As Welcome to Yorkshire celebrates its 10th anniversary, BBC Look North's Harry Gration MBE catches up with its Chief Executive, Sir Gary Verity DL. Think sheep, cycling and so much more.
Define what it means to be a Yorkshire person.
A love of the whole of the county and its diversity, the coast, countryside, cities and an appreciation of arts and sport. Pride is a big thing too.
How much did your childhood shape your future?
I was brought up in Leeds and travelled extensively in Yorkshire with my parents, giving me an appreciation of all it has to offer.
How did you end up in a North Yorkshire farm?
I wanted to be a vet but I could never get my head around physics. I’ve always loved animals and the Yorkshire Dales and was inspired by the Dales vet James Herriot’s books. I thought if I can’t become a vet, then I’ll become a Dales sheep farmer!
When you took over as Chief Executive of Welcome to Yorkshire ten years ago, things were very different?
The role was not as broad, certainly not as high profile and it functioned in a different culture with a different set of objectives. We needed to put Yorkshire on the map and help the county’s businesses realise their full potential and to raise the profile of Yorkshire but change perceptions too.
Your outstanding ability is getting ‘summat for nowt’?
Welcome to Yorkshire has an amazing team of people continually working with very limited resources, to do the excellent things we’ve achieved and what we’ll continue to do. That’s a fact! We have to beg, borrow and cajole people to give us as much support as possible. We’re a not-for-profit organisation and none of us do it for the money. It’s not a job, it’s a mission. We love what we do and it’s an honour and pleasure to do it but we do it for the benefit of everyone in Yorkshire.
When did the passion for cycling start?
Ten years ago it became clear that the London Olympic Games in 2012 were going to be a huge success, with massive resources and tremendously talented people involved. The games would fuel an economic boom in London and the south-east, plus there was going to be an independence referendum in Scotland. The concern was that Yorkshire could become the forgotten bit and the county needed a big event to put it on the map once and for all.
The biggest sporting event in the world is the Olympic Games, next is the FIFA World Cup, third is the Tour de France, so the obvious thing was cycling! In 2014 we did it and it was a game changer for Yorkshire. Since then the love and passion for cycling has developed rapidly.
The Tour de France Grand Départ could easily have been the sporting pinnacle, but it’s actually been the spur for making Yorkshire something of a cycling HQ.
Following on from the Grand Départ, Welcome to Yorkshire created the annual Tour de Yorkshire international cycling race and it’s gone from strength to strength. In 2018 the race boosted the county’s economy by a massive £98 million, with a record 2.6 million spectators lining the route over four days and it was televised in 190 countries, watched by 12.5 million viewers. For eight days in September we’ll also be welcoming the UCI Road World Championships to Yorkshire.
Cycling can be the catalyst for so many things … it helps promote the county’s food and drink businesses, as well as art and culture, plus it can encourage social change and build economic development. The Grand Départ was the start, not the end, of the cycling journey.
What have been the other highlights of Welcome to Yorkshire’s last ten years?
So many, including the multiaward- winning Yorkshire garden at The RHS Chelsea Flower Show, 61 bike libraries providing over 6,000 bikes and the White Rose Awards - the UK’s largest tourism awards ceremony. Our involvement with The Railway Children production, Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle, the Olivier award-winning pantomime Dick Whittington at the London Palladium produced by Scarborough’s Qdos Entertainment. International partnerships with Yorkshire County Cricket Club, sponsoring the team’s Twenty20 tour of South Africa in 2012, plus promoting Yorkshire all over the world; in Australia at the Tour Down Under, the Tour de France, at Spain’s Vuelta a España, in New York, Singapore and Berlin for the Leeds International Piano Competition, the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race and Innsbruck, Austria for the 2018 UCI Road World Championships.
I’m also lucky to meet so many different, interesting, nice and genuine people who are so inspiring. It sounds a bit cheesy but every day is a highlight.
For example, a group wanting to raise money for charity, wondered if Welcome to Yorkshire could help. In walked the ladies, dressed in everyday work gear and said “We’re going to row across the Atlantic!” I thought it was a crazy idea, but we got behind them, put Welcome to Yorkshire branding on their boat, encouraged and supported the team.
The Yorkshire Rows went on to be the first women to row across the North Sea and hold the Guinness World Record for rowing 3000 nautical miles across the Atlantic Ocean. Four working Yorkshire mums smashed the world’s toughest rowing race.
That’s what sometimes happens in these meetings, it’s wonderful. Could it happen anywhere else? Probably not...only in Yorkshire.
What have been your personal Yorkshire highlights?
The day my daughter Lily was born, being knighted in 2015 for services to tourism...AND Leeds United winning the First Division title in 1991/92!
Anything you’ve wanted to achieve but haven’t achieved yet?
I’d like to have had the Grand Départ of the Tour de France back again sooner than we’re going to get it, but that’s because I’m naturally impatient.
Is Yorkshire getting another Grand Départ?
Christian Prudhomme, Director of the Tour de France, has said publicly and privately that Yorkshire will get another Grand Départ and he’s the boss!
There’s so much to look forward to from Welcome to Yorkshire and the second Grand Départ in Yorkshire will be even bigger than the first, which, in the words of the French was ‘THE grandest of Grand Départs in the history of the Tour de France’. To do an even grander Grand Départ will be very special.
This article was taken from This is Y 2019.