Game of Thrones staff happy in Belfast: HBO boss sorry for panning city
A senior US television executive at HBO – the television network that brought Game of Thrones to Northern Ireland – has issued a grovelling apology for controversial comments he made criticising Belfast.
The network's president of programming told the Belfast Telegraph it was not his intention to cause offence.
Michael Lombardo had said that "Belfast is not the most cosmopolitan of cities to spend half the year".
In an interview with Vulture magazine, Mr Lombardo said his two Game of Thrones showrunners – Dan B Weiss and David Benioff – hadn't had a great experience living in Belfast.
"It's a little bit of a personal challenge; I don't think they contemplated when we initially found our location in Belfast, what that meant for them personally," he said.
"I don't think they have a hard time, but the good news is work keeps them busy, let's just say that."
The comments caused surprise, as HBO benefits from millions of pounds in grants to film here, while the local economy is boosted by HBO investment in turn.
And in April it was announced that HBO was allowing Game of Thrones to be used in a worldwide tourism campaign to promote Northern Ireland on Twitter and Facebook as a top holiday destination.
At the time, Tourism Minister Arlene Foster said the partnership, formed after months of negotiations, was "a major coup for tourism and offers a unique opportunity to promote Northern Ireland".
But as fans settled down for the final episode of series four of Game of Thrones last night, Mr Lombardo was saying sorry for his choice of words. He also spoke of the positive role Belfast had played in the global success of the medieval fantasy series.
"I meant no offence to the city of Belfast and offer my apologies," he said.
"My intention was to recognise the tremendous commitment of Dan and David to the series which has resulted in a significant amount of time away from their families and my words were chosen poorly.
"They have never expressed anything but positive remarks about their experiences in Northern Ireland.
"Game of Thrones could not have become the show it is today without the incredible partnership between HBO and Belfast.
"From the government's co-operation to the hundreds of workers on set to the scenic beauty, Northern Ireland lives in every episode of the series."
In March, First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness met with Mr Lombardo on a US investment trip.
Cast and crew are set to return to film a fifth season of Game of Thrones here.
Last night's season finale has been put up for two Emmy Awards by HBO.
10 things to see and do in cosmopolitan Belfast ...
1. Wander around the stalls at St George's Market and then take a break from shopping to enjoy some of the international delicacies on offer – against the backdrop of live music.
2. Head to Bert's Jazz Bar at the luxury Merchant Hotel for a fabulous line-up of music and themed food and drinks. For example, a Parisian Swing event is running from June 26-29.
3. Ten minutes outside the city centre is the Cave Hill. You can see all of Belfast from its peak, plus the Isle of Man and Scotland on clear days.
4. Award-winning barista Mark Ashbridge and the team at Established in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter are purveyors of fine coffee. Take advantage of free Wi-Fi and sip the best Q-graded coffee the world has to offer at one of the most stylish coffee shops in the city.
5. Literary events run at a variety of venues across Belfast including poetry at The Lightboat, plus Ulster Hall Literary Lunchtimes, the John Hewitt Society events and the Linen Hall Library Writers On Writers festival.
6. Queen's Film Theatre (QFT), based at University Square, shows the very best in new and classic world cinema. It is adjacent to the beautiful Botanic Gardens.
7. Cultural and artistic centres are dotted all over Belfast. Check out the Golden Thread Gallery in Great Patrick Street and An Culturlann in the Gaeltacht Quarter, among others.
8. Teatro in Botanic Avenue is an intimate cabaret restaurant oozing with style and offering a truly bohemian dining experience. Its delicious Mediterranean food is coupled with nightly performances of live music.
9. Belfast is a city of festivals – Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival; Festival Of Fools; Young At Art; Belfast Film Festival; Belfast City Blues:, One City One Book; Belfast Book Festival, Arts Ekta and Pride to name just a few. Feile an Phobail 2014 events will run throughout August.
10. T13 is Belfast's very own urban sports park. Set in a former shipbuilding warehouse, it offers everything from BMX to skateboarding, urban art to DJ sessions, free running, breakdancing, music events and art galleries – if it's urban, T13 does it.