Belfast Telegraph

Friday 11 July 2014

Thanks a million Lady Gaga. You hit the right note at MTV EMA

BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - NOVEMBER 06: Singer Lady Gaga receives the award for Best Female from actor David Hasselhoff onstage during the MTV Europe Music Awards 2010 live show at at the Odyssey Arena on November 6, 2011 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Dave Benett/Getty Images)

A very big thank you to Lady Gaga and all the many international artists who participated in the MTV Awards in Belfast. The event has put the city on the map for reasons that are positive and very different to its reputation in the past.

By music and song, the artists made a significant contribution to peace and to prosperity for people here. This was a watershed weekend, which I would rate alongside the night in November 1995 when President Clinton switched on the Christmas tree lights at the City Hall. While politicians like Clinton and many others from abroad and home played the big parts on the stage of peace, the pop stars who came to Belfast also deserve credit.

In earlier days, I recall U2's iconic concerts in Botanic Gardens and Elton John and Pavarotti in the grounds of Stormont. Now we have the reach of the MTV European Music Awards to a global audience.

Each and every one of those who appeared in Belfast has played a part in the remarkable renaissance of what was once one of the world's most infamous trouble-spots.

This is as it should be. Behind the unkind headlines of the past 40 years, another Northern Ireland has slumbered which is only now emerging in its own right. It existed with the likes of George Best, Van Morrison and Nobel prizewinner Seamus Heaney during our Troubles, but it is now expressing itself as never before. A new generation of highly-talented young people, ranging from Rory McIlroy on the golf course to Janet Devlin on X Factor, is setting Northern Ireland on a different course.

The MTV Awards in Belfast capped the new mood, as will the City of Culture events in Londonderry in 2013. Aside from sport and entertainment, what is broadly referred to as the creative arts and media industry is now a major player in Northern Ireland.

I was reminded of this recently while walking with friends through the Gosford Castle estate near Markethill in Co Armagh. The car-park was crowded with pantechnicons servicing the production of Game of Thrones - the international blockbuster TV series now being filmed in Northern Ireland.

Our society is moving on. A taxi-driver who once ferried journalists to troublesome flashpoints now transports visiting stage and screen personalities and has landed a part as a film extra in Game of Thrones.

The creative arts industry employs more people here than the shipyards did in their halcyon era and the vibes are good for further expansion.

Belfast is hardly Beverley Hills, but it's fast building a reputation for television production and surely must attract even more interest after the weekend's worldwide exposure.

The creative arts, coupled with tourism, represent hope for the future here at a difficult time for all of Europe, as evidenced by the G20 summit in Cannes last week.

A small country, such as Northern Ireland, is worryingly and unduly dependent on public sector employment. The message from Cannes to the Greeks, Italians and Spanish - and to us, as well - is that public money is finite. We cannot sustain the current levels of public expenditure and we also cannot wave a wand and find new jobs privately funded from home or abroad. That is another reason why attracting the MTV awards is so important.

It is essential that we use this exposure to boost interest in the fledgling arts and entertainment industry. The challenge to attract more tourists and to build on the MTV event and turn 35,000 people employed in the creative arts into 50,000. So, Lady Gaga and others, thanks for turning up in Belfast.

Of all the renowned celebrities I have witnessed gracing our presence on the Odyssey stage in the past decade, possibly Bruce Springsteen reflected best the contribution people from here have made to music beyond these shores.

Springsteen must have known from the adulation of the audience that his music was their music; that what our ancestors had taken to America more than two centuries ago, he was returning on a Belfast stage with the fiddles and accordions in his band and the words of his songs.

I appreciate pop music is not of the Springsteen tradition, but the welcome to all the celebrities at the weekend was no less warm-hearted. The MTV awards are another step towards normality. They tap a richly creative vein within this society.

Who knows, by coming here, the awards may even have inspired more of our young people to see that the creative arts industry offers a worthwhile future, if not in front of the cameras on the red carpet, then certainly behind them.

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