A junket? Certainly not. More champers, anyone?
Britain's very own Davos has big names, big ideas – and very big fees
Sunday 28 February 2010
The world, we can believe, is a better place this weekend. Why, you ask? Because of the selfless efforts of professionals from the media, business and politics who spent this weekend at Britain's second Editorial Intelligence symposium, billed, modestly enough, as "a very British Davos".
Like the World Economic Forum, which decamps from its Geneva base to the upmarket ski resort for its annual session, delegates left the comforts of home to gather in the Welsh folly Portmeirion.
Unlike Davos, however, pretty much anyone who is anyone is there: Julia Hobsbawm from PR, singer Annie Lennox, barrister and broadcaster Baroness Helena Kennedy, her colleague Kirsty Lang, historian Niall Ferguson, journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and Britain's smartest man who's not Stephen Fry, Alain de Botton.
They and 113 other concerned participants were at pains yesterday to emphasise how hard they were working, exchanging ideas on everything from "the individual in society" to whether the "internet has ended privacy for good". It was not, they were eager to point out, a junket for self-regarding liberal elites.
Lennox, the former Eurythmics singer who has reinvented herself as an Aids campaigner, is the highlight of today's schedule, recording an episode of the BBC HARDtalk show. "It's a bit surreal, but magical," she said in the pink-hued piazza at the heart of Clough Williams-Ellis's Italianate village. "Coming here is the most amazing platform. You can't guarantee something will come out of it but it might be fruitful."
Familiar to many as the setting for the 1960s TV series The Prisoner, Portmeirion, built in the 1920s, is given over to the conference, which takes its title from the nameless villagers of the series.
The Independent columnist Alibhai-Brown, protesting perhaps a mite too much, insisted that the small village was not overrun by rampaging egos. "We live in a time when celebrity gives people far too much importance, but here ideas take centre-stage," she said. "One or two people didn't want to put down their egos, but they quickly realised this wasn't the way here."
Some of the guests, if not the headliners, paid up to £3,000 to attend and travelled from as far as Brazil and South Africa. Established by the media company Editorial Intelligence (EI), which runs networking and discussion events, this is the second such weekend at Portmeirion. Hobsbawm, EI's founder, chose it as the setting, having spent happy childhood holidays there. "It's about bringing people together to generate ideas," she said. "It is like Davos with leek soup and community singing."
Not just leek soup. Though the conference's days may be filled with breakfast meetings and panel discussions, the days are rounded off by dinner washed down with Champagne. "I've had to fly across the Atlantic, and then travel all the way to Wales," said the historian Niall Ferguson. "I wouldn't do that if it weren't fun."
Local residents seemed unfazed by all the air-kissing and were, for the most part, positive. Nicola Owen, a taxi-driver said: "I don't know who most of them are, but it's good thiss happening here rather than London."
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