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Maybe Belfast isn't so 'hopeless' after all

By Frances Burscough

Published 19/03/2016

Frances Burscough
Frances Burscough

Who can forget the day when Rihanna first came to Northern Ireland? I certainly can’t. I got inadvertently caught up in the chaos as I was driving home from Belfast to Bangor that day, in late September 2011.

But in case you’ve forgotten, I’ll refresh your memory. Bear with me, it’s not as random as it may seem and there is a point to all this.

Rihanna is a world-famous, chart-topping singer/song-writing megastar; as famous to today’s kids as Madonna was to us in the ’80s. And, possibly, even more risqué and controversial. Anyway, yer woman had flown in from the States to Oor Wee Country for a sell-out gig at the Odyssey, as part of her world tour. While she was here, it was arranged by her agents that she would film the video for an up-coming new single We Found Love. The location? That golden barley field on the Belfast to Bangor road. You know the one — it’s directly opposite that farmhouse with the scripture verse painted on it in giant letters.

So Rihanna and her huge entourage landed en masse in the genteel North Down countryside, where she started frolicking around in front of the cameras, like she usually does in her videos, semi-naked. Soon word spread across the county and crowds gathered to watch. Now, if that in itself wasn’t bizarre enough, as soon as the land-owner (a devout Christian) heard what she was doing on his land, he marched on set and called a halt to the whole proceedings, on moral grounds. The story spread like wildfire and by that evening it was on the news across the globe from BBC to CNN.

I’m sure Rihanna’s camp weren’t the least bit bothered either, because they got global free publicity for a song and video that hadn’t even been released yet.

Fast-forward a few days and I was out at a function in Belfast when I ran into a friend of mine who works for Northern Ireland Tourist Board. Naturally, the conversation turned to the week’s big drama: Rihanna. I asked her what she and her orgnisation thought of the whole furore and she said she was pleased, despite the row with the farmer, because it would still put Belfast and its beautiful countryside on the map for all the world to see. We both agreed.

It was only then that another friend chipped into the conversation.

“Er ... You might re-think that when you know the full words of the song. It’s We Found Love in a Hopeless Place.”

When she heard that, her enthusiasm came to an abrupt end. We both agreed that, as far as publicity for Belfast as a tourist destination is concerned, this was a disaster! How very dare she! And of course, when the video came out, it made Belfast and its environs look like a hell-hole, showing graffiti everywhere, grimy  slum-like housing and people living in squalor surrounded by drug paraphernalia. I would have embargoed the song altogether, as a protest, if it hadn’t been so bloody catchy. Instead I  turned up the radio but felt like a traitor in the process.

But that was then. And this is now.

Earlier this month Belfast was named as the best city in the UK for tourists in the Guardian and Observer Travel Awards. When it was announced, Dr Howard Hastings, Chairman of Visit Belfast, told this newspaper, “Belfast has a new energy and exciting vibe and is really asserting itself as a premier tourism destination for business and leisure. It truly is a city to be proud of, and it is fantastic to see that so many people have had such positive experiences whilst visiting.”

Well hear, hear is what I say and I’m sure my friend in the Tourist Board will agree. So all that remains is for me to conclude as follows: in your face, Rihanna!

Oh, sorry, is that a rude thing to say to a superstar with more money that sense? Did I offend you? If so, I’m glad, because you insulted everyone here with your unfair depiction of our great city!

Online Editors

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