Profile: Ian Burrell

06 August, 2013

Yet in some quarters Burrell is considered less of a smooth operator, more of a chancer – a description he has heard before judging by his rebuttal. “If I was a chancer I wouldn’t have got to where I am now – the Mauritius government invited me to help set up its rum industry, organise a rum festival, promote the category – I’m off there in August. But maybe you have to be a chancer to take that opportunity.”

 If there is an element of luck to Burrell’s progression, it is understood in more scientific terms: “My friend who is a lifestyle coach says luck is just opportunity, preparation and execution.” Confidence has a lot to do with it too: “It’s my strongest asset. If I fail, it’s a lesson. But I try not to border on cockiness.” 

Most of all, Burrell understands the business of marketing products:  “The industry is 99% bullshit, 1% inspiration. It’s about selling a product. Look at my April Fool’s joke Gannibal, a rum-flavoured vodka, distilled 69 times, filtered through charcoal from the Opallo Fir tree  – an anagram of April Fools. I had pre-orders. Understand what’s bullshit, then you can play the game. The success stories all do that. 

“We’re dealing with the most dangerous and popular drug in the world. It’ll always be there. The big boys are making so much money out of it they can’t afford for it to die. They’ll hire the best bullshitters out there.”

Having achieved what he has, Burrell shouldn’t be classed in such terms. Who can say they have set up a pop-bar on Antartica, serving Pussers to penguins and Drake cocktails on Drakes Passage (and had the whole ludicrous expedition paid for by someone else)? That was one of all seven continents his mobile bar will assemble on in a seven-month period. But perhaps most notably, Burrell is the man behind RumFest, London’s  annual rum love-in and this September he’ll be at his new Rum University in Andalusia, a project aimed at educating the trade and issuing students with formal qualifications. 

If he’s in the UK on a Saturday, you might find Burrell keeping his hand in at Cottons of Camden, and if not, you could try his sister, newly installed as his PA (to those with siblings, this could be his greatest feat yet). 

No, Burrell may play the bullshit game, but he’s made of much firmer stuff. 

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