After 40 years in the event industry, it’s time for William Tchang to retire. But before he does so, we’re looking back with him on his impressive career.
Hi William, welcome to our studio.
41 years of experience in the event industry, now retiring, let’s look back at your career. What were, for you, the most inspiring moments of those 41 years in the events industry?
Well, maybe the first one. Because I start, as you say, 41 years before. It was a night in 1976 and it was the jubilee of 25 years of the reign, of the King Boudewijn. It was in the Palais Expo in Brussels for two days, and we received about 300,000 people. So, that was a very big event.
Yes, we had a small chat before we started shooting, and you said, back in that time there weren’t event agencies. So, how did that go? How did they end up with you?
Well, they took some people from any different culture and everything. But the manager of that event was Maurice Huisman, Director of the Opera La Monnaie. He knew me, in a way, and he knew that I was working, for instance, a club Mediterranee, where we can make a feast every day. He said, ‘You can do that.’ So, he called me and he said ‘You have two months to do something for that.’ So, in two months we did that. Not me only, of course.
With a team.
With a big team. And we created a lot of things which were very impressive at that moment, with very few things.
Yes. And over the years were there other events where you look back at and think, that was something great we did there?
I made another one for the King Boudewijn, once again, in ’91, which was the biggest event ever done, I think, in Belgium. Because we received 450,000 people on that day, in front of the Atomium, for a big concert. With all the best artists in Belgium at that moment, Toots Thielemans and then so on. It was a very great one, and impressive. Because it was just two years before the death of King Boudewijn.
If you think back at working for the king, isn’t that different than working for a company, or is it just the same as a business event?
It’s exactly the same.
You know, but no, the committee is bigger, of course. You have the TV working, VRT or RTBF, because you are direct on TV. And other things, journalists and media and the Palais, Ministry of Interior and so on, okay? You have a very large audience of authorities. Of course, the security, police and everything. So, that’s different with the private thing, because it’s bigger also, that’s a big event. So you have to make it secure, even better, certainly. You can’t do that anymore, I think, it will be difficult, okay? But I work a lot, of course, for the private companies, I was not only working for the King.
No, of course. Are there any private events you’re very proud of?
A lot of them, but one of them, and it’s not me, myself, because I assisted them since 25 years now. It’s the Memorial Van Damme? I’m just doing the music show, and Wilfiried made, he’s the founder, asked me one day, 25 years ago… to find a new concept for the athletics. So, I came with music, with the sport. And I think that was the first thing in the world, I was the first in the world, who put music with athletics. It was perfectly, because I say if you run 10,000 meters, one thing is your feet: each step you do, you feel it in your ear. So, I came with drums and we start to speed them, with the rhythm of the drums. So, I am the chief of orchestra , with the drums, I say we go faster and the runner has to just follow the steps. For instance, Usain Bolt made 2.97 meters in one step, and Bekele, who run for the 10,000, he made 2 meters. So, we have to make it quicker for him.
Right? And it works. We made five world records in, once again, Boudewijnstadium in Brussels.
Thanks to the music?
Thanks to the music. And that was the start of a wonderful, Memorial Van Damme since then.
If you look back at the years you were starting in the event industry and now, what are the big differences?
Yes, in fact, the communication, the mobile phone, at that moment, in ’76, was the Telex. 50 kilos, you can’t move it, and fixed telephone. But it was perfectly good, because the people knew what they wanted, okay?
They told before they…
Yeah, they think before and they say, well, I want this and this and this. And you have mostly two, three, six months, or when you have a big event, to think about it. So, you can make it almost perfect because you have time to think about. Even it’s cheaper, sometimes, because you find some good ideas to do it.
Yes, and if you have to change everything constantly, that also costs…
Yes, of course. Sometimes you don’t pay for it, but, in fact, in two meetings you have the concept and the event. That takes maybe just one call, by email or by whatever. But this was done last minute, maybe the day before. So, you can’t do it perfectly, and not very well. So, this is a big problem.
You see it also as a problem for our industry today?
Yes. Yes. And not only for the event industry, for everything. Everybody comes at the last minute for everything. Because they don’t have to think. They think it’s very easy to make a click. But at that moment you have to do something, you have to write a letter. And the quickest one was the telegram, it’s Instagram now. Which is different.
Yes, it’s different.
So, the people think, oh, it’s very easy to do something, but you don’t have the time to think good.
How did you deal with that yourself in the last few years of your career?
Well, I had to follow the evolution of the communication, of course. And even sometimes… even before. I think it’s a fantastic technology we have, but we don’t use it very well, I think.
We have to think more before we start?
Yes. We can make more with it, but we have to use it with a good mind.
Now you’re handing it over to the next generation, what would be your advice for them? First of all, you already said communication; are there other things you want to say to the next generation?
Well, communication is the first thing for me, and to control everything, for all times, because people change. Also, to think about what they want, the customer or whatever. Especially for a big crew, you have to think. It’s not easy for the young people. They have to be curious, to understand things. Have a good memory to think about, oh, I’ve seen that before, and associate all the things together. And then create something. Because you don’t create new things, you don’t invent, not so much. But you have to associate them very well, and that takes a lot of time. That takes time, that’s why.
Is it a problem that we are too focused on small things and don’t see the bigger picture?
Yes, really. Because sometimes people see the detail, but not the biggest, basic thing, yes. They say, oh, like this… But they forget, for instance, how many are we? So, you have to adapt. The people, the crowd, we’ve got in a room. If the room is too small it doesn’t work and so on. Or if it’s in winter or summer, you know? You have to think about the basic things first, before the detail. The details come afterwards. That’s why communication is very important, but the time, also, because if you know the detail, you can find, also, the basics you need. But if you don’t have time, you do the details, but not the basics, and then it’s a problem.
I heard from your team that you were saying for a couple of years ago you would be stopping, but always kept going. Are you stopping now totally or are there still projects you will do in the next few years?
No, I keep going for something, for instance…
You can’t stop?
No, I can stop, but the people don’t want me to, which is different. For instance, the Memorial Van Damme, I’m still doing next year, maybe the year after, I don’t know. But we never stop. Once you are in the event, it is a passion. The job is a passion and you keep going in it.
Okay William, thank you very much for coming over.
And you at home, thank you for watching our show, I hope to see you next week.