Monday, June 27, 2011


Western Mail column 25th June 2011.

Last Thursday, I was over in Dublin to chair a postgraduate awards panel for the Irish Research Council on Humanities and the Social Sciences when, at 6am in the morning, I read an email stating that our appeal to get a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for Richard Burton had been successful.

For those of you who have read the Western Mail over the last few months, you may have become aware that despite being the best actor of his generation, or indeed any generation, Richard Burton has never been honoured with a star on the iconic Walk of Fame that snakes around Hollywood and is visited by over 10 million tourists every year.

However, if you didn’t know this before, then you are not alone.

Two years ago, I was sitting in a pub with Geraint Jones, former head of Barclays Wales, expounding on the international success of Wales and its icons over a few beers. The talk turned to the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the inevitable bet of how many Welsh actors and actresses were to be found with stars on these famous sidewalks.

Of course, we both mentioned Sir Anthony Hopkins and Tom Jones, as well as others such as Ray Milland from a previous age of Hollywood stars. Yet the first name on each of our lists was Richard Burton, Wales’ greatest ever actor.

On checking the results later, both of us were totally shocked to find that the man with the iconic voice from Pontrhydyfen was missing from the stars that had been recognised by their peers in Hollywood. In fact, the only Burton to be found was an actor who had played a blind crewman on Star Trek:the Next Generation!

And so a plan was hatched to try and correct this injustice and obtain the star for this acting colossus who was once, alongwith his wife Elizabeth Taylor, one of the most famous people in the World.

Naturally, I considered that all we had to do was to put the great man’s name forward and a star would be handed out immediately. However, it was not as simple as that.

First of all, any potential recipient has to be nominated to the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, which administers the award and actually is responsible for looking after many of the attractions in Hollywood, including the Walk of Fame.

Secondly, it is no foregone conclusion that the star will be awarded, as each recipient has to be considered by a committee that can reject any application, no matter how famous the star. Finally, and more importantly, a total of $30,000 has to be raised to pay for the star and its future upkeep.

The other potentially difficult issue is that whilst around 10-12 stars are handed out to living actors, pop stars and TV personalities, only one posthumous star is handed out every year, thus making the competition harder. Last year, Buddy Holly got the posthumous star and, the previous year, it was Roy Orbison, so the quality of applications is far higher for this category than the others.

Therefore, even if the nomination was successful, money needed to be raised to deliver the star, which meant I needed some big hitters to help with the campaign.

Naturally, the first port of call was the Western Mail and Alan Edmunds, the editor, quickly organised a fundraising team which comprised of Media Wales, the Principality Building Society and the Welsh Rugby Union.

The team then decided that simply getting the money for the star wasn’t enough and so decided that we would also look to raise funds for scholarships at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama to support young Welsh talent to follow in Burton’s footsteps.

As we had yet to secure the nomination, we soft launched our appeal with a collection at the Wales-England rugby match in February, followed by an exceptional evening with Michael Sheen in March.

Then, in early May, a formal nomination was sent to the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, supported by a letter by Lord Rowe Beddoe on behalf of the Burton family. We had considered leaving the nomination for another year but following the death of Elizabeth Taylor and the announcement that Martin Scorsese had taken up the option for a film on the Burton-Taylor relationship, the timing seemed right.

And so, as I mentioned, at 6.01am on Thursday morning, I was aptly doing an Irish jig around my hotel bedroom in Dublin after the announcement had come through from the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce with the simple message “Congratulations to you and the people of Wales”.

Of course, this is only the beginning as we still have to raise around £10,000 to secure the star and much much more to ensure we get as many scholarships for young Welsh talent as possible.

And this is where Welsh business can help.

Over the next few months, there will be an appeal going to the Welsh business community to support the Star for Burton appeal directly.

We will also be holding a series of fundraising dinners in California, Cardiff and London that will feature some of Wales’ current and brightest talent.

To date, some businesses have been highly supportive – we have already received a £3,000 donation from Logicalis towards the appeal, as well as a pledge of £1,000 each from the TV companies Boomerang and Tinopolis once the star was secured.

The fundraising team is grateful to all three firms for supporting the cause, but it would be great if many more from the Welsh business community make the effort to not only celebrate Richard Burton, but to ensure his legacy lives on through supporting the talents of young Welsh actors and actresses.

That, even more than the Hollywood Walk of Fame Star, would be the real legacy for one of Wales’ greatest sons.