Demolition time for estate from explosive TV paint ad

Demolition time for estate from explosive TV paint ad

The site of the year’s most breathtaking commercial will be razed as Glasgow pumps £100m into housing schemes.

Thomas Quinn
The Observer

It was the advert of the year – vivid pictures of paint exploding on a building which made a council estate famous around the world. Now the 22-storey high-rise is to be demolished, part of a major redevelopment of one of the most rundown housing projects in Britain.

Behind the multi-coloured gloss of ‘Paint’, the £2m Sony television commercial directed by the award-winning Jonathan Glazer, lies the tale of Toryglen, a Glasgow estate that has suffered decades of neglect.

For the residents of Toryglen, ‘Paint’ is not so much an advert as a requiem. It is a sentiment shared by one former resident of the high-rise – Jim Kerr, the lead singer of Simple Minds. Kerr was eight when his family moved into a two-bedroom flat on the eleventh floor in 1967. It was still his home when, at 22, he made his name as a musician. Sitting late at night at his mother’s kitchen table, Kerr wrote his first lyrics, including songs for the album New Gold Dream, which established his band as one of the biggest successes of the Eighties.

‘Ninety-nine per cent of my memories of growing up in Toryglen were so positive,’ said Kerr, 47. ‘It seemed like the epitome of the modern world. The flats had indoor toilets! In our old place we hadn’t had baths or central heating either. To go from that into this world of elevators and all mod cons seemed like space-age stuff. Suddenly, it felt like we were rich. It felt like a great leap.’

But it was also a spartan place – years passed before the residents had proper amenities such as shops and a pub. ‘You’ve got to remember the context: Glasgow at that time was really feeling the backlash of the end of the industrial age – the shipyards were closing, it was doom and gloom,’ Kerr said.

‘There was something futuristic about growing up in Toryglen – you weren’t part of a dying past. People ask if rock ‘n’ roll was a way out of the ‘mean streets’ of Glasgow, but it wasn’t like that at all. I used to be able to see the whole city from my bedroom window up in the clouds – and it felt like the whole world. It made me want to go out and experience it.’

But within a decade or so the estate was beginning to fail. Lifts broke down and vandalism became an issue. As unemployment rose, Toryglen suffered. Then there are the drugs – perhaps no worse a problem than in other estates, but still very real. ‘My parents were worried about me being a rock star and being offered drugs,’ said Kerr. ‘The irony is, I’ve never seen anyone jack up and use heroin, but mum and dad saw it, in the middle of the day out on their own street. There was a dangerous edge to the place.’ He last visited a couple of years ago: ‘The buildings were the same, the iconic shapes, but you could see the decay had set in, it was crumbling.’

However, change is under way. Glasgow is investing heavily in its famously tough housing schemes, with eight ‘transformational projects’ planned for the city which will see an estimated £100m spent in Toryglen and the immediate area. An indoor football training facility is to be built at a cost of £12m nearby; Langside College will have a £27m redevelopment; and Barratts plans around 200 homes on a separate site.

It took 250 people 10 days to film the Sony television advert. More than 70,000 litres of non-toxic paint, which is safe enough to drink, was pumped through 330 metres of steel piping, and thousands of colourful explosions were set off by 1,700 detonators. It took 60 people five days to clean up the estate. Water-based paint was used to make it easy to scrape up once the water had evaporated.

Plans for the estate have caused a buzz again – there is a thriving community centre and people are looking forward to the future. ‘It’s a great place to live,’ insists Tricia Dooley, 50, who raised five children on the estate. Two of her daughters, both single parents, live nearby, while a third hopes to move back to Toryglen when the new-builds are available.

‘Everyone loves the advert, and we had a great time with the film crew being here. It looks fantastic, and it was an experience the kids will never forget. But most people feel it’s time to move on – and the regeneration is going to give us that.’