Four seasons of celebrations planned for Hull UK City of Culture

PUBLISHED: 00:00 07 June 2016 | UPDATED: 13:00 07 June 2016

Welcome to Hull

Welcome to Hull


The man behind the London Olympic ceremonies and the Grand Départ sets his sights on Hull

Martin Green,  chief executive of Hull: UK City of Culture 2017Martin Green, chief executive of Hull: UK City of Culture 2017

He persuaded the Queen to jump out of a plane into the Olympic Stadium, so organising 365 days of culture in Hull should be a doddle. OK, so Martin Green wasn’t actually standing behind Her Majesty holding her corgi as she parachuted earthwards to mark the start of the 2012 Games, but he was the chap who commissioned Slumdog Millionaire and Trainspotting director Danny Boyle to create the dazzling opening ceremony.

If you were hiding in a coal bunker at the bottom of the garden at the time, among the edited highlights were: 320 children bouncing on NHS hospital beds, 32 Mary Poppins descending from the sky under umbrella-power, Rowan Atkinson in Bean-ish guise performing with the London Symphony Orchestra and, of course, the Queen out-twinkling Dame Judi Dench to charm James Bond before parachuting from a plane.

It was a suitably daring, creative and emphatically British start to the iconic Games and more than a little credit has to go to Martin Green who, as head of ceremonies for London 2012, showed admirable chutzpah in getting it – and the Queen – off the ground.

He went on to executive produce the Tour de France’s opening ceremony in Leeds in 2014 and is now chief executive and director of Hull UK City of Culture 2017, tasked with bringing 365 days of transformative, inspirational culture to East Yorkshire’s unofficial capital.

‘It seemed a logical extension of the work I’d done before,’ said Martin, who took up the post in October 2014. ‘I was looking for a way to use the knowledge and experience I’d gained. This project came up and I knew immediately it was the perfect choice. It was, frankly, an irresistible prospect.’

An artist's impression of Humber Street after redevelopmentAn artist's impression of Humber Street after redevelopment

There’s no escaping the fact that Hull itself, however, has proved resistible to many over the years, largely because of misconceptions and ill-informed prejudice that have clouded its skies like seagulls over the docks. But for Martin, that’s part of its attraction.

‘There are cities like Hull all over the country that are not the first, second, third or even fourth largest population in their region,’ he said. ‘They’re in a difficult position and are victims of all kinds of preconceived ideas.

‘But you just have to come to Hull once to know it’s not true. This is a bright, thriving, exciting city that’s already full of great culture. We call it the “Hull Oh” because as soon as people arrive they say “Oh, but it’s great”.

‘The problem in the past has been getting people to come here in the first place. That’s what we can do.’

The arts and cultural programme beginning to take shape for 2017 (and due to be revealed later this month) will celebrate the unique character of the city, its people, history and geography, and will be split into four distinct seasons, each with something intriguing and creative to say.


Season One: Made in Hull, which runs from January to March, will shake up people’s preconceived ideas about the city and reveal the great contribution it has made to the world through its theatre, music, poetry and industry.

Season Two: Roots & Routes, from April to June, will have an international flavour, presenting Hull as a gateway to the UK and Europe as well as a city connected to the global, digital world.

Season Three: Freedom, from July to September, will explore the pivotal role Hull played in the emancipation movement and, taking a broader interpretation, will offer creative risk-takers and rule-breakers a platform to create, debate, reflect and re-imagine.

Season Four: Tell the World, from October to December, will see the city looking to the future, marking the start, not the end, of another chapter in its rich cultural history.


‘We have a whole year to include all the diverse elements of the city,’ said Martin. ‘Everyone’s voice will be heard.’

Key performance indicators have been set to gauge the success of the year of culture. This means Martin and his team have to bring in an extra one million visitors and demonstrate a £60million economic impact on the city coffers. But how will he measure the success of the project?

‘For me personally, it’s all about pride in the city,’ he said. ‘Pride is difficult to measure but easy to see. People with pride in their city produce a confident city – and that’s what I want for Hull.’

The city is already enjoying a boost in visitor numbers, museum visits and hotel bookings and an enhanced presence on the national and international travel and business markets – a rise that started almost as soon as the city of culture announcement was made in 2013.

The prestigious Rough Guides recently put Hull in the top 10 cities in the world to visit, alongside Seoul, Mexico City and Vancouver. And it’s also been confirmed that Hull is to host the Turner Prize – the biggest event in national contemporary art – next year.

Needless to say, Hull has a lot riding on the success of next year’s city of culture programme in terms of both bankability and global recognition. But Martin is confident his team – and the city as a whole – can pull it off.

‘We’re fortunate because the Games and the Tour de France have proved that this country has a particular talent for doing big projects really well,’ he said. ‘We can benefit from that legacy.

‘And, thankfully, the people of Hull are keeping the faith and believe that, despite a little pain along the way, this is going to be great for them and their city.’

It’s now just six months before the official launch day on January 1st 2017. Building work is underway across the city, artworks are being created, shows rehearsed and surprises kept firmly under wraps until the official programme launch.

You might expect the curator – the man for all seasons in 2017 – to be on edge, perhaps suffering the odd sleepless night. But not Martin. He’s like a kid counting the sleeps until Christmas.

‘It’s fabulously exciting,’ he said. ‘Frankly, I don’t really know what to expect next year because I’ve never done this before, but I know it’s going to be great because this is a great city.

‘It’s not like organising a two-week festival where you don’t sleep for a fortnight and then fall over. I’ll have time to see stuff and enjoy myself. As someone who lives in Hull, I’ll be an audience member too.’ w

To keep up-to-date with all Hull UK City of Culture 2017 news, visit


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