The BBC’s documentary on the Cayman Islands, “Britain’s Trillion Pound Island” showed off some of the island’s natural beauty to viewers in the U.K. But not everyone watching from Cayman, including some of the people featured in the show, were too impressed.
Initially pitched to those involved as a lifestyle reality television show on people with British links living in the Cayman Islands, the documentary ended up focusing on the territory’s image as a “tax haven.”
During the hour-long program, which screened Friday night on Britain’s BBC 2, presenter Jacques Peretti talked to a cast of local characters, including real estate agent Mike Joseph, businessman Marcus Cumber and developer Mario Rankin. He also attempted to show the other side of life in the Cayman Islands, interviewing a retired civil servant struggling to meet mortgage payments on her home.
The show also featured interviews with Premier Alden McLaughlin, Cayman Finance boss Jude Scott and Governor Helen Kilpatrick.
Mr. Peretti, who opened by describing the Cayman Islands as a Caribbean paradise of sun, sea, cocktails and “big money” that carried out its business in secret, told viewers he was getting “unprecedented access” to find out the truth. The show did not draw any definitive conclusions, but posed the question of whether the territory is a cog in the global economy or a rogue island that is costing the British public billions of tax dollars that could otherwise be used to pay for doctors and nurses.
Governor Kilpatrick, who was quizzed by Mr. Peretti on whether the British government could “close down” the Cayman Islands because of U.K. companies routing profits to the territory to avoid British taxes, told the presenter that the U.K. did not have that power. She said it was up to Britain to change its tax laws if it wanted to stop companies from moving profits to the territory.
After watching the show on Friday, she said, “It was disappointing that the program focused on the inaccurate portrayal of the Cayman Islands as a tax haven. The program did, however, feature many stunning images of these beautiful islands which will be a great stimulus to tourism from the U.K.”
Mr. Cumber, who took the host for a ride in his Ferrari and on a trip to Stingray City, had a similar perspective. Mr. Cumber, who runs Island Air and whose grandfather Sir John A. Cumber was territorial administrator of the islands in the 1960s, said he thought the show and the stunning images of the Cayman Islands were an “overall positive” for the country, despite the host’s “left-wing nonsense.”
He said, “Overall, the photography is beautiful, so I feel the people watching it in cold England will want to visit. I also feel that those who are successful in business in England will look at this show with a desire to find out more.”
Mr. Cumber said he was initially approached by the Department of Tourism’s U.K. office to be involved in what was pitched as a reality series about Cayman by production company Chalkboard. The BBC took on the project and changed the format but, he said, he was initially under the impression that it was still intended to be about people in Cayman getting on with their daily lives.
Mr. Joseph, a real estate agent with RE/Max, featured in the documentary, taking the host on a boat tour of some of the island’s luxury properties.
He said he also got involved when the show was pitched as a reality lifestyle series. He said he wanted to promote Cayman and was assured it would be different than other documentaries and not another “slant on Cayman.”
Ultimately, he said, he was disappointed with the aggressive line of questioning about Cayman’s tax haven image, but felt the show arrived, reluctantly, at an almost neutral position.
“All his questions were cleverly poised and designed to paint a predetermined picture, but I am not convinced he found what he was looking for,” he said.
“I almost believe, in the end, he left with a certain fondness for us that he hadn’t anticipated when he arrived.”
He added that the island looked beautiful and the documentary, despite its tone, may ultimately serve to emphasize the attractiveness of Cayman as a place to live, work, vacation and invest.
A lot of the interviews were inevitably left on the cutting room floor. And while Mr. Joseph believes some parts of the documentary were out of context and in some cases factually incorrect, he acknowledged that some of the points made were valid.
“As difficult as it may be for some of us to accept, it confirmed that as wonderful as Cayman is, we are still a work in progress and have room for continued improvement in aspects of our society,” he said.
Mr. Rankin, who was presented in the program as someone who rose from humble beginnings to become a construction kingpin, said some of what he said was misrepresented.
He says he never said he was one of the richest men in Cayman or that he built the bypass – claims made by the presenter on his behalf in the narration of the documentary.
Despite those concerns, he thinks it made some valid points about social inequality and how not everyone in the country has benefited from the riches flowing through the island.
“We haven’t seen big investments and developments always benefit the general public. I guess I wanted to paint the picture that we have normal people, with normal issues, like the rest of the world,” he said.
Both Mr. Rankin and Mr. Joseph told the Cayman Compass in separate interviews that the documentary highlighted the need for better public education on what the island’s financial services industry does and how it works.
Mr. Rankin said the most important responsibility, though, in defending Cayman’s reputation fell to the governor and the premier.
He was not that impressed with their answers to Mr. Peretti’s tax haven questions, but is reluctant to be too critical after seeing how much his own interviews were edited.
“I didn’t think they came across too well, but I don’t know what was left out,” he added.
Anthony Travers, senior partner of Travers Thorp Alberga and former chairman of Cayman Finance, said the show was a deeply disappointing presentation that reflected negatively on the Cayman Islands as a whole.
“It is simply ill advised for those with no technical understanding of the financial services industry and no specific training in the area of public relations to seek to make any comment at all,” he said.
Neither Premier McLaughlin nor the Department of Tourism responded to requests for comment on the show.