In September 2004 Stuart Ward moved from the position as MD for the Polar Music Prize (one of the biggest and most unique music prizes in the world) to a position as “event attache” at the Embassy of Sweden in Bangkok.
It took 56 year-old Stuart Ward more than 20 visits to the Kingdom and quite a long time – in fact more than 15 years of his career – before the decision was finally made to take the step. Now he is here and intending to stay.
Stuart is hired on a temporary basis in the consular section, and responsible for all events involving music, which is at the same time proof of a new dynamic profile at the Swedish Embassy.
Concert in Lao
“Jonas Hafström needed someone to be responsible for the project commemorating Dag Hammarskjöld’s 100th anniversary held in Vientiane, Laos on 3rd June”, Stuart Ward explains.
“The evening concert, which was broadcast live on TV, saw the superstars [Swedish] Jonas Andersson and Christy Gibson singing in the Laotian dialect in Laos for the first time ever. We had a lot of positive exposure for and enthusiasm around that event.”
Stuart was also responsible for the local music content of the ceremony at Khao Lak when the King and Queen of Sweden visited in February to thank Thailand after the tsunami disaster.
Stuart Ward may not sound like a Swedish name and indeed he was born in England. He came to Stockholm as a newly graduated 24-year-old Chartered Accountant, has gained dual citizenship and spent the whole of his highly successful working life in Sweden so far.
In 1995, as its first MD, Stuart started building up Export Music Sweden (a body which is responsible for the marketing and promoting of Swedish popular music at an industry level), of course to promote music export.
The Polar task followed directly after that. However, as Stuart, explains, the return on and value of investments on the world’s stock exchanges has not been positive since 2000. As the development of the prize is dependent on the fund behind it and the fund consists of stocks and shares, the resources available to fulfil his and the board’s ambitions steadily decreased.
“This led to an intolerable situation whereby the level of ambition that we hade agreed upon could not be sustained, so then it was no longer interesting for me to stay,” says Stuart who was hired to raise the profile of the prize, improve it and get it known internationally. The means to do that were no longer there.
“We decided that I should leave. At the same time, I have always had the dream of moving to Asia, in general, and more specifically to Thailand, to see how it would be to live and preferably work here before I get too old…”
It was as if all pieces fell into place at the right time for Stuart.
“I had done my bit in Sweden and there was nothing left to do there that could be stimulating and fun for me. At the same time Asia was waiting.”
Up until then, during his career, Stuart had attained something of an achievement in that he had been a pioneer no less than three times. Firstly with the launch of community radio, followed by cable TV, and finally with the start of commercial radio.
He has been visiting Thailand since 1989 and started attending Thai language courses already in the early 1990’s. Upon his arrival to Bangkok in September, 2004, he continued to learn the language while at the same time doing networking.
Through a common acquaintance he got to meet Sweden’s new Ambassador Jonas Hafström, and after assisting as a volunteer during the tsunami, he was offered work at the Embassy.
It is not as if you can just come in here and, by some magic formula, you establish yourself that quickly. Why should Stuart Ward come here and tell them how and what to do? Like in all countries, it takes time building something up,” says Stuart.
He can see a very positive ongoing development within Thai pop music and that there is something that can be done with this potential. But from this potential to making something actually happen with his involvement – that is a long road. However, Stuart mentions Tata Young, who actually recorded her songs in Sweden, and sings in English, as proof of something that is going on.
In the meantime, he will be more than busy at Sweden’s Embassy.