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Kit Harington talking our city down? No, he did us a favour

By Paul Connolly

Published 10/04/2015

Furore: Kit Harington has created a storm over his comments about Belfast
Furore: Kit Harington has created a storm over his comments about Belfast

Earlier this week the lead story on the Belfast Telegraph's website asked the question: 'Has Kit Harington just undone all of Northern Ireland Tourist Board's efforts?'

It was a cracking headline, just begging the reader to click the story. Which is, of course, what headlines are supposed to do.

Kit Harington, for the uninitiated - of whom there will be many - is a star of locally-filmed HBO blockbuster Game of Thrones. He plays Jon Snow, an illegitimate scion of the Stark family.

The series is a global success, and has given Northern Ireland's film and creative industries a major and lasting boost.

Actually, the show's executives and actors have always been great ambassadors for Northern Ireland. But some people thought not so much this week.

Kit's crime? To poke a small amount of fun at Belfast and the tourist board in particular on American TV. A heinous crime indeed...

His comments came during a discussion on Late Night with Seth Meyers. Asked what he would say to a Belfast-bound traveller, he replied: "It's wonderful for two or three days."

He went on to say he has been living here for five years and said the city has a "wonderfully depressing tourist board", adding: "I have to be careful what I say."

He then said: "They have a wonderful tourist board, they celebrate three things. Having the most bombed hotel in Europe, which is great.

"They built the Titanic which is a ship that sunk on its maiden voyage and now they have Game of Thrones, the most depressing TV show in history. So it's a wonderfully, depressing tourist board."

Cue studio laughter. So let's analyse what he said (setting aside that NITB is now actually Tourism NI). Er, actually, he's right, Belfast is a great city for two or three days. It's absolutely not a fortnight's holiday destination unless you have family here.

It's not London or New York - but neither are Glasgow, Manchester, or any other mid-sized European or US city, for that matter. And if I had to spend five years in a city by career rather than family or lifestyle choice, I'd soon grow a bit weary of its charms.

God knows Belfast has got plenty of negatives; no need to be prickly when someone alludes, however coyly, to them.

That bit about the most bombed hotel in Europe? It may, technically, be true on one measure, but I doubt it. Sarajevo's Holiday Inn was hit repeatedly by shells and snipers during Bosnia's hideous war.

But just on a general point, the absolutely worst thing we could do collectively is to sweep the Troubles under a carpet.

And yes, we have built a tourist industry on a ship that sank (and why wouldn't we, you've got to make the best of the assets you have) and Game of Thrones can be gloriously miserable when it wants to be. Depressing, even.

But the man actually did us a massive favour. First of all, it was a joke. On a big-time satirical show. Contrary to the jaundiced views of many Europeans, most Americans have a brilliant sense of humour and a highly developed sense of irony. Don't believe the crass Yank stereotype.

Secondly, despite the saturation coverage over here, most Americans won't know that Titanic was built in Belfast, or that Game of Thrones is filmed here. So Kit got that message out to a massive US audience. It's the kind of publicity you couldn't buy. And if he manages to ruffle a few complacent feathers back home as he's doing it, I say that's a good thing.

I won't be alone: Tourism NI has broader shoulders than you think.

BTreaderseditor@gmail.com

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