despite the anxious checks of the watch from those who were attempting to keep him on schedule.
His Holiness has visited more than 60 countries, so I asked him what insight he had gained from such extensive travels. The Dalai Lama recalled his first trip to Europe in 1973.
The BBC correspondent in Delhi, Mark Tully, he asked me what I think. Then I discover, I consider myself a citizen of the world. He gives out a great chuckle.
Wherever I go, I always have the view or feeling basically, we are the same. Emotionally, mentally, even physically.
So therefore, whenever I meet people of different culture, different country, different race, different religion, I do not look at the differences. I always look at it as we are the same human beings. Then no barrier.
So when I talk to a few people, like here, or talk to 100 people or 1,000 people, 10,000 people, 100,000 people, no differences. Same humans.
One benefit, according to my own experience, we talk and eventually we come very close to each other. So I think they have some benefit. Myself also feel very happy.
Despite the oppression of his people and the major problems of the world, the Dalai Lama exudes a sense of unshakeable optimism. Looking through my notes I notice he uses the word eventually quite regularly. As the 14th incarnation in a line which dates back 600 years, the Dalai Lama is able to take a much longer term view than most.
Answering another question, he says we must all realise we are part of the one humanity. Now the time has gone for the me world me, me, me. Now we should think us. The whole world should be part of us.
I helped him up from his chair and the Dalai Lama left to meet the maelstrom that awaited him outside.