Nick Ahad: The arts world may soon be open only to the privileged few

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I’ve been a little confused of late.

Listeners to my Saturday morning show on BBC Radio Leeds will know that I am an actual – as opposed to ironic – fan of James Blunt. I actually like his music – and do play it on my radio show as often as I can get away with.

I also happen to find the guy very funny. When he presented the comedy quiz show Never Mind the Buzzcocks, he was self-deprecating, dry and very witty. Even if you’re not a fan of his music – and I can see the validity of some of the criticism he has levelled at him – you can’t deny the man has a great sense of humour. If you remain unconvinced, take a look at his Twitter profile – there are now websites dedicated to celebrating his caustic interactions on the social media site. So it came as little surprise to read how amusing his letter was to Shadow Culture Minister Chris Bryant when he called him a prejudiced wazzock and a classist gimp. Bryant became the subject of Blunt’s ire when he said the arts world needed to address, with some urgency, the dominance of performers from a privileged background like Blunt.

The confusion to which I referred earlier on, however, stems from the fact that while I am a fan of Blunt I am also a passionate believer that the arts are under threat and agree with Bryant’s assertions.

The threat is simple: give it a decade and the only people working in the arts will be the privileged few like Blunt, who have known privilege all their lives. It’s already started to happen. After last weekend’s BAFTAs one or two cultural commentators looked at the line-up and realised there was something a little odd. The red carpet was practically a monoculture – ethnic minorities were staggeringly absent from the glitz and glamour. As were the working class. As a member of both those groups it sticks in the throat to see this under-representation (actually it makes me very angry) but as a supporter and fan of the arts the concern runs a little deeper – it makes me really quite concerned.

I like James Blunt and I actually agree entirely with him – it’s not his fault that he’s posh or that he went to a very good school. I don’t quite hold any truck with his argument that it was difficult for him coming from his background to go into the music industry, but he deserves his chance as much as anyone else. I don’t expect everyone to agree, but my life would be less rich without his albums. Sure, I’d like it if he could see how his privilege is a wider problem for the world.

We need to talk about how it’s increasingly difficult to break into the music industry, or acting industry or much of the arts world if you don’t have affluent parents who can support those early years of struggle.

I like Blunt. I like his music and enjoy his wit. But I like mostly that his letter to Bryant has shone a light on an issue that is not funny in the slightest.

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