Have you ever even sat down properly thought how many interview you have done in your life?
No, I don’t want to… the futility of it all
Still, I was reading all your interviews trying to find a question that you have not been asked before.
Which is quite difficult actually, but I saw there was a line, now you tell me if this is true or not, that you first came to Dubai in 1978?
Yeah that’s true.
What brought you here?
En route with the rats to India probably.
And what do you sort of think of it now, because that’s a massive gap?
It was very dusty, deserty, flat, low buildings with white wash that was peeling with dust in the air. The airport itself was a sort of shell like warehouse kind of thing and when you came out you went to the gold market and you bought Arabic type things. There was white goods but essentially we were looking for, if you were serious about trading, it was gold. If you were passing through, just little souvenirs like daggers and stuff, there was nothing else.
Now look at it, it’s like a Doctor Who futuristic city.
It doesn’t look like the tardis but maybe some of the buildings are. We have never stayed in the same hotel twice. They have a six month life and they knock them down. The great problem is water. Is this sustainable? Desalination can take you so far but it is energy consumption, but its energy ratio is not good, so there is all those questions. Then beyond hydrocarbon economies, which I know this crowd is going hell for leather to resolve that dilemma, what happens when hydrocarbons are commonplace, which we now know they are. What happens when the US is energy independent by 2025, which is nothing, it’s just a few years away.
Well I suppose in Dubai, because they are always going to run out of oil anyway, it has gotten into tourism and aviation:
It is really clever and having all these events and this city and that city and having all these hubs. But they have got rivals for that, up the road and down the road. They are smart cookies and the government seems to take a lot of advice and consults on it. In my life time it will be the same but in 50 years there will be different modes of transport anyway so why wouldn’t you come here for your sun and fun? They have managed the cultural overlap fairly well… I’m not sure some of the other ones have handled it as well.
Philantrophy is massive in this part of the world, embedded in the culture and the religion, have you tried to do anything?
Bizarely, the first big break during Live Aid day came from a member of the Al Maktoum family. Who runs Kuwait, what family? I could be doing the Kuwaitis a disservice but I think it was the Al Maktoum who called backstage panicking that this wasn’t happening as people were so entranced by the bands and had forgotten what it was all about. It was a blistering day in England, like this, and tellys were out on the lawns and picnicking and [viewers] had forgotten what it was all about.
People had forgotten to donate?
They forgot was it was [about], yeah. I was beginning to freak out and running up to the broadcaster and telling them to remind people. I got a call from the lawyers and it was saying that the Al Maktoum, I think it was the Al Maktoum, was donating a $1m on behalf of Dubai, and nobody really knew Dubai then. And that was a really big break through. There is a fondness because of that. [Arabs] tend do it very discreetly instead of aid, which is a massive problem, because unless you know what the aid is you don’t know how it is being spent. Unless you know these things you don’t know if it is effective. The only way aid is effective is if its predictive, that the flow is year upon year. if you set up a few 100 schools there is no point doing it for a few years and then close the school. Those things need to be more transparent and that goes across the board in this region, everything needs to be more transparent and people need to be more accountable.
Live Aid was in the 80s when it wasn’t great times. With the way the economies are now and people say they can’t donate, could that sort of thing be done again in this current generation?
The first part of the question is would you do it? No, there is no need. But, if you were to do it, it would be wholly different. In general the point was made, that that generation that were children then are now in power now. [UK Chancellor George] Osborne and [UK Prime Minister David] Cameron were in parliament on the day and even had the day off to watch it. [UK Prime Minister Tony] Blair and [UK Prime Minister Gordon] Brown had been young and Blair was just in parliament six months and ran the Band Aid parliamentary committee and asked to set one up. This informed his view of what it would be like in the future, this communitariamism. Brown saw it as the collective. The Lib-Dems saw it as a communitarian sort of thing. Tories saw it as individualism in action. That central paradox of individualism only works when we act in concert for the common good.
It did inform politics. [US President Bill] Clinton watched it as someone very young in politics. [German Chancellor Gerhard] Schröder watched it. He was a hippy, a sort of beatnik sort of kid. So it did inform them.
It was easy, politics, on the downside during the boom years of the west. The next step was to move it politically and economically forward and that was the next 20 year struggle. For me it was always to create political lobby for change, given that poverty was the problem, with health and education, hunger and symptoms of poverty.
In 2005, it was the culmination of that, so you had Live 8. In 1985 I organised it by fax and telex and only the very rich had fax and no had mobile phones. 2005, the medium now we’re still using satellites and broadcasting, but now we could do eight concerts in the G8 capitals plus we did Africa for the first time. So you can watch it simultaneously on the AOL screen.
Now you would have to do something different. It is the British turn for the G8 this year so we are going to do something and it will be utilizing new media aswell, as that is the way to do it. It is not about getting hip, that is the way to do it. You have the same thing happening in rock and roll, you have a dilution of the message and a diffusion of the media. Rock and roll has ceased to the central spin of culture, the rock and roll age is over.
So is it the Simon Cowell age?
There was always a Simon Cowell as there is a need for entertainment. Simon Cowell is a brilliant entertainer and brilliant television, but it is part of what Malcolm McLaren called ‘the karaoke culture’. That is relevant and it is fine and it’s fantastic that there is One Direction. But it is not fantastic that there is One Direction and that there is no Jimi Hendirx alongside it. There was always the possibility that One Direction could become The Beatles, because The Beatles were One Direction, it was just it so happened that you weren’t able to manipulate [John] Lennon and [Paul] McCartney as they were geniuses onto themselves. They didn’t know it, no one knew it but the means to express that was viable. It was a mono-communicative world, so therefore we all heard the same thing simultaneously. Now we all hear different things. That is very useful for politicians, all different interests can’t be joined together because there would be arguments all the time and so you have a lack of intent, lack of focus. The artist Louis Bottell said ‘the artist cannot hope to change the world, the most he can do is tell those in authority that not everyone agrees with them’ and that is a key issue.
[Bankers] are allowed to get away with a lot. I don’t why there isn’t this villerant anger at the collapse of the world economy. Gangsterism at the highest level has taken place. Gangsterism… I don’t know why Davos wasn’t surrounded and most everyone removed to jail. TS Elliott said “let me know hear of the wisdom of old men but of their follies.” Take them off. The bankers were guilty of culpable gangsterism.
Is it still going on? What about the occupation of Wall Street and St Paul’s in London
Of course it is! Of course it is! That is my point, occupy Wall Street, everyone is confined by it. They have a point, it is the focus of great anger, quite correctly, but what’s their program? They don’t have a program. If only they had a program we could deal with it. No. The program is f*** off. It means f*** off. The carnage it has created. The carnage in lives, in homes lost and businesses destroyed by the people who are the traction in the economy, the people who risk everything; their futures, their wives; their children; their homes. Borrowing to create an idea, which creates the new economies of everyday. Destroyed.
In Iceland when they went as far as prosecuting their politicians.
Unfortunately for the politicians, it was the other people that should have gone to the bank. They would be advised that the risk manager thought it was all okay. Yes, it’s hard to predict the [recession]… but I doubt that he was ofay with the nuances of spread betting and derivatives. The bankers weren’t either. They didn’t know, Warren Buffet would point out ‘I’m not getting into this I don’t understand it. I have yet to meet someone to explain it to me.’
That’s one thing that they invented these things, smoke mirrors. Another thing is rate fixing. Another thing is open, overt criminality. Contact between the bank, the government and the developers. Open criminality. Everyone gets annoyed talking about it.
Your TV company was the mastermind behind Survivor idea, then came Big Brother, then The Osbournes… so could we blame you for Kim Kardashian?
You can, because it started with the programme The Word. My partner came up with a slot I would do anything to be on television and you’d have people getting into vats of worms and an 18 year old snogging an 80 year old.
They said can you take that further so we developed Survivor. There was a new buzz word called reality TV. For them reality was police, camera, action. Charlie said that isn’t reality, it is people’s normal duress and how they handle the normal occurances of life, that’s reality.
Put them under these conditions, like eating slugs but you keep at it and you isolate them. It was Lord of the Flies meets The Word. But nobody bought it, the BBC as usual ripped us off and copied it. So we sold it to the Swedes first, who had a hit and then all of Scandinavia. We never made it.
We tried to sue everyone but never won. It took off in the states and was mega. Big Brother took off on the back of Big Breakfast, which was in a house. Putting people under stressful conditions, which was survivor. They took those two elements and put them together.
‘I’m a Celebrity’ came along and used the format. We sued in New York but lost as the judge said even if these people class themselves as celebrities, even if you’ve never heard of them, it was different enough so it was a new idea.
Does it lead to the exposure type television?
No, what led to that was this interesting phenomenon of the death of privacy. But I don’t believe that is what is happening, what you are seeing is an avatar of privacy. So, what most people on Facebook or Twitter are pretending to be the person they wish they were. They put ideas of themselves up there, but they are not real. If you get into it, is this woman exploiting an idea of herself? Absolutely. Was The Osbournes playing up Ozzy? Yes. Were they like that in real life? To a point. This was just using this new phenomenon.