Throughout the 1980s, the Welsh had very little to celebrate and St David's Day was simply a matter of a bunch of daffodils on the coffee table. Rejoicing about our nationality was an infrequent occurrence, generally reserved for rugby victories. I was always bewildered by the way parents dressed their little boys for school concerts – rugby jerseys or miners' caps, as if the whole country revolved around rugby balls and our problematic coal industry. Nobody even thought of impersonating Tom Jones.
In the mid-1990s, there were a few abortive starts. Mystified by the disappearance of the Manic Street Preachers' Richey Edwards, London media and A&R talent-spotters arrived in south Wales, scouring the dilapidated cities for the musical equivalent of fashion's heroin chic. There was success for bands such as Catatonia, Stereophonics and Super Furry Animals, but then the media-induced phenomenon of Cool Cymru died when Tony Blair got his guitar out. To me, it had always felt like smoke and mirrors. Wales looked like a culturally identifiable nation teeming with confidence, but in truth the unemployment rate was 8.1 per cent. The country was saturated with smack.
But then in 1999 the National Assembly opened in Cardiff, giving the country its first centre of political command. EU funding filtered in slowly, enticing new business. Out-of-town retail parks grew out of the wastelands surrounding the valleys, and employment was plentiful. Whether we would be able to stand on our own two feet was an entirely different issue, but we were going to give it a good go.
Now the National Assembly is 10 years old and it finally feels as though being Welsh is something we're willing to embrace rather than ignore. Culturally, we are more successful than ever. Last month, Duffy cleaned up at the Brits; Ruth Jones and James Corden's Gavin & Stacey has won countless awards. Doctor Who is filmed in a warehouse in Pontypridd, and even Irvine Welsh felt the need to set his full-length directional debut, Good Arrows, in the Merthyr Valley. This time round, the cultural scene is as diverse as the country itself.
This is a major triumph for a country that's very good at hiding its light under a bushel. Frankly, I'm amazed that those A&R men ever found us because the Welsh Tourist Board is practically nonexistent. There's no dragon on the British flag. In a way, we are a country that is fated to be ignored. And so this St David's Day, in contrast to St Patrick's Day, will be a sedate affair, exacerbated by our Grand Slam hopes being dashed. Because we are a modest and sometimes paranoid nation, nobody in America will pretend to have Welsh ancestors today, in the way they will pretend to have Irish roots on 17 March. I've spent three of my St David's Days in the States, at an annual festival called Wales Week in New York. In 2006, with the city already flooded with "Kiss Me, I'm Irish" T-shirts, the organisers succeeded in getting the Empire State Building lit up red, white and green. I was looking at it in amazement when I heard a passer-by remark, "So what's going on in Italy?"
This didn't impress me as much, though, as arriving at an expat friend's house in Connecticut to find a ceramic plaque nestling under the Stars and Stripes flying on her porch. It said, "To be born Welsh is to be born privileged, not with a silver spoon in your mouth, but with music and poetry in your heart." In fact, I cried. We're quite emotional like that.
Rachel Trezise's novel Sixteen Shades of Crazy will be published next yearReuse content