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Wednesday, February 4, 1998 Published at 02:23 GMT


Americans warm to Cool Britannia

Tony Blair's drive to rebrand Britain is rubbing off on our Transatlantic cousins, according to a major survey.

Americans believe the British are casting off their starchy image, relaxing their stiff upper lip and becoming more friendly.

But a British trendsetter has warned the Prime Minister that striving for a "Cool Britannia" could do more harm than good.

Entrepreneur Wayne Hemingway, who launched the fashion label Red or Dead, said giving Britain a new, trendy image was "dangerous and short-sighted".

In a speech to the Social Market Foundation, he warned politicians against exploiting the UK's creative success by rebranding Britain.

Instead youth culture should sit side-by-side with Britain's traditional image as a place of heritage and "afternoon tea", he said.

Mr Blair will be heartened by news that Americans are warming to folk across the Pond, as he starts a three-day visit to the US.

A survey by Royal Mail's international division, which questioned 1,300 adults around the world, found Americans are twice as likely to visit the UK as people from Japan or India.

It uncovered a strong bond between the two nations, with almost half the Americans questioned having friends in Britain.

But Mr Blair still has some image building to do on his trip. A third of Americans do not yet know he is Prime Minister.

Meanwhile at home, he came under attack for trying too hard.

Mr Hemingway poured scorn on the Prime Minister's high-profile celebrity parties at Downing Street.

Wayne Hemmingway: "There's a lot that needs doing rather than just photo opportunities." (2'58")
"There is a very grave danger that by simply inviting a few, mostly naff, pop stars and comedians to drinkies at Number 10, the very people Blair is trying to impress will be turned off," he said.

He compared the gatherings to attempts by former Prime Minister Harold Wilson to tap into the swinging sixties.

"It brings to mind those sad pictures of Harold Wilson with the Beatles and it certainly didn't enamour Harold Wilson to British youth."

Mr Hemingway, who launched his streetwear fashion business from Camden Market in north London in 1983, remained open-minded about suggestions of setting up a youth task force and creating the role of a Minister for Youth.

But he poked fun at the new wave of MPs who arrived in Westminster following last year's General Election.

"There was a lot of publicity after the election about youthful MPs. But having met a couple they seem to have less in common with youth culture than my grandmother and - she has been dead for three years," he said.

"This is another reason why we don't want politicians in charge of Cool plc."

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