Press conferences in Hong Kong are strange affairs. If the subject being questioned is not a politician, the default position of journalists is wildly deferential.
Now I’m not saying that’s altogether a bad thing, it’s just odd and makes the one British journalist stand out as a bit of a… well… tough cookie.
So, I was the big bad journalist when interviewing Tom Dixon, the former creative director of high-street furniture chain Habitat, at Business of Design Week in Hong Kong the other week.
Mr Dixon seemed less than delighted to find that, amongst the throng of polite Hong Kong and Chinese journalists asking to impart the secrets of his success, there was a British scallywag questioning his sincerity about environmental issues.
He had been saying how bad it was that design was focused so heavily on consumer goods. I found it a bit rich coming from a man who continues to make his money from the sale of faddy furniture – much of which has a high plastic content – so I asked him whether he felt guilty about it.
He answered the question well enough admitting that he was a hypocrite, but that he was trying to do something about it by developing environmentally friendly furniture as creative director of Artek. Not groundbreaking for a man who has enough money and influence to do something really incredible, but certainly a start.
What I found totally unacceptable, however, was the conversation we had when the press conference came to a close.
I can’t remember how we got on to it, but he had mentioned something about working with motorcycle firm Triumph (which was founded in Coventry). The rest of the conversation is how I remember it, not having my notepad open at the time.
Me: Yes! Thank you very much, that might be a Midlands angle. I’m from The Birmingham Post you see and I’m looking out for Midlands-related stories while I’m over here.
TD: You are from Birmingham? I feel your pain.
Me: Actually, I really like the place.
TD: Really? Why? It’s got a terrible reputation for design.
Me: I think you’ll find there are a lot of good design companies in the city working really hard and they are helping to build up Birmingham’s reputation.
TD: Are they? Well… good for them.
The last comment was said in such a patronising tone it made my blood boil. But there isn’t much you can say when you’re fighting old, ingrained stereotypes. Admittedly, I should have asked him if he’d ever visited Birmingham, but instead, flustered and cross, I just walked off.
Now, I know there are good things going on in this city. Those who work in the creative industries in Birmingham also know there are good things going on. But time and time again in this job I am faced with people peddling this anachronistic image.
I suppose you could say it doesn’t matter what these people think. We know Birmingham has a lot to offer, if others aren’t interested they can sod off.
Well… yeah… but the problem is they do. They sod off to other cities in the UK and we lose out. Our situation is exacerbated by condemnation from influential figures such as Mr Dixon.
This annoys me because there is absolutely no concrete reason why this should happen, except because of an outdated image.
That’s why I’m obsessed with brand Birmingham. If ever a UK city gets undersold, it’s Brum.