Why ad man Trevor loves life at the top

Trevor Beattie's flat  in Birmingham's transformed Rotunda building is 250 feet up in the air, overlooking the working-class suburb where he grew up.

Trevor Beattie
Trevor Beattie

There is something about the amiable adman that likes being at the top.

He long ago scaled the career ladder, famous for his Wonderbra campaign and French Connection's 'FCUK' rebrand with former employer TBWA, before setting up his own agency Beattie McGuinness Bungay, recently valued at £60 million.

Even away from business, he is reaching for the stars, having bought a £100,000 ticket to become a passenger on the inaugural space flight aboard Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic.

But the mop-haired Wolverhampton Polytechnic graduate remains impressively grounded with a natural empathy for the have-nots of this world.

With comedian Eddie Izzard he gave a generous donation to pay for a group of Normandy veterans to return last year to the beaches of northern France for the 65th anniversary of D-Day.

He also bought a bag at auction belonging to the only living survivor of the Titanic before promptly returning it to its owner who needed the money to pay for her care in a residential home.

Then in November he stepped into the Underhill House controversy with an offer to pay to keep the building in Bushbury open for another year.

The gesture was turned down by Wolverhampton Council and the home closed last month, forcing 106-year-old Louisa Watts and the four other remaining residents to move out.

Now he intends to wreak his revenge with a one-man ad campaign to boot out every councillor who voted against the offer as they come up for re-election.

With plans to print the names and photographs of all 32 refusniks under a headline declaring Eviction Notice, he hopes voters will seize the chance to make their mark.

Leaning forward to make his point, he says: "To evict a 106-year-old woman on the coldest day of the coldest winter in 30 years was staggering. Are these councillors so self-important, they think they are immune to democracy? When they said 'What use is a year?', it showed an appalling lack of human understanding and compassion. Do I have to spell it out – she's 106.

"If the people of Wolverhampton vote them back in, that's fine. I won't be urging them to vote for any particular party. They can vote Raving Monster Loony Party – again – if they want, all I want to do is remind them, the people, of their power – and if I have to get Eddie Izzard to come and help me campaign, I will."

It is a few years since the proud Midlander, one of eight children, studied in the city but he returns regularly, last time bringing his good friend and Tony Blair's former spin doctor Alastair Campbell.

In his college days Beattie was based in the Faculty of Art and Design on the ring road, overlooking the Molineux stadium.

"I couldn't afford to go to the games but from the third floor I could watch half the matches – that's because you could only see half the pitch.

"I remember there being more pubs in Wolverhampton than any town I'd ever been to. We used to go to The Feathers by the ground. I was in there just before Christmas with Alastair Campbell, who's a big Burnley fan, when we stuffed them two-nil. That was fun."

Beattie has spoken of his gratitude to John Lowe, his lecturer at Wolverhampton, where he studied graphic design and photography and where his uncle, Ken Sambrooks, was a photographic technician.

"I realised I didn't want to do graphic design and John told me about this thing called advertising and how I could be a copywriter. He got me a recommendation for a creative scholarship at an agency in London. "John's a legend, he's retired now but he's become a good friend."

Despite a sprinkling of silver hairs, the ringleted 50-year-old is showing no signs of taking his foot off the professional pedal.

His latest project involves a feature-length sci-fi film, called Moon, directed by David Bowie's son Duncan Jones, formerly Zowie Bowie, who worked for him at BMB.

Beattie is executive producer and a major financer of the film, which has been nominated for two awards at this month's BAFTAs.

He has a few more movie projects in the pipeline, including one with Harry Hill, as he sees advertising morphing into a different animal with the growth of new media.

"The big struggle for advertising is identifying our audience. People aren't watching television anymore - the only mass consumption now is The X Factor and that's not enough. We're having to look at product placement and other ways of doing things."

He has views about most subjects. Of the Cadbury takeover, he says the company was too meek about its world-famous brands. "They should have run a marketing campaign extolling the values of Flake, Cream, Egg and Dairy Milk – the least they could have achieved was to price themselves out of the market.

"But at the end of the day Cadbury was already sold – 40 per cent was already owned by the Americans."

And of the demise of the West Midland car industry? "I feel sorry for Rover but the people who were complaining the most were driving around in their Toyotas and Peugeots. Rover's end was as much the fault of the people for not buying the product."

Talking of cars, he doesn't have one – because he has never learned to drive, despite coming from a family of car mechanics.

"My plan is to go into space before I learn to drive," he says."And anyway, I've got a bus pass."

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