WEEKLY WANKER #078: THE ICON AWARDS

Emerging from nowhere back in 2015 and almost instantly engulfed in controversy, the Icon Awards are/were a big swanky reception and awards ceremony pitched at the LGBTI+ community.    Since the beginning, their actual relationship to that community has been, at best, patchy but it now seems any goodwill that did exist between those behind the awards and the people they’re supposed to be for and about has vanished.

This year’s event was finally cancelled following mass resignations and a furore over ticket price.  The organisers of the event intended to charge nominees, including campaigners and charity groups, to pay to attend the event.  When one of the nominees, Liam Stevenson, co-founder of the Time for Inclusion Education (TIE) Campaign, raised this on Twitter and asked to withdraw from being nominated, the response from The Icon Awards was utterly bizarre, “I believe we have a photo of you receiving a cheque for £1000 for the TIE Campaign last year.”

Whether that was a veiled threat or an attempt to implicate TIE in their own nonsense, who knows but anyway, TIE said the Icon Awards could have their money back.  When Stevenson pointed out the £1000 TIE had received was prize money, the response was even more bizarre, “Can you enlighten us as to which prize you won? On our records, and on the Instagram post it states ‘grant donation’, which you have happily accepted.”  Perhaps if the Icon Awards had checked their Twitter records, they may have spotted the congratulations they offered to TIE last year.  Double congrats, for those keeping scores.

“Can you enlighten us as to which prize you won?”

Belatedly apologising for shitting all over TIE and offering 1 free ticket to nominees (coz who doesn’t want to sit by yerself?) clearly wasn’t enough to satisfy many, with board member after board member resigning from the Icon board. By Monday, their Facebook page finally announced the news it was over, at least for this year.  Or so we thought.

So…what?  A social media stooshie somehow sunk a big awards ceremony?  Not by a long way.

This week was a turning point in a long tale.  Beyond the concerns expressed about the TIE debacle, there were some references floating around that stood out.  In their joint resignation statement from the Board, Justin Smithies and Thomas Anderson spoke of “answers relating to transparency between the charity, Big Impact, who run The Icon Awards, and the link to Paramount who own the icon awards” and a “history of negative stories and issues from their founding in 2015”.

If phrases like “history of negative stories and issues” and “answers relating to transparency” do unmentionable things to you, you’ve cum to the right place.  So without further ado, here’s your Weekly Wanker history lesson on the fall and fall of the Icon Awards:

The Icon awards were first announced early in 2015, with an unknown (certainly in the LGBTI+ community) events company known as Paramount Creative behind the expensive affair.  Instantly pissing on the established Equality Network Awards, the event and the commercial setup raised alarm bells among those of us who’re instinctively suspicious of private companies coming in to “celebrate” our wondrous achievements, for a small fee.  A closer look showed that The Icon Awards were the latest in a series of awards ceremonies for various things like cooking and being Italian that Paramount Creative had been involved in.

In 2015, to promote the first awards, the Icon promoters rocked up to Edinburgh Uni with models in blackface.  This resulted in criticism from The BME Liberation group,

The use of this despicable practice is incredibly damaging and actively perpetuates the oppression of Black communities. In this context, it is particularly harmful to those who identify as both Black and LGBT+, for whom this incident is a reminder that they are not fully accepted, even within the LGBT+ community.

Despite getting help from a lawyer who condemned much of the online criticism as #defamation, it’s fair to say the awards were doomed before they’d really begun in the eyes of some i.e. us.  Before the first awards ceremony, we wrote:

The Icon Awards ceremony is being organised by Paramount Creative, a “Specialist design, marketing and events company”, with no apparent links to the LGBTQIA community and are charging £120 to attend. Is this really what our movement has become?  Being “rewarded” by faceless companies using liberal amounts of misogyny and racism in their advertising, at exclusive ceremonies sponsored by designer pants and swanky clubs?

But it transpired, Paramount Creative had a face and he had “links to the LGBTQIA community”.   Warren Paul, CEO of Paramount Creative once bullied a gay employee so badly, he was forced to pay out over £118,000, the biggest payout of its kind at the time. This, along with his history of running an events company that made cash from running awards ceremonies, led to years of rumblings that maybe, these awards weren’t being run in the best interests of the community.  In 2017, the event was suddenly given over to a newly registered charity, Big Impact.

Warren Paul, CEO of Paramount Creative who founded the Icon awards

A bit of due diligence/Google revealed Big Impact shared an address with Paramount Creative and listed Sarah Paul, wife of Warren Paul, as a director.   Sarah Paul is listed as “Design and Operations Manager” of Paramount Creative so at least she doesn’t have a long commute should she happen to be doing a bit of work for Big Impact.

Following the resignations from the Icon Awards Board, Big Impact released a statement which didn’t directly reference many of the actual concerns (i.e. Warren Paul and the historic/currency lack of transparency), didn’t name Warren Paul and still somehow appears to be trying to imply he wasn’t involved.  That’s  no mean feat since the statement’s signed by his wife, points out that his company provides free office space, internet communication and unspecified “supplies” to Big Impact and that 50% of the paid staff of Big Impact is, erm, Warren Paul’s mother-in-law.

The other Awards Ceremony Big Impact were involved in, Charity Champions, have been quiet this year.  The contact details on their website are for Scott Barclay, whose Linkedin profile stated he was chief executive of Big Impact and chair of the Icon Awards.  Barclay was convicted of stealing £10,000 from a TSB to pay alleged blackmailers earlier this year.   In a statement to the Evening Times following the trial, Big Impact said,

Scott Barclay is no longer involved with Big Impact and stepped down last year, this involved a brief tenure heading up Big Impact’s event portfolio and ended his role as chair of Icon.  Big Impact are grateful to Scott for his voluntary contributions towards the Icon Awards over the last three years

It’s only because of the evolving structure of those behind the Icon awards that “brief tenure” and “over the last three years” can appear in the same statement about the same person, who said he was their Chief Executive.

So after years of probing, we now know that besides sharing an internet connection, Scott Barclay, a registered address, the ties of matrimony and unknown “supplies”, there’s not much to connect Big Impact and Paramount Creative and certainly no reason to believe Warren Paul might ultimately still be involved in the Icon Awards in some capacity.

And so it was that when the curtain was pulled back, the Wizard himself appeared.  In a statement released just hours after the awards were cancelled, Warren Paul explained how Paramount Creative had “decided to license the Icon Awards over to a charity” (which just so happened to have just been set up, by his wife, and now employs a whole 1 paid staff member who’s not his mother-in law). But it seems he now wants to palm the awards off on someone else and has even suggested keeping the same date and venue.

“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain”

With Big Impact apparently kicked to the kerb, who knows what will become of the fledgling charity. With no Icon Awards and no sign of Charity Champions either, maybe the planet will get a rest from the impact of Sarah Paul’s long commute between her various roles.

Because of the restructurings, the actual amount of money made, paid and donated as a result of the Icon Awards over their history won’t ever be clear – but questions about whose ball it really was were suddenly answered when Warren Paul tried to punt his burst sack back at the LGBTI+ community.

It’s been a whole…few days since the last shambles involving organisations trying to coin in our pink pounds, after Pride Glasgow blatantly oversold their event, leaving paid ticket holders in the very hot lurch. Much as I can’t stop fantasising about an ICON/Pride Glasgow crossover, where you’re nominated for an award and have to pay £45 to not even get into the hotel, it just needs to end.

Between blackface, blackmail, cancellations, refused nominations, mass resignations, returned donations, homophobic bullying, family ties and literally robbing a bank, those associated with the Icon Awards haven’t done much to keep the brand shiny – so quite why Warren Paul now imagines any credible LGBTI+ group would want to “license” or acquire this stain is unclear.  It’s surely time for these awards to be consigned to the wank bank of history.

Especially when we already have an established, prestigious and internationally recognised award, the Weekly Wanker – and this week, the Icon Awards are getting it.

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Further reading:

Selling out and blacking up aren’t worth rewarding
Pride Glasgow’s fence needs to come down for good 
WEEKLY WANKER #074: PRIDE GLASGOW

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Follow us on Twitter @unsavourycabal

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