Peter Andre: the Ambassador nobody asked for

It may be time to reconsider how token 'Cultural Ambassador' titles are bestowed upon celebrities visiting Malta.

Peter Andre (centre) visits Mater Dei Hospital, accompanied by Health Minister Joe Cassar and his girlfriend Emily MacDonagh. Photo: Martin Attard/DOI.
Peter Andre (centre) visits Mater Dei Hospital, accompanied by Health Minister Joe Cassar and his girlfriend Emily MacDonagh. Photo: Martin Attard/DOI.

So Peter Andre was awarded the title of Cultural Ambassador to Valletta, in the wake of his visit to the island for the purposes of performing at this year's edition of the Malta Music Awards (he even graced local music lovers with a guest appearance at the Malta Song for Europe qualifier).

We'll get to the meat of the amusingly controversial issue in a moment, but first it may be worth considering that had the news not begun circling social networks, tipped off by a British tabloid portal, no less, chances are we wouldn't even have heard of it.

It looks as though the Valletta Local Council - who "unanimously" approved the decision to nominate Andre - were keen to sweep the accolade under the carpet as soon as it was given. Does the fact that they seemed to be aware of the backlash such a decision would doubtlessly inspire make things better or worse?

Certainly, it is understandable - if ultimately unforgivable - that the decision was not made public through official channels before it was made (much less put to public consultation).

And the bile and backlash - first dripping through social networks after somebody discovered the news on British online celebrity gossip website - came thick and fast: at the time of writing, a petition calling for the post-facto removal of Andre's title has been created, with 162 signatories already on board.

But perhaps the most revealing reactions can be found on the venue where the controversy first began: the not-so-hallowed walls of Facebook. Comments on the MaltaToday story, which expounds on the news with reactions from Valletta mayor Alexiei Dingli and the press officer for the Valletta 2018 Foundation were predictably scathing.

'Please explain how Peter Andre reflects the cultural prowess of our nation's capital', one reader writes. Others, also commenting on a link to the story on MaltaToday's Facebook Page, were less polite: 'Seriously, this is fricken (sic) crazy!' and 'BULL****' were some of the more visceral reactions to the fact that Andre will be representing our capital city.

It has to be said that Facebook, despite its ubiquity, immense popularity among various strata of society and ability to converge, compress and facilitate the spread of public opinion, will remain a blinkered filter through which to see society - local or international. To wit: what appears on my 'wall' may not appear on yours. It may not appear so at first glance, but Facebook offers little more than a tunnel-vision view of the world out there, and what my friends and acquaintances think of the Peter Andre debacle may not be entirely representative of the general consensus on the issue.

But when even Bay Radio's Facebook avatar flags up the story and inspires an equally incendiary response - it's easy to picture the commenters as angry peasants, torches and pitchforks in hand, out to get Frankenstein's monster - it starts to seem as if the protest is a consolidated one after all.

There are several reasons why the nomination has rubbed people the wrong way. First of all, the Valletta mayor's list of criteria for a Cultural Ambassador to our capital city - lest we forget, a UNESCO Heritage Site - is depressingly barren. The prospective ambassador must, according to Dingli, be a "celebrity, fond of Valletta, and someone who will help in the promotion of Valletta abroad". It remains difficult to quantify just how 'fond' of Valletta Andre is - presumably, this 'fondness' would alchemise into pro-active goodwill towards the city when he goes about singing its praises during concerts and on reality TV appearances - but Dingli provides very concrete numbers to justify his latter item of criteria:

"Valletta will feature prominently in his show on iTV which has an average viewership of 1.7 million viewers and a peak viewership of 1.9 million viewers. An additional 300,000 viewers watch reruns of his show."

The reference to Andre's "show on iTV" - the unimaginatively titled reality programme 'My Life' - brings me to the second complaint. Andre may have become a household name following the release of his hit single Mysterious Girl, but that was in 1995. Since then, he has been more famous for the high-profile on-off romance with his former wife, the glamour model and tabloid mainstay Katie 'Jordan' Price, than for any contributions to pop music.

Which deflates another argument in favour of Andre's nomination - that he arguably represents the voice of popular culture, and that, as flagged up by Dingli, Valletta's upcoming role as European Capital for Culture in 2018 seeks to democratically accommodate all forms of culture: "from high culture to pop culture and even particular niches".

But it is telling that, when contacted, the press officer for the Valletta 2018 Foundation instantly and unambiguously distanced himself from the affair: "The nomination has no relation to V.18," he said in a comment to MaltaToday.

Our previous Cultural Ambassador was another now off-radar British singer: Cliff Richard. And the beloved 'Maltese tenor' Joseph Calleja - arguably the most effective 'ambassador' for Malta, given that he remains a relevant figure in his field - was also given an honorary D.Litt (aka a Doctorate in Literature, of all things) from the University of Malta.

Perhaps it may be time to reconsider how such tokenistic titles are bestowed, and how much thought is put into the process.

Because if it's popular favour we're after, it's clear that the people have spoken.

Joseph Pellicano
a foreigner?, lickkers , Maltese specialty.
A very good article. As we say SPOT ON. My Congratulations.
Who is this guy? Are we promoting tabloid people for one of the most magnificent Capital Cities in the world?
One very worthy candidate for the post would be Edward de Bono.
Why oh why a foreigner?