This week a brutal brain tumor took the life of a bloke I was incredibly proud to call a mate. Not just any bloke – quite simply the most creative, most hilarious, most entertaining bloke I’ve ever met. I’ve not known DG as long as many, which is strange, cos we grew up in the same suburb, but I know he had literally thousands of great mates, admirers and just randoms who couldn’t quite believe he said what they just heard . . .
Like many, I genuinely loved DG; being around him was like being in a better, funnier, smarter orbit. I’ve not met anyone who shone so bright, dreamt so big and lived so large.
Last year he was inducted into the Events Industry’s Hall of Fame and his great mate of 30+ years, the indomitable Prue Macsween, delivered a heartfelt and brilliant introduction. Prue and I used this as the base for an obituary that will appear in the Sydney Morning Herald. It may get a bit of an edit, so just in case it does, here it is in its unexpurgated form.
David Grant – event producer, creative director.
David Grant was probably Australia’s greatest event producer and quite possibly the best the world has seen. A restless, quick-witted, incisive, creative and ruthlessly funny individual, David passed away Monday December 14 from a brain tumor. He was 55.
David grew up in Killarney Heights on Sydney’s northern beaches in a family of ordinary means. His work took him into the world of kings, queens, presidents and billionaires.
In 1985, he set up a portable office in his shabby electric blue Ford Laser and began organising events – any event in the beginning – and very major events at the end.
His events were, and remain, the creative benchmarks for a very competitive industry.
His parties on the social calendar were mad, bad, stylish, daring, beautiful and simply like no other – the Cointreau Ball, which he produced for nine of its 11 year existence, became legendary in the Australian party world.
A shot of the famous Cointreau Ball
He ignored every rule and regulation, or had them rewritten. He disdained authority, avoided the everyday and throughout his career created moments of great magic and often poetry, of unrivalled style, fun and glamour.
No challenge was ever too hard (he burnt down a Port Douglas sugarcane field four times a year for inbound US incentive winners), and even though the industry at that time didn’t have the myriad suppliers you could call on to help today, he somehow just made things pop out of thin air.
He bought the first truly portable kitchen for the first large-scale offsite event, sewed the first chair cover, ordered the first all-clear marquee, bought the first fairylights, – prosaic and passe now, but revolutionary then – and he convinced one-man-band technical operators, chefs, florists, entertainers, you name it, that perhaps there was a proper living to be made from this seemingly crazy world of events
He was first to illuminate an Australian city when he lit nine buildings including the Opera House, Harbour Bridge and Centrepoint Tower blue for a perfume launch in 1990.
He was the first known person to put dodgem cars in a ballroom, he created a white water rafting track for an underwater party in a six-storey car park. He was the first to have a party on a floating pontoon, in a sewer, on a beach, in a jail. . .
For 30 years his exceptional work continued for the most discerning clients in the arts, media, fashion, luxury, finance, sport, and political worlds.
His unflagging sense of humour, even in the scariest adversity, is legendary. When he produced a series of events for President Clinton’s official visit to Sydney in 1996, he was ordered to play the official Presidential anthem, “Hail to the Chief” on Clinton’s arrival during the worldwide CNN broadcast at the Botanical Gardens Fleet Steps.
But instead, to the horror of the White House and the Australian Government, he took it upon himself to play Clinton’s favourite song, the big band swing classic, “Sing, Sing, Sing”. Bill and Hillary laughed, and entered the event on live international TV with a smiling energy lacking until that moment. Yet again DG, as he was known, had turned a good event into something truly unforgettable.
At the lightening quick handshake farewell, post the event, Clinton, when introduced to Grant as the producer, quipped “ahh you’re that crazy guy, thank the Lord, you made my day, I love Australians”. Not unsurprisingly, David never worked again for the Prime Minister’s Department – their loss.
Where David was famous and completely legendary was in the world of the Summer and Winter Olympics. He produced events, corporate hospitality marquees on an almost mythical scale, presentations and famously, played a huge part in Australia’s winning pitch for the 2000 Olympics.
For 10 consecutive Winter and Summer Olympics, David’s events were regularly the highlight of the Games, for those lucky enough to secure an invite. During the Sydney Olympics his renowned capacity for hard work and flawless quality saw him produce 320 events across 17 days in 12 different locations.
Former IOC President Samaranch once famously said in the lead-up to the Athens Olympics; “call Lord Grant, he’s the only person after Stalin who could possibly fix this mess you’ve got us into”.
In the USA, where he did much of his best, big budget creative work, he was a legend.
The creative director for Sports Illustrated in New York once said; “How does that crazy motherf***er think up that undoable shit and then make it 10 times better than we ever thought possible and we’re supposed to be party central?”.
We all wondered the same thing at various times.
David won more than 35 industry awards including Meeting and Events Australia’s “Australian Event Organiser of the Year” a record 10 times and he was made a member of the Order of Australia (AM) in 2005 in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List, for services to the events industry and the Olympic movement.
Many claim to be “unique” characters, but David was, quite simply irrepressible, irreplaceable and at times desperately irresponsible. He was also the most hilarious person in Sydney, and quite possibly the most inappropriate.
Over the years he appeared plenty of times on TV on everything from The Block to the Chopping Block where he famously quipped that a restaurant he was reviewing “had all the charm and sense of welcoming of the waiting room at the Villawood Detention Centre”.
David gave back to the industry by constantly taking time to speak at industry events, obscure educational facilities, to the random people who rang for advice weekly – to friends, competitors, anyone.
He suffered five hernias, one back rebuild, a knee reconstruction and various other war wounds from his “hands on” way of doing business but he could not beat a devastating brain tumor diagnosed early in 2015.
David is survived by his wife Katerina, parents Bill and Maggie, brothers Michael and Peter, first wife Lisa and sons Seigfried, Max, Jack and Lewis.
A celebration of David’s life, hopefully attended by plenty of his mates, will be held in Sydney in mid-late January. Please keep an eye on Facebook and other media for details.
Oh, and it’d want to be a bloody good party . . . DG would expect nothing less.
Prue MacSween and Stuart Gregor have worked in the public relations business for a combined 50+ years.