I’ve never thought of myself as a particularly patriotic person. I don’t get emotional about cricket or red buses, and I’ve heard “Jerusalem” played at too many funerals to enjoy it much. However, I came very close to pulling a woman’s head off her shoulders last week because she insulted a symbol that I love. On the East Coast mainline train from London to Newcastle a braying voice suddenly spouted out a mouthful of venom and ridicule aimed at MY ANGEL…and it is mine. It might belong to a lot of other people too but I have an emotional connection with it that makes it mine.
I love this angel and everything it says about the regeneration of the North East. This area was savaged by Thatcherism in the 1980’s. We lost our pits, our shipyards, our steel works. We were in danger of descending into a nothingness of half-jobs and hopelessness, answering phones in call centres instead of building ships.
We were worth more than that and the North East fought back. It regenerated and reinvented itself and, in general, has a level of prosperity and a standard of living higher than it ever had.
The angel was part of that fightback.
It was a brave decision to spend so much money on a piece of public art, a decision heavily criticised by people who thought the money would have been better spent on housing and job creation, but Antony Gormley’s “Angel of the North” was a statement of intent. The most viewed piece of public art in Britain was a powerful declaration of Newcastle/Gateshead’s capacity to reinvent itself.
Anyone visiting the Tyne quayside can have no doubt that the reinvention has been achieved – the Baltic Museum of Modern Art, the SageGateshead music venue, the wonderful “blinking eye” Millennium Bridge. It was a reinvention that started with the angel.
As a piece of art it carries powerful symbols of North Eastern heritage. It celebrates the engineering skills of this region, it embraces the religious past of Durham Cathedral and Holy Island, and its position at an old pithead is a wonderful memorial to the miners of our past.
It’s a symbol of homecoming and a gesture of defiance. You might not like it but it’s not something to be ignored and it’s a powerful reminder than the North East wasn’t going under without a fight.