Searching for Madrid’s first cultural ambassador: Mick Jagger said no, Tim Burton said yes

The American filmmaker will receive the newly-created award in September, but local historians point out that he has little or no connection to the Spanish capital

Mick Jagger, Tim Burton
Mick Jagger (l) and Tim Burton were both asked to be Madrid honorary ambassadors.
Manuel Viejo

Tim Burton has never made a film about Madrid. He doesn’t own a home there, and has never even lived in Spain. Yet, in September of this year, Madrid’s mayor, José Luis Martínez-Almeida, will appoint him as the city’s ambassador.

The 63-year-old American director will visit the Spanish capital to receive the award and present an interactive exhibition of his films. But controversy awaits the eccentric artist: several Madrid historians and journalists have already voiced complaints about the choice.

“They asked us for a report to assess who should be given [the ambassadorship], when it turns out that they had already determined the winner,” said one of the 10 historians and journalists on a team known as Cronistas de la Villa de Madrid, whose job it is to conduct research and educate about the city’s history, in a phone conversation with EL PAÍS. “I like his films, but why should he be Madrid’s ambassador? What has he done for the city?”

Until this so-called ambassadorship, the regulations for awarding honorary distinctions had hardly changed since the 1960s. The most important title in Madrid is that of Favorite Son, which can only be given to those who were born in the capital and who, “due to their outstanding personal qualities or merits,” have contributed to the “improvement” and “honor” of Madrid. The last individual to receive this title was the writer Almudena Grandes. There is also the title of Adoptive Son, which can be granted to those who, without being born in Madrid, also meet the aforementioned criteria. Some notable winners include the novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, tennis star Rafael Nadal and director Pedro Almodóvar. Both titles can be awarded posthumously.

The city also grants the Madrid Medals. And now, of course, there is the latest title: Ambassador of Madrid. But why another prize? “Publicity” may be the answer to that question.

During her campaign, City Councilor Andrea Levy – who leads the Culture, Tourism and Sports Department – promised to capitalize on the large number of artists who pass through the Spanish capital by using them to boost Madrid’s international profile as a tourist destination.

The first name considered by the Cultural committee was that of Mick Jagger. The lead vocalist for The Rolling Stones visited Madrid in June to open his latest international tour. What better way to capitalize on the visit of the world’s most legendary rock group than with the delivery of this award at City Hall? But Jagger, according to unnamed sources, rejected it.

“His people told us no, that he was very afraid of the coronavirus and wanted to avoid any indoor events with many people.” The singer did, however, take walks around Madrid. On his social media, he posted about visiting Picasso’s famous painting Guernica in the Reina Sofia Museum and the statue of the Fallen Angel in El Retiro Park.

After Jagger turned down their offer, the Cultural team began to audit Madrid’s cultural calendar. Which other world artist had planned a great act in the city? “September was perfect,” said a source involved in the decision-making process, “because we had Tim Burton’s visit lined up.” Burton, unlike Jagger, agreed immediately.

Upon learning of this new prize, the opposition parties on the city council were very critical. “All of us… admire the work of this filmmaker,” said the Socialist Party (PSOE) spokesperson, Mar Espinar, “but there are more than reasonable doubts regarding the director’s connection to the city of Madrid. The PP (the center-right Popular Party, Madrid’s ruling party) has to accept that it cannot do whatever it wants.” The same opinion was voiced by the progressive More Madrid party. “This was botched from the beginning to the end,” said Councilor Pilar Perea. “Burton has no connection with this city.”

After the controversy, the Cultural committee asked the 10 local cronistas for their thoughts on the new award. EL PAÍS has learned that the majority expressed their opposition. Everyone believes that Burton is a great filmmaker, but as to whether he deserves to be Madrid’s ambassador, most agree that “he has done very little or almost nothing” for the city. This opinion, however, is not binding – especially since the decision has already been made.

Upon receiving these opinions, the Culture committee has now toned down its response. “We have made a communication error,” admitted a spokeswoman. “We will apologize to the historians and the opposition. We will try to more clearly explain what the prize entails. We want Madrid to have more international visibility. That is the sole objective.”

Burton will arrive in Madrid in September. The director, however, is not known for being a lover of promotional tours. In an interview with this newspaper in 2010, he gave the following answers during a London event:

EP: “Shouldn’t you be a little more used to this media circus of promotions and interviews?”

TM: “No, I’m not used to it. I don’t usually read reviews or watch my movies again. I don’t like the craziness that is published about me at all. A German journalist once wrote that Helena (Burton’s then-wife) and I lived in two separate houses connected via a tunnel. It’s crazy.”

EP: But you guys live in separate houses, right?”

TM: Yes, through a tunnel.

The couple broke up in 2014.

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