I was just reading a review of Richard Branson: The Inside Story (or Richard Branson: The Authorized Biography in the US) to try and decide whether I would bother reading it after reading his autobiography. (I don’t think it adds enough to bother buying it, incidentally, and covers too much of the same ground.) One thing I noticed reading the reviews on Amazon.co.uk was a comment from ‘A reader from london.’ Mr reader (I know that’s not their name) states:
Like many people I had read many stories in newspapers which did not flatter Mr. Branson. It always struck me as sour grapes and another example of the sad way which we in Britain knock people who have built things and made some money in the process.
The Brits do have a tendency to knock our successes. There have been numerous examples of us ripping into successful people via the press and other means. The thing is though, I’m not so sure it’s such a bad thing. You see, I think it keeps people humble. Some people are naturally humble anyway, and I believe (but have no hard fact to back it up) the press leave them alone. It’s grandstanding the Brits can’t stand, that and people standing around saying ‘look at me, look how great I am.’ (Branson comes in for stick for all his publicity stunts, done to help promote his businesses, often on a shoestring budget, but seen as ‘blowing ones own trumpet’ by many)
This is somewhat in keeping with the British attitude. We’re a somewhat understated bunch, not really reserved, more, restrained. We’ve been encouraged, through years of social engineering, to act in a dignified manor. The history of British achievement is long and impressive, but we don’t spend our time wandering around telling everyone about it. We’re a nation that has always, and continues, to punch above it’s weight. And most of this has been achieved without the sizeable budgets other countries dole out to their research groups. Arguably this has made us more inventive.
With that in mind, I think our ability to ‘knock’ achievers actually means they a) stay hungry to prove and b) stay grounded. Unlike some other countries who blow sunshine up people’s asses at the first sign of talent until they start to believe their own hype, our achievers seem a more stable bunch. Even our eccentrics look pretty tame when you start to look around. On the other hand it does seem to have knocked our perception of our nation, we aren’t aware of our position in the world. As far as many of us are concerned, we’re just a small little island off the coast of Europe. In reality, we rank near the top of richest, most powerful and most important countries in the world. You wouldn’t know it to look at us though.