Essex is an area of a rich and diverse history. It is the place where Queen Boudica of the Iceni led the resistance against the Romans and where Clement Attlee decided to rebuild Britain after the Second World War.
But over recent years it has perhaps become more synonymous with reality show The Only Way Is Essex, and references to an “Essex girl” are likely not meant as a compliment. The county may bring to mind the show’s cast of porn star martini-swilling perma-tanned reality stars, rather than Celtic heroines or sandy beaches.
Essex county council, however, is aiming to tackle this stigma and is investing more than £300,000 for a tourist campaign to showcase the county’s more highbrow culture.
New adverts, featuring Essex scientists and Michelin-star chefs, will go out this spring, with the council boss hoping they “challenge people’s preconceived views of how they see Essex on TV”.
The Galvin Brothers, who own five leading restaurants in London, were born in the county, as was Sir Roger Penrose, the eminent mathematical physicist, who won a Nobel prize in physics in 2020 for his work on black holes.
Council bosses want to tackle the stereotype that surrounds the county, thanks to TV programmes like The Only Way is Essex (often referred to as Towie) – which features locals with pearly white teeth, artificially bronzed skin and made the Sugar Hut nightclub in Brentwood one of Britain’s top tourist attractions – which is thought to have contributed to how people perceive the place.
Tourism boss Lisa Bone said: “There’s a lot of talk about the way Essex is depicted but unless we tell people what it’s really like, they’ll only have one impression.”
The project will also feature footage of the 350-mile long coastline and highlight the best produce to come out of Essex, including its wine — with Dedham Vale vineyard in Colchester known for its high-end sparkling range.
It is also expected to focus on the other tourist attractions in the county, such as the small town of Thaxted — once home to the composer Gustav Holst — and the Great British export of Tiptree jam, which has been made in Essex since 1757.
Sir Bob Russell, the former MP for Colchester, welcomed the campaign: “It’s for discerning visitors, not the kiss-me-quick, candyfloss daytrippers, or those who wrongly think the whole of Essex is like the fictional portrayal in that awful TV series.”
But, for the place that popularised the phrase “no carbs before Marbs”— a reference to Marbella, the southern Spain holiday destination — there is also concern town bosses are being snobbish towards a significant element of modern Essex.
Gemma Collins, once a star of The Only Way Is Essex from Romford who is affectionately nicknamed “The GC” and the show’s fans, said the money could be better spent.
“The only rebrand our great county needs is one to shake up that stuffy lot. To say we need to change our ‘reputation’ is an affront to every hard-working person from Essex who has grafted to make something of themselves,” she told The Sun.