Civic honours for Robbie Williams something we can all agree on

Robbie Williams on stage in Leeds.

Robbie Williams on stage in Leeds.

Today The Sentinel celebrates the achievements of a local lad done good.

It’s a story that will please many but doubtless cause a vocal minority to reach for their keyboards or pens to condemn the council, The Sentinel and probably the bloke in question too.

It was as recently as November 15 that I suggested through this column that our city should do something to honour Robbie Williams’s achievements – both in terms of his career in music and his charity work.

This was on the back of plans for RWFanFest – a celebration led by fans being planned here in Stoke-on-Trent to mark Rob’s 40th birthday and to raise much-needed funds for the Donna Louise Children’s Hospice (DLCH).

My contention was that it was about time the city did something to acknowledge one of its most famous sons – i.e. Robert Peter Williams, formerly of Take That, who has for some time been the UK’s most popular solo music artist.

This is because, until now, there has been nothing here in the Potteries to say that a bloke who has sold more than 70 million records and won more BRIT Awards than any other artist comes from our neck of the woods.

The statistics of his career to date are impressive enough in terms of concert tickets and albums sold, but when you add to that his charity endeavours then surely no-one would dispute that his home city can rightly be proud of the man known to millions as Robbie.

With his mate Jonny Wilkes he created the bi-annual Soccer Aid football match which has so far raised more than £11 million for children’s charity UNICEF.

Perhaps more pertinently Robbie has given away £5 million of his own money through his Give It Sum charity to worthy causes here in North Staffordshire and, let’s not forget, bought £250,000 worth of shares in his beloved Port Vale which, at the time, saved the club from going bust.

He has a Staffordshire knot tattoo on the back of his hand and constantly references both his birthplace and his football club through his music lyrics and when on stage in front of millions.

Robbie may not live in the ST postcode area anymore but no-one could accuse him of forgetting his roots – unlike many celebrities drawn to the bright lights of London or Los Angeles.

Today we announce that the city council has decided to create various legacy projects which not only honour Robbie for his achievements to date but also tap into the potential of brand RW for the benefit of the city in terms of raising its profile and helping to bring in tourists and visitors.

This is something which, I believe, Robbie himself would approve of and I’m sure he’s as chuffed as his mum and dad are that very soon there will be a tourist trail, streets named in honour of his music, a ‘Robbie Day’ in schools and a photographic and memorabilia exhibition at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery (PMAG).

Hopefully, one day soon, (and inevitably incognito) he will arrive in Stoke-on-Trent to have a look for himself at the legacy work being done in his name.

When initiatives like this are undertaken critics often argue that the recipient of the honour isn’t worthy or cannot be compared to other famous names who have been paid similar tributes.

In the case of Stoke-on-Trent we are talking about the likes of Spitfire designer Reginald Mitchell CBE and Sir Stanley Matthews CBE who have statues here in the Potteries and who have been honoured with street names and exhibitions.

Of course, to compare them with each other would be like comparing apples and pears. Both were sublime in their respective fields and I suspect both would be gracious enough to acknowledge a recording artist with the stature of Robbie Williams as someone worthy of recognition by his home city.

Another thing critics of initiatives such as those announced today often pick up on is the cost to council taxpayers so let’s nail that one now.

The cost for all the projects unveiled today is minuscule – primarily because they represent a partnership between the local authority, this newspaper, the DLCH, private firms, members of the community and individuals like Robbie’s mum and dad.

In my opinion spending a few thousand pounds on an exhibition at PMAG and creating a tourist trail (the other projects are cost neutral) is well worth the initial modest outlay when you think about the potential benefits.

This money wouldn’t have saved jobs or prevented a council-run facility from closing but it will definitely help brighten up our city and increase our ‘offer’, as they say in tourist-speak, to visitors to Stoke-on-Trent. Having a Robbie Day in schools sounds brilliant in terms of engaging children through music and art. Why not?

Naming streets with a nod to the bloke’s tunes costs nowt. It’s just a nice gesture so I don’t see why anyone would have a problem with that – unless they want to pick fault with the names, that is. I guess someone’s bound to.

I’d like to think that down the line our temporary Robbie exhibition leads to a permanent one somewhere here in the Potteries – hopefully including items donated by the man himself.

The council and this newspaper are constantly criticised for being too negative about the city. Hopefully today will be one of those rare occasions where everyone can agree that the announcements represent a win/win for all concerned – especially, of course, a charity close to Robbie’s heart.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Friday in The Sentinel


There’s nowt wrong with having no women in the Sports Personality of the Year list

I don’t think bras were actually burned but straps were certainly loosened as the politically-correct brigade went into overdrive this week.
Their target: The life-or-death matter that is the BBC Sports Personality of the Year (SPOTY) Awards.
Forget the global economic crisis, the conflict in Afghanistan and the public sector strikes.
The thing that was exercising high-profile critics (most of them women) was the absence of any women on the SPOTY shortlist.
Four-time Ironman world champion Chrissie Wellington branded it “disgraceful”.
Olympic gold medal-winning swimmer Rebecca Adlington OBE was equally dismayed, adding that she hoped that next year the shortlist would be all women.
I just can’t see it myself, Rebecca. To be honest, I think I’ve got more chance of making the cut than there is of 10 women being shortlisted in 2012.
Actually, I get rather annoyed when confronted with these ridiculous debates which infer sexism where there is none.
Let’s look at the evidence, shall we?
The SPOTY shortlist is drawn up by a panel of 27 sports editors from national and regional newspapers and magazines.
This immediately exonerates the Beeb of any blame in terms of who is selected and is, I believe, a genuine attempt to pick the brains of people who ought to know their stuff.
‘Ah, but they’re all men,’ I hear the bra-looseners cry.
So what? This system hasn’t prevented previous winners being women or at least two women being shortlisted every year since 2006. (Four in 2008).
I wonder if it has it occurred to the critics that maybe, just maybe, the 10 blokes on the shortlist deserved the recognition this year – ahead of other male and female contenders?
Because Mark Cavendish (cycling), Darren Clark (golf), Alistair Cook (cricket), Luke Donald (golf), Mo Farah (athletics), Dai Greene (athletics), Amir Khan (boxing), Rory McIlroy (golf), Andy Murray (tennis) and Andrew Strauss (cricket) have all certainly had a damn good year.
So the question I would pose to the nay-sayers is: Which of these blokes would you boot out to accommodate a woman?
Isn’t the truth here that it’s all subjective?
The sports editors have come up with a list of people whom they believe have had a better 2011 than their sporting peers. End of story.
By all means moan about the lack of coverage of women’s sport (and the lack of spectators), but there is no conspiracy here. It’s certainly not a disgrace or a scandal.
Frankly, to suggest that women must be included in any such top 10 is tokenism of the worst kind, in my book.
We had a similar ‘debate’ when yours truly was a judge for Stoke-on-Trent’s Citizen of the Century Awards last year.
When tasked with finding the 10 most worthy individuals from Stoke-on-Trent in the last 100 years, my fellow judges and I immediately named ceramic industry genius and celebrity Clarice Cliff as one.
However, we genuinely struggled to find another woman whom it was felt deserved to make the shortlist alongside the likes of Spitfire designer Reginald Mitchell CBE, influential Potteries author Arnold Bennett and global football icon Sir Stanley Matthews CBE.
This was simply because – and this is an indisputable fact – for much of the century we were reviewing women simply didn’t have the life opportunities or high-profile roles that men did.
Thus, logically, the shortlist of 10 was always going to be dominated by men.
In the end, however, political correctness triumphed – despite what yours truly thought – and Millicent Duchess of Sutherland was included.
Who, you might ask? Well, she was an activist for social reform who was born in Fife in 1867 and founded the North Staffordshire Cripples Aid Society.
Now, I wouldn’t for one minute seek to diminish her endeavours but the truth is ‘our’ Millie was included specifically to pacify those who felt the list wasn’t fair on women and not representative enough of modern Stoke-on-Trent.
It’s nonsense but you’d be amazed how many people think like this and believe that it’s OK to rewrite history in order to appear inclusive and tick the right boxes.