I’ve recently finished reading Claire Tomalin’s biography of Charles Dickens. It is an excellent book, far more engaging than a weighty literary biography ought to be. I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of Dickens in London. Tomalin does a great job bringing to life the Victorian London he would have known. The description of the period of his childhood when he had to go out to work, walking the intimidating streets, weaving through the jostling crowds or looking out the windows of the blacking factory, is just one of the parts that has stuck in my mind.
Since my last blog, the Lord Mayor of London visited Sydney. He is not the Mayor of London – but instead “Lord Mayor” – in particular, an Ambassador for the professional services based in “The City” or Square Mile (or perhaps “the CBD”to Australian readers). And it isn’t a new job – David Wootton is the 684th Lord Mayor. When I asked my youngest what he knew of the job of Lord Mayor, he sagely said, “He’s got a cat”. For those who don’t know, this is a reference to the most famous mayor, Dick Whittington, who was reputed to have made his fortune by giving his cat to a ship’s captain. The cat caught the rats that were terrorising the court of a foreign king – who rewarded the captain with riches, that he (very honestly I always thought) passed on to Dick on return. The picture books of that story were a staple for many British children. Mr Wooton’s trip didn’t involve cats (although he did mention that there is a statue to the cat in London); but instead followed a packed schedule promoting the professional services of the UK. It was interesting to hear him talking about London as a centre of legal services, and the opening of the new Rolls Building; not least as we’ve had various UK legal practices establish a presence in Sydney in the last 18 months.
In recent weeks we’ve also hosted the prize giving for our Go UK competition, at the Sydney Opera House. We had around 90 entries from across Australia and New Zealand, all competing for the prize of flights to the UK, assistance with professional introductions and accounting support from our sponsors [British Airways, Kevin Beare & Co. Chartered Accountants and Alan MacKelworth & Co Ltd]. We were delighted with the quality of entries we received. The Sydney prize winner was The Loop, delighting its founders Pip Jamieson and Matt Fayle. It was great to do interviews with them afterwards, and hear about their ambitious plans to grow their business in the UK. And it was a great night for promoting the UK more broadly through our GREAT campaign. (If you live in Sydney or Melbourne I hope you’ve seen the advertising which we hope will inspire more Australians to visit Britain this year.)
As part of the Go UK evening, we unveiled new GREAT advertising featuring Frank Lowy, who has of course demonstrated how Australian investors can succeed in the UK, creating vital jobs for our economy. We’ll be using these posters to catch the eye of other potential Australian inward investors, to encourage them to achieve business success by growing their business in the UK. We were delighted to have so many people along to our event. I’m sure the image of the red double decker bus next to the Opera House (above) will stay in many people’s minds for quite some time. You can see some of the pictures on our flickr site and find out more about The Loop at its website.
And, of course, in the last few weeks we’ve also celebrated 100 days to go until the start of the London Olympics. It was great to see the events taking place in Brisbane involving hopefuls, and to see so many Australians getting excited about the Games. I was delighted to host a small event to launch the British Business Club, an online platform where companies can register their interest in finding out about business events taking place in the margins of the Games. Of course, we hope some will go on to invest in the UK.
I’m now in London and there is a real buzz about the place. In the last hour I’ve seen: the Evening Standard newspaper banner countdown to the Games, posters around the city, ad’s on the tube telling people how they can help make the city beautiful for visitors, someone wearing the logo as a badge and promotional items in a newsagents. Even in a city that is so cosmopolitan and a crossroads of the world, this is something special. I saw that London has just come top of a poll as the city most international tourists want to visit. I’m not really surprised.
My several weeks of work described above made me remember again how many people have an idea of what London is – and that those ideas can be remarkably varied. It is the city of Dickens that Tomalin describes. Of tradition embodied by children’s stories like Dick Whittington. It is the City that is the Global hub of financial services. It is a music hub, a football venue, a creative dynamo or the cultural capital of the world. For a whole generation, it is a vital part of Harry Potter’s story (soaring on dragons over Diagon Alley), and for another generation, the hub of James Bond’s world. And people I meet can have clear views on what London is, even if they haven’t been there. It is fascinating that London can be so well known, and for so many things. It is great that it is also getting a reputation as somewhere that can put on one of the world’s biggest events on time and on budget too.