British Airways: Burnside: true loyalist

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The Independent Online
PUBLIC relations men do not come any tougher than David Burnside, who resigned yesterday from British Airways, writes Chris Blackhurst.

In a profession noted for the smoothness and urbanity of its operators, Mr Burnside stands apart. Born in Antrim in 1951, he still talks with a strong Ulster accent and has remained faithful to his origins, especially the Unionist cause.

The combination of his background, abiding passion for Ulster politics, proximity to Lord King - who brought him into BA at the tender age of 33 in 1984 - work- rate and press contacts have created a formidable figure. If anyone characterised BA's attitude towards Richard Branson it was the airline's public mouthpiece.

But Mr Burnside, like Brian Basham, BA's external City PR man who has also lost his job, was just the messenger. He was not responsible for the worst 'dirty tricks' - the cold-calling of Virgin's passengers and alleged hacking into its computer.

As a result, say friends, he has taken defeat at the hands of Mr Branson and subsequent departure from what was widely regarded as the most powerful in-house PR post in Britain very badly. He would probably have gone anyway when Lord King was due to retire in June. But that knowledge has done nothing to soften the blow.

It is too early to say what he will do next. He has a wife and young daughter, whose security he carefully protects, a farm in Antrim and an interest in a media relations consultancy, New Century. He will undoubtedly receive a handsome pay-off.

Always there will be his politics to keep him busy. He would like nothing more, say his friends, than to win a safe Unionist seat at Westminster. He stood for North Antrim in the 1982 Ulster Assembly elections and lost because he spent too much time away from the constituency. Suddenly, he has less reason to be away.