Continuing with our series of blogs for this year's Pride theme #AllOurPride, Our CEO Melina Jacovou put our Head of Content Laura in touch with the COO of Outernet, James McEwan. He gave an insightful chat all around his personal and professional practices.
Who are you and who do you work for?
I am James McEwan, founding team Chief Operating Officer behind the launch of Outernet London - the world’s most exciting and unique new media and entertainment district. Previously, I’ve worked in senior posts for some of the largest global media networks including Dentsu, Interpublic Group and Publicis Groupe.
Outernet is a new way to experience music, art and culture. It is a pioneering cross digital and physical platform: integrating giant digital screen content with brand promotions, events and retail. Our mission is to create experiences worth sharing for visitors. Outernet London is located at the junction of Oxford Street and Charing Cross Road – it is where Denmark Street’s music creativity, Soho’s diversity, and the West End’s retail, theatrical and party scenes collide. It is therefore really important to us that our district reflects the fantastic diversity in backgrounds, in thinking and in creative expression that London has to offer – across our screens, in our visitor facing teams and behind the scenes within our organisation: tolerance, diversity and inclusivity are wired into our DNA.
We are also focused on supporting and enhancing the communities around us, with 10% percent of our profits allocated to charitable causes through our ADOT foundation. In terms of LGBTQ+ community support, this is something incredibly important to both our CEO Philip and myself as members of the community, plus also to our Chairman who in fact opened the first gay bar in Soho.
For you personally, why is Pride so important? And how do Outernet and yourself get behind this?
PRIDE London is such an important stage to celebrate and promote inclusivity within our amazing city – such an important bridge between the LGBTQ+ community and wider supporters. During our construction phase we promoted PRIDE London with a giant flag on the side of our building – this year as an integral part of the Phase 1 opening of our district, I’m excited to say that we will be hosting specially-commissioned PRIDE content and accompanying events – the details for which will be announced very soon but currently are top secret!
We also separately have close ties with the British LGBT Awards, hosting events with them and our CEO Philip is a judge on their award panel.
What were your personal experiences of coming out as gay?
I came out as gay when I was 25 years old, having privately struggled with processing the feelings I was having for the 9 years leading up to that. My family and friends have always been extremely important to me and I’m fortunate to say that I couldn’t have asked for better support and love and acceptance when I did come out. For me perhaps the element of being gay that I struggled with most at the time was how I could still live a lifestyle similar to that I had grown up surrounded by and always wanted for myself. I worried about what my lasting legacy would be in the absence of having children, which thankfully since then is getting more and more open in terms of possibilities.
What I did decide is that I would focus on being the best person I could be to those around me, supporting and promoting them and their legacies. That support and care for others is the personal mantra most important to me in my life, it is the foundation for who I am and crosses over into my work life on a daily basis.
Has your experiences impacted the way you run a business, particularly Outernet and what they do?
I’m fortunate that I have worked in companies and with colleagues that have equally been very supportive of me. My previous company supported me during a 2-year relocation to Singapore to open up a new hub for the region, and they supported me in my relocation back to London with my wonderful Dutch partner Gijs, whom I met whilst there. In fact, the ex-Global President of the company was a cherished guest at our recent wedding last October.
What advice would you give to anyone who hasn’t come out yet but wants to?
In terms of advice about coming out to those wanting to, all I would say is that I believe the timing and manner is such a personal thing – there are no rights or wrongs, follow your own path. From a personal perspective I found it to be an incredible weight off my mind once I did it and have never looked back! I chose a friend’s wedding to do it – it meant I got to cover off a whole load of friends at one time, albeit pulling each of them to the side in turn to do so did mean that I missed out on quite a lot of dancefloor time – hopefully the friend getting married has since forgiven me for that!
- James McEwan, COO of Outernet