Ac­ci­den­tal star

China Daily’s Greg Foun­tain be­comes a so­cial me­dia sen­sa­tion

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - An­drew Moody re­ports. Con­tact the writer at an­drew­moody@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Greg Foun­tain has had more hits than even the big­gest pop stars would dare to dream of.

The 30-year-old Bri­ton is the pre­sen­ter of the “Good Luck China” se­ries of short videos, which have been a Chi­nese so­cial me­dia sen­sa­tion.

Of the se­ries of videos — all pro­duced by the China Daily new me­dia team — one alone re­ceived 50 mil­lion hits.

The video jour­nal­ist has now also made the na­tional news, ap­pear­ing on the main evening news pro­gram on CCTV 1 and a doc­u­men­tary pro­gram on the same chan­nel.

It is, how­ever, the light and in­for­mal style of the films in which Ying­guo Xiaoge, or English lit­tle brother as he’s known, which has cap­tured peo­ple’s at­ten­tion.

“I think the key word is ac­ces­si­bil­ity. A lot of the time — es­pe­cially with pol­i­tics — the lan­guage can be very dry and it is quite dif­fi­cult to re­late to,” he says.

Foun­tain, unas­sum­ing and mod­est de­spite his new fame, was speak­ing in the lobby of China Daily, where he has worked for just over 18 months.

He was ini­tially em­ployed as a copy edi­tor on the na­tional news desk on ar­riv­ing in China from Bahrain, where he was deputy news edi­tor of the Gulf Daily News.

Very early on in his time at the pa­per, he was as­signed to make a video for the an­nual ses­sions of the Na­tional Peo­ple’s Congress, the na­tional leg­is­la­ture, and the Chi­nese Peo­ple’s Po­lit­i­cal Con­sul­ta­tive Con­fer­ence, the top po­lit­i­cal ad­vi­sory body, in Bei­jing.

“We did this in Tian’an­men Square with me hold­ing a selfie stick read­ing from a bit of pa­per taped be­hind the phone. I was try­ing my best to look into the cam­era,” he laughs.

None­the­less the film proved an enor­mous suc­cess re­ceiv­ing 10 mil­lion hits in to­tal on a num­ber of plat­forms, in­clud­ing China Daily Weibo, WeChat and Face­book.

It came out at a time when there seemed to be an ap­petite for light but in­for­ma­tive films, with one, Song of Shisanwu, a gov­ern­ment video about the 13th Five Year-Plan (2016-20), es­pe­cially at­tract­ing a lot of pub­lic­ity.

Star ap­peal

Foun­tain has made a num­ber of films since in­clud­ing ones on Chi­nese tea cul­ture, China’s rail­ways, telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions, the 90th an­niver­sary of the Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army and most re­cently about China’s at­tempts to fight back against de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion in Sai­hanba on the He­bei provinceIn­ner Mon­go­lia au­ton­o­mous re­gion bor­der, for which he was re­cently in­ter­viewed by CCTV.

“I was stand­ing on this watch sta­tion and there was just trees to the hori­zon as far as the eye could see. The for­est was about the size of Hong Kong in terms of land cov­er­age.”

His video with the most hits so far, was the one of this year’s two ses­sions, which de­ployed green screen tech­nol­ogy show­ing a seem­ingly diminu­tive Foun­tain walk­ing along a desk.

“The mini me got a men­tion on the BBC and other me­dia out­lets,” he says. “In terms of pro­duc­tion stan­dards it was much more so­phis­ti­cated than the first one we pro­duced, which was a lot more rough and ready.”

The suc­cess of the films means that Foun­tain now of­ten gets rec­og­nized on the streets.

“A cou­ple of times I have no­ticed, even go­ing into a su­per­mar­ket, peo­ple tak­ing pic­tures on their iPhones so I am pretty sure they rec­og­nize me from the videos,” he says.

Un­like many broad­cast­ers from the United King­dom, Foun­tain does not speak in Re­ceived Pro­nun­ci­a­tion but in his na­tive York­shire ac­cent of the north of Eng­land.

“From what I have read — there have been stud­ies in the UK — the York­shire and Scot­tish ac­cents are among the most trusted Bri­tish ac­cents. My ac­cent is ac­tu­ally a lot broader when I am speak­ing to my mum on the phone or if I am in a pub back home,” he says.

“It is not pop­u­lar with ev­ery­one. Peo­ple have left com­ments say­ing they would pre­fer to hear an Amer­i­can ac­cent since they say it would be easier for them to un­der­stand.”

New ex­pe­ri­ence

Foun­tain was brought up in Bird­well, a vil­lage near Barns­ley in South York­shire. Af­ter at­tend­ing Wath Com­pre­hen­sive School, whose most fa­mous old boy was the former Con­ser­va­tive party leader and for­eign sec­re­tary William (now Lord) Hague, he stud­ied English and his­tory at Read­ing Univer­sity.

Want­ing to fol­low a me­dia ca­reer, he then did a master’s in print jour­nal­ism at Sh­effield Univer­sity.

“It was then that I first did a lit­tle bit of video, work­ing with some broad­cast guys who came into teach us,” he says.

His first job in jour­nal­ism was in Fal­mouth in Corn­wall in the south west of Eng­land, where he worked as re­porter on a weekly news­pa­per.

“It was a fan­tas­tic ex­pe­ri­ence. Apart from the bread and but­ter stuff like cov­er­ing courts and coun­cil meet­ings, we had crazy things like dol­phins be­ing beached and we would go and watch them be­ing res­cued and re­port on that.”

His first ex­pe­ri­ence of work­ing abroad came when he joined the Gulf Daily News in Bahrain in 2011.

“The place was sim­mer­ing af­ter the ‘Arab Spring’. I spent the first eight months wear­ing out shoe leather as a re­porter cov­er­ing the fu­ner­als of po­lice­men who had been killed by road­side IEDs (im­pro­vised ex­plo­sive de­vices),” he re­calls.

He went in to be­come the pa­per’s deputy news edi­tor, where he was on call un­til mid­night every other night, be­fore ac­cept­ing an of­fer to come and work for China Daily.

“The day be­fore leav­ing Bahrain, I was sit­ting in the sun in shorts, T-shirt and sun­glasses. When I ar­rived in Bei­jing, it was -17 C. We ar­rived in the ab­so­lute bit­ter cold of win­ter. It was quite a shock.”

Be­fore he started at China Daily, Foun­tain had never been to China.

Home from home

He has since set­tled in. He and his 29-year-old part­ner Maria, a former chef and now yoga teacher, have an 18-month-old mon­grel res­cue dog called Ponyo.

“Peo­ple think it is named pengyou (the Chi­nese word for friend) but it is named af­ter the Ja­panese an­i­ma­tion film. The vet said there is a bit of corgi in her and some­thing else.”

Foun­tain says he and his part­ner are cur­rently study­ing Chi­nese on­line.

“We are both strug­gling along. It is prob­a­bly the least ef­fec­tive way of study­ing. We are des­per­ately try­ing to save up for our wed­ding in the UK in Novem­ber so we don’t have the money to pay for lessons at the mo­ment.”

Apart from be­ing a video jour­nal­ist, Foun­tain is also a colum­nist for China Daily and has made his views known on a num­ber of sub­jects, in­clud­ing the UK’s de­ci­sion to leave the Euro­pean Union in last year’s ref­er­en­dum.

“I never thought there should have been a vote in the first place. I be­lieve it is dam­ag­ing for the fu­ture of the coun­try I would love to be proved wrong but I have seen noth­ing yet that con­tra­dicts that. I am glad not to be in Bri­tain right now but let’s see.”

For now, Foun­tain wants to carry on mak­ing films and ex­plain­ing China to his fol­low­ing of fans.

“I love work­ing at China Daily and in Bei­jing. I came here from Bahrain, a place with 1.3 mil­lion peo­ple and here there are 1.3 bil­lion. You could live in Bei­jing for a decade and still find things you haven’t seen or done,” he says.

“Any­one who takes an in­ter­est in the news has to take an in­ter­est in China be­cause it’s now a huge player in so many ways.”

Any­one who takes an in­ter­est in the news has to take an in­ter­est in China be­cause it’s now a huge player in so many ways.” Greg Foun­tain, video jour­nal­ist of China Daily

DU LIANYI / CHINA DAILY

Greg Foun­tain has be­come a celebrity on­line due to his short videos on China’s pol­i­tics, cul­ture and econ­omy.

Foun­tain ap­pears in a mini size (top) in the video about the two ses­sions in March, which re­ceived 50 mil­lion hits. His lat­est project is to cover the fight against de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion in Sai­hanba (above) on the He­bei prov­ince-In­ner Mon­go­lia au­ton­o­mous re­gion bor­der.

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