David Tang talks to Emily Speers Mears

Tank _vol 7issue 2106

Sir David Tang is an entrepreneur who was born in Hong Kong and sent to study in England at the age of 13. Among other multimillion-pound global ventures, he founded the Shanghai Tang restaurant and clothing company and the Pacific Cigar Company, which is the exclusive distributor of Cuban cigars in the Asia-Pacific. This March, he launched icorrect.com, “the universal website for corrections”, about which he spoke to Tank’s Emily Speers Mears on a spring day at his Piccadilly apartment.

Emily Speers Mears So tell me about icorrect.
David Tang Well, in the last decade or two we have created a parallel universe called cyberspace, which is fast expanding and has really taken over – in a metaphorical way at least – our globe itself, our earth. It is as if in space there is now a receptacle of information about the human race. And it is very apparent to me that a lot of what is being stored in cyberspace is hearsay. So I thought it was high time there should be a corner of cyberspace that offers a platform for corrections. When a newspaper corrects something, you will find it five days later, in a corner, truncated down to about five lines. But if you actually thought that the correction was sufficiently important for the preservation of your reputation, you would want to post it on a totally independent website, setting out exactly the accusation against the correction. And that’s what icorrect does.

A lot of people have their own websites, but I contend that it’s neater to deal with the negative stuff in a separate receptacle. Also, we go out of our way to identify who you are. As a result of this, on icorrect we have the real Kate Moss and Sienna Miller denying that they have accounts on Twitter or Facebook. So that is the basis on which icorrect, I hope, will thrive: security of identity, infinite space for you to correct whatever you want, a very defined and compartmentalised workpage that deals with the negative aspects of what you consider to be lies or misrepresentations or misinformation. And also a cyberspace presence after your death, so that your reputation is protected forever.

ESM How have you found take-up so far?
DT We’ve had a fantastic response, we had 35 people – including Michael Caine, Tommy Hilfiger, Tracey Emin – posting on day one and we’ve got people wanting to join. I am now going to see many more recognisable names to invite them to join. I don’t think we want to rush and just take anybody for the sake of $1,000, which is what we charge for annual membership. But I also want to try to conquer America, because America is a very rich, fertile ground for us to pick up subjects. I predict that within two or three months we will have 100 to 200 recognisable names, including individuals, institutions, establishments, sportsmen – a whole cross-section of whatever I can lay my hands on.

And actually there’s no point going out and getting anyone who’s not famous, because people who are not famous might get only one hit. From a business point of view, they are inconsequential. Plus, we would want to know what your agenda is. So it’s not so much that we don’t let you take it on, it’s just that we may be suspicious that there was some ulterior motive that might wreck the authenticity, honesty or dignity of the site.

ESM So you will be actively recruiting, but only a particular type of person.
DT As we scale up, I will be meeting people I’ve seen before who were a bit hesitant to join at the beginning. We are dealing with divas and rather important people, so it’s not surprising that they were slightly hesitant – if they weren’t, their lawyers and agents and the grey men around these people always give them a hooha, and you have to respect that.

And let me tell you, these people who are friends of mine are not going to do it because of friendship. Of course, they’re very loyal to me, for which I’m very gratified, but you can bet your life that they’re not going to do it because of friendship.

ESM But if you deny an allegation, aren’t you just bringing attention to the rumour in the first place?
DT What’s the alternative? The alternative is that people will think you must have something to hide. We’re not concerned with the ultimate argument, who’s right and who’s wrong. We’re not the magistrate; we’re merely giving people an opportunity to post. So if a newspaper were to join, if Tank were to join, they could offer corrections to their readers, but you could also correct other correctors. So if Bianca Jagger says she didn’t ride a white horse into Studio 54 – as she does on icorrect – she rode it somewhere in Nicaragua, but if in fact you saw that same video and you blow up the video and it’s got the Avenue of the Americas, you’d say, hold on one minute, you’re a liar – I’ve got the video which shows conclusively.

ESM Why do you think there’s such scope for inaccuracy in reporting?
DT “Don’t believe anything you read in the press” didn’t use to be the case. I remember when I was very young, whatever was printed in the Times had to be true. And God forbid you might listen to the wireless and regard Edward VIII’s abdication speech as anything other than serious. But, you know, the world is changing very fast.

ESM Do you think you’re keeping up with it?
DT I like to think so. Everything changes every day, but at the end of the day human nature doesn’t change. People want to know about other people’s bad news.

ESM How did you come up with the name?
DT What is slightly irritating is that there was another website called icorrect, which was a sort of Photoshop, but I just don’t think there is another word more powerful than “correct”. Not “rectify”, because you can’t rectify a lot of things, and that implies that you’ve actually done something; you can’t use the word “amend”, because that means perhaps it’s not all untrue. I thought of many words, looked up in the thesauraus five times, and then to emphasise the subject, I wanted to use the word “I”.

ESM What about the design? It’s very simple.
DT You’re right. My children laughed at me when I said I was doing something on the internet. They said, “What do you know about internet? You haven’t got a computer, you’ve never even touched a mouse.” Which is true. I wanted the design to mean that the site can be used by the stupidest person. I have made the whole webpage so simple that there is not one redundant word or line out of place. And it’s not got advertisements because I don’t want to be the BBC of websites.

ESM Are you using a computer now?
DT Yes, I have a Mac now, but only to present icorrect. Everything is set up; I only have to press a button and it goes on naturally.

ESM It seems like there’s a very different writing style to all of the entries.
DT We don’t interfere. There’s no editor, unless it is defamatory or there’s a possibility to do with incitement of crime. All I provide is the framework for setting the record straight.

ESM What will icorrect look like in five years?
DT I hope that it will become a byword, like a Twitter or a Facebook. But God knows what will happen in five years. One can’t dream too much because then one becomes terribly depressed when it doesn’t happen.

ESM It’s interesting what people who have posted on the site consider important enough to correct. Cherie Blair, for example, has refuted both the claim that she attended a shooting party with Muammar Gaddafi’s son and a Mirror article with the headline “Hayden Panettierre Dresses Like Cherie Blair”.
DT A lot of people have emailed me about Cherie Blair’s corrections. Everybody’s entitled to their opinion. The website does not set out to prevent future misinformation or lies or mistreatments – indeed, it might even increase them. But if you were to use the site carefully and regard it as the final chapter on the matter, the final word, it could be very useful. All people that wanted to say when the scandal broke with John Galliano was, “John Galliano, what have you got to say for yourself? Richard Gere, what have you got to say for yourself?” Henry Kissinger, for example, would he be feeling comfortable in his advancing years to realise that people might have misinterpreted his action in Cambodia as having bombed it illegally? He might say he’s corrected that in his autobiography, but listen: who is going to go and look up his autobiography? In the next generation, people might not even go and buy books!

ESM So it’s essentially about the end of the book.
DT It’s about life and death membership. There’s never been a better club. We give you free membership for eternity. §

  • David Tang