YORKSHIRE’S strength as a place and a brand is its diversity. My job as chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire is to cut through the predictable clichés and the stereotyping, the flat cap and whippet jibes and ‘ee bah gum’ crassness, and tell the story of a land that’s as varied as it’s broad and long.
And it’s not difficult to do, in all honesty. We have three national parks each with their own unique character. The North York Moors, the Yorkshire Dales and a large chunk of the Peak District are different but equally stunning and memorable.
The dramatic Yorkshire coastline has beaches that look like they’re from different countries – the sweeping wide bay of Runswick, the mammoth proportions of Sandsend, Filey’s quiet Edwardian elegance, the dramatic cliffs and fishing villages in the far north and right down to the rugged wetlands of Spurn Point all feel so different.
There really is no need to leave Yorkshire if variety is what you’re after. Whitby, Scarborough, Bridlington and Hornsea might all feel like quaint seaside towns, yet each is unique in its personality and substance.
The breathtaking views in Nidderdale, Swaledale and the Howardian Hills have inspired artists from Turner to Henry Moore. The serenity of the Yorkshire Wolds moved David Hockney to put them at the centre of his work and the Staithes seascapes of Laura Knight and landscapes by Malham artist Katharine Holmes, capture the lasting beauty of our countryside.
The historic architecture surely rivals anything in London: there are bleakly ruined abbeys and castles, the ornate York Minster and Castle Howard where Brideshead Revisited was filmed.
Careful investment, regeneration and restoration mean our market towns are vibrant, thriving hives of industry. Just look at Malton. This once struggling town on the edge of the Howardian Hills is now the food capital of Yorkshire. And what about Beverley? Architecturally, it is stupendous with its stunning minster and it apparently inspired the naming of Beverley in Massachusetts and Beverly Hills in California.
Other wonderful towns include Helmsley on the edge of the North York Moors, full of history, character and stunning architecture. Maltby in South Yorkshire is mentioned in the Domesday Book and is chock-full of historic properties and the handsome ruins of Roche Abbey.
The Yorkshire I really love though embraces community and cultural difference, from the Leeds West Indian Carnival – one of the oldest such events in Europe – and Bradford, our curry capital, to the Leeds-based Phoenix Dance Theatre and Opera North.
Yorkshire has always been heaving with culture. We are the land of JB Priestley, Alan Bennett and Brian Blessed, three Brontë literary giants, Bond film composer John Barry, poets Ted Hughes and Ian McMillan and sculptor Barbara Hepworth, not to mention actors Dame Judi Dench and the new Doctor Who, Jodie Whittaker.
Our seven stunning cities rival any on a global platform. Each is full of contrast but in many ways they are complementary. Look at the success story of Hull. As the UK’s City of Culture in 2017 it has reinvented itself as Yorkshire’s only maritime city and has produced some amazing events, festivals and celebrations to excite residents and tourists alike.
The advanced manufacturing in Sheffield and Rotherham means we’re growing in expertise and stature. The renewable energy opportunities in our coastal towns mean they’re very desirable places to live and to work. The booming digital economy in Leeds has London looking over its shoulder.
And let’s not forget our food. Whatever your choice, you’ll find it here. Our climate gives our growers and farmers a natural advantage. It’s no coincidence that many of the world’s great chefs are from Yorkshire.
I’m very proud to be able to say Yorkshire has the most Michelin-star restaurants anywhere outside London and, just recently, the Black Swan at Olstead in North Yorkshire was named the best restaurant in the world in an international TripAdvisor poll.
Our food producers and makers are up there with the very best, not just in the UK but the world. I heard an interview on the BBC this week with Jamie Oliver. He was speaking in glowing terms about the uniqueness of Yorkshire food and its diversity and how it was so much better than for example his native Essex.
Lots of the best things about Yorkshire are brilliantly eccentric. Our diversity of people, our intense local rivalries, our love of sport. Our blunt speaking, The Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Knaresborough Bed Race, Black Sheep Bitter and Copper Dragon Ale, our natural entrepreneurial flair dating back centuries and our friendly and welcoming nature.
I was at the launch on Monday of the Shakespeare Rose Theatre which will open for a season in York next summer. This highlighted to me our vibrant arts and cultural scene and 1,000 people celebrated the diversity of the county’s tourism and hospitality industry later that day at the White Rose tourism awards.
I must mention our diverse sporting prowess. We excel at everything in Yorkshire from rugby league to boxing and, of course, cycling. Our rugby heroes swept the board this season bringing home lots of silverware; our young cyclist Tom Pidcock won the Junior Time Trial Gold at the 2017 UCI World Road Championships, and the Leeds boxer Josh Warrington has cleared the way for a world featherweight title challenge with his recent win at the Leeds Arena.
The Tour de Yorkshire grows year on year and this year boosted the economy by almost £64m. It’s now one of the biggest and best races in the sport. People have taken it to their hearts.
Our county is rich in its diversity, its challenges and its successes, but it’s the one thing that unites us all, the place we live and work – Yorkshire.
It’s clear to me now more than ever that in what looks like an increasingly divided and competitive world – and in the words of the late Jo Cox MP – we have more that unites us than divides us.
Our unique and natural strength makes up the powerful Yorkshire brand. We must unite, as a county and as a country.
Sir Gary Verity is chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire.