IN FORCING ICELAND FOODS BOSS Sir Malcolm Walker to dismiss his director of corporate affairs over a seven-year-old joke, Welsh nationalists have done the English-reading public – and this website – an enormous favour: they have given us back our star columnist.
Keith Hann, PR extraordinaire and the driest, most acerbic wit on this or any other UK website, has been fired from his ‘day job’ over the fallout from a jokey reference he wrote in a newspaper column in 2014 – THREE YEARS before he even joined Iceland’s staff!
In his popular column in the Newcastle Journal seven years ago, Hann commented on the persistent demands for independence from Scots nationalists – yes, the inflammatory article wasn’t even about Wales! – by describing his five-year “double life” which sees him divide his time between two homes: one overlooking the Scottish border, the other a short drive from the border with Wales.
“In Northumberland,” he wrote, “I can actually see the border from my windows but rarely venture across it, because I have been made to feel so unwelcome whenever I have done so of late.
“I don’t think it’s anything personal, but a country that makes much its undisputed natural beauty as a tourist attraction might perhaps try a little harder not to make English visitors feel so spectacularly unwanted.”
He went on to explain that he now spent the majority of his life in Cheshire and crossed into Wales “on a daily basis, for the simple reason that my principal client is based there.” Iceland, the nationwide food retailer and the most important client of Hann’s successful independent public reations company, is headquartered in Deeside, north Wales.
In the enjoyably acerbic style once beloved of his newspaper readers and more recently a feature of this website, Hann continued:
“One notices the difference immediately as the worn-out, potholed English road gives way to the immaculately tarmacked Welsh one.
“Like the Scots, those who live in Wales have a variety of other expensive privileges showered upon them, from free prescriptions to cut-price university education. Yet, oddly, house prices are materially higher on the English side of the Welsh border.
“This may be because the NHS in England is marginally less likely to kill you, or because the supermarket signage is not incomprehensible, or because many people don’t want their kids educated in a dead language that sounds uncannily like someone with bad catarrh clearing his throat.”
This was the killer comment that signalled Hann’s demise: it was pounced on by Nation.Cymru, a Welsh news website, which alerted Celtic nationalists and Welsh language lovers to mobilise and threaten Iceland with a Wales-wide boycott of its stores.
Despite social media apologies from Iceland and from Hann, 66, who pointed out that the humorous view had been his own, Hann was dismissed the following day.
A spokeswoman said: “Iceland has taken action in light of recent comments made by its director of corporate affairs, resulting in the dismissal of Mr Hann with immediate effect.
“We would like to reiterate that these comments in no way reflect the values or philosophy of our business. We are a proud Welsh company, with a long history of investment in communities across Wales, and apologise for any upset or offence caused.”
IT IS AN ILL WIND THAT BLOWS NO ONE ANY GOOD: as editor of Voiceofthenorth.net, I celebrate Keith’s return to the fold on a more regular basis. The infrequency of his columns during his full-time employment with Iceland has frustrated his loyal readership.
Politically, we are poles apart; I rarely agree with anything he writes but I am aware that thousands of you do and, as editor, I shall defend his right to the freedom to express opinions which may be unpopular with some but which, nevertheless, need saying.
I have already asked him to resume his weekly contributions and Keith looks forward to reconnecting with our growing readership on a more frequent basis.
AND LEST YOU FORGOT. . .
Here are just a small selection of some of Keith Hann’s targets. Like his views or loathe them, they are always apt, pithy and drily humorous.
ON VEGANS AND ANIMAL LOVERS:
I could never become a vegan because I am already one of the most boring people in Britain, and if I had to bang on about my vegan principles at the start of every conversation, as seems to be the accepted social norm, I would be simply unbearable.
ON TAKING MEDICAL ADVICE:
Conscious of having a responsibility to stick around for a while, as the elderly father of young children, and additionally mindful of being overweight and insufficiently active, I logged onto an NHS website at the weekend in search of advice. It informed me that I was obese, with a BMI (Body Mass Index) of 32.5, and counselled that I needed to lose 5st 10lb
ON BREXIT AND INDECISION:
I am in the unusual position of dividing my time between two Parliamentary constituencies, in Northumberland and Cheshire. Both are represented by Conservative MPs, yet their views on the great issue of the day could not be further apart.