Out in The City

 |  May 1, 2012

“The problem with the French is that they don’t have a word for entrepreneur.” – George W. Bush, discussing the decline of the French economy with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

No such problems for the gay community. Part of being a successful business operator is the ability to think outside the box. In many ways, gay people are already outside the box and innovation is second nature. However, it is no guarantee of success. Kenneth Bird, an old fashioned gay man, became the youngest captain in the Royal Tank Regiment, was the British Army show jumping champion and ended his uniformed career as Aide de Campe to Gen. Sir G. Evans at Flagstaff house when, in his words, “Hong Kong blew up!”

He loved Southeast Asia, joined the UK/Thai Society and was awarded the ‘Legion d’Honneur, Grand Croix’ when he spied for the French in Vietnam. He swung back to swinging London in the swinging sixties and enjoyed huge success as marketing director of Vogue magazine, his suave charm and devastatingly handsome good looks were the talk of the town. It was time to go independent.

He launched a publication called ‘Instant Cookery’, the first of its kind to build up into a complete reference in monthly parts, held in binders that were sold separately and had regular contributions from Dame Barbara Cartland and the eventually infamous Fanny Craddock. It failed. The market was not ready for it. Mr. Bird then became the first in the world to sell wine in boxes. Another failure. Again, the market was not ready. After a brief flirtation with the antiques trade, dear Kenneth ended his professional life as marketing director of ‘Age Concern’, a major UK charity.

Thailand refuses to surrender its crown as the world’s number one gay destination – it’s official! Chiang Mai is a major component of the attraction that draws tourists and expats from West and East and is not short of entrepreneurs who cater to this specialist niche market. They may not all be as innovative as they could be but if invention is not their strongest suit, their philanthropy has to be applauded.

Hardly a month passes without a special bash to raise cash for charities. And before you cry, ‘self-interest’, the benevolence extends way beyond the borders of purely gay recipients. Orphanages, women’s groups and special needs children all feature among those who benefit from gay largesse, instigated by gay entrepreneurs and supported by their gay customers in a land far from home, a land of so many, desperate for the cream of cash cows and the unbridled generosity of their clientele.

James Barnes is editor-in-chief of OUT in Thailand Magazine.