To many, the Union is best known for its high profile speaker events. From politics to religion; science to the Arts, we have hosted a diversity of world leaders, some inspiring, others controversial. Our members are given the chance to meet their heroes, and challenge those with whom they disagree. We do not pay speakers to visit, they accept our invitations because of how unique and prestigious our historic platform is.
From Lloyd George, to Winston Churchill, right up to David Cameron, the Union has hosted Britain’s most important and influential policy-makers. our political speakers are from right across the spectrum: Tony Benn, Jeremy Corbyn, Nigel Farage, Nick Clegg, David Miliband, Theresa May, Sir John Major, and Alex Salmond have all made rousing speeches here. Senator Robert Kennedy’s visit in the 1960s blazed a trail for America’s political heavyweights; since, we have hosted John McCain, Nancy Pelosi; Secretaries of State, Madeleine Albright, Henry Kissinger, and John Kerry; as well as, Presidents Nixon, Carter, and Reagan: it was at the Oxford Union where President Nixon first publicly apologised for the Watergate scandal.
Many other international heads of State and Government have made their mark here including, Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharaff, Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai, and Australian Prime Ministers John Howard and Kevin Rudd. Many ontroversial politicians have made headlines at the Union; we’ve seen Gerry Adams propose the reunification of Ireland, Colonel Gaddafi arguing for a new African Union via a live video stream linked to our chamber, and more recently, Marine Le Pen trying to rebut accusations of xenophobia within her party.
Pioneers of Science
In addition to fictional scientific heroes like Star Trek’s George Takei, we’ve hosted those who have genuinely gone boldly where no-one has gone before, Buzz Aldrin being just one. Since Prof. Albert Einstein’s historic visit in 1933, we’ve gone on to host: Prof. Stephen Hawking, Prof. Richard Dawkins, Prof. John Ellis, Lord Robert Winston, Dame Jade Goodall, Simon Singh and Baroness Greenfield. Often these talks are followed by book signings, and therefore an opportunity to meet the speaker.
For hundreds of years, Oxford has been a home for innovation; our speakers certainly reflect this with multiple tech billionaires having engaged with our most aspiring students. Some recent examples being: Alexis Ohanian, Jack Dorsey, Peter Thiel, and Eric Schmidt.
We’ve also played host to a number of business moguls, as well as television entrepreneurs, including: Stephen A. Schwarman, Lord Alan Sugar, Deborah Meaden, and Theo Paphitis. In addition to these speaker meetings, we’ve also hosted multiple networking and information events such as the JP Morgan Panel and the CapitOx Conference.
Stars of Music
In 2001, Michael Jackson chose the Union to make his first public speech in over a decade, whilst this time last year Sir Elton John flew in to discuss Putin, gay rights and his stellar career in front of a packed out chamber. In recent times A$AP Rocky, Tom Odell, Marina Diamandis, Akala, Mark Ronson and Shakira have all spoken. Indeed, our members are often treated to intimate concerts: Hozier, James Blunt, KT Tunstall, Ne-Yo, and Snow Patrol each delivered intimate performances in the chamber when they visited.
In one of the more comical controversies of recent times, our chamber has borne witness to FIFA President Sepp Blatter impersonating Cristiano Ronaldo, inspiring an online frenzy and a reaction from the player himself. Along with footballing royalty such as Diego Maradona, Edwin van der Sar and Sir Geoff Hurst the Union has hosted Rugby World Cup Winners Lawrence Dallaglio and Will Greenwood, cricket superstars Brian Lara, Andrew Strauss, boxing legends Vitali Klitschko and George Foreman as well as Wimbledon king, Boris Becker.
During his recent visit to the Union, Stephen Fry delivered an Oscar Wilde-infused account of his own life, eliciting tears of laughter from a captivated audience. Imperilled author Salman Rushdie, late great architect Dame Zaha Hadid and literary legend Phillip Pullman have all given equally enthralling talks. From journalism, we have been joined by such luminaries as Sir Michael Parkinson, Jon Snow, Nick Robinson, Andrew Neill, David Aaronovitch, and former editor in chief of the Observer, Will Hutton.
Stage and Screen
From veteran thespians to Hollywood’s giants, when it comes to esteemed actors the Union’s record is remarkable. We have heard from Dame Vanessa Redgrave, Morgan Freeman, Johnny Depp, Dame Judi Dench, Sir Michael Gambon, Emma Watson, Mark Hamill, Natalie Portman, Zach Braff and many more. However, this is not just an opportunity to ask about their latest blockbuster: in one of the most riveting talks to date, Sir Ian McKellen described, with a dramatic presence of which only a Shakespearean stage actor of his calibre would be capable, his lifelong support for the gay rights movement in the United Kingdom, whilst Vanessa Redgrave affirmed her burning support for refugees the world over in light of recent events.