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Tatler Hong Kong
Sean Fitzpatrick, Tatler Hong Kong’s Regional Managing Director of Dining & Events, has spent most of his life honing his craft. His profile on Tatler’s website is a highly condensed summary of his work experience and only shows readers a slice of the full picture. “Sean Fitzpatrick began his career in journalism in 1994,” says the bio, but he actually started much earlier as an intern for the SCMP scavenging bromide to help lay out upcoming papers.
Fitzpatrick comes from a family of serious journalists. His two elder brothers went on to work for such publications as TIME magazine, but Fitzpatrick found himself carving out a path that surrounded fashion, arts, music and pop culture. To say Fitzpatrick is well-seasoned would be an understatement. His career has encompassed the full creative spectrum, from playing shows all over London as Lead Guitar of his goth rock band, filmmaking in Australia, writing newswire, doing radio, television and editorial publication. His expansive CV demonstrates his talent and success; more recently, he's focused on strengthening his team, coaching and leading Tatler Hong Kong to new heights.
We sat down with Fitzpatrick to talk about his adventures and his rich career, while seeking advice for those on a similarly creative path.
(Above Feature Photo: Affa Chan)
What was your childhood like?
I was born and raised in Kowloon Tong Broadcast Drive. That's basically where I spent the first 18 years of my life. I went to English School Foundation (ESF) here. I went to Kowloon junior school and I guess I grew up at a time when more and more Eurasian families were starting to appear. I'm mixed race, you know. My father's Irish, mum's Chinese. My eldest brother remembers a time when he'd be walking with my mom in the street and they'd be yelled at. He's seven years older than me. But I never got that. It was weird. There were a lot of Eurasians in school. So I very much understood both local and expat Hong Kong. We sat in the middle. Never fully accepted by either side. But yeah, what can I say? Childhood was great. Grew up and had fun in Hong Kong. It was a cool place to grow up. I was the youngest of three boys. So I kind of just followed the path my older brothers would take. They were into music, so I was into music. We played a lot of music as kids. I was in bands playing guitar and bass. I spent many hours with my brothers and my friends jamming. We used to play in all the local festivals. We used to play at these goth festivals back in the '80s with bands who went on to become like LMF and stuff. It was fun, man. Hong Kong was cool.
“We would get out to the Star Ferry to the magazine shop, and if you got a FACE magazine that was like two months old, you'd be happy. You'd be like, ‘it's only two months old!’”
What sort of music did you play?
Back then it was Goth. Indie. We were influenced by the indie scene in England. The Cure, The Smiths, you know, these were alternative and indie bands that were our favorites, but we liked other stuff too. We also listened to Bowie and punks like The Clash. We just loved music. So we had a fun time, man. What can I say? Hong Kong back then had no internet. So if you wanted to find out about what was cool and happening in the cultural hubs of the world you'd have to go find it in magazines. So we would all read magazines like FACE. Then when i-D came out, that became the hot thing. Magazines were where you'd learn about what music and movies were being made. So we would get out to the Star Ferry to the magazine shop, and if you got a FACE magazine that was like two months old, you'd be happy. You'd be like "oh it's only two months old!" It just took that long to get here. Now you just go on the internet and find everything today.
What was your first job ever?
Before the internet, everything was really analog. My brothers were all going into journalism and writing. So even from a young age, I kind of just followed. I just left high school when I started as an intern at SCMP. This was in the days when SCMP was in Quarry Bay. My job there was working with bromide. We had to go and get bromide.
“We went on a plane and went to London, and we spent a few years playing music.”
You would lay out a story, process it, physically cut it out. The newspaper would literally lay out pieces of copy of different stories on the page. They would photograph that and that would become bromide. It was just crazy old school, right? Like real nuts and bolts for a newspaper production. Even as a kid, I was kind of always doing something in journalism. Then I went to Australia for a few years for university and then came back in the early nineties. That's when I got my first job at a newspaper that doesn't exist anymore. But it was the third English language magazine newspaper in Hong Kong called the Eastern Express. Founded by the ODN. There's a story behind why it was founded, which I only learned subsequently; I won't go into it now, but that was like pre-handover.
What was it like working for Eastern Express?
Eastern Express made a lot of noise because they had a lot of people and big budgets. We were hiring all the talent from SCMP. I was just a junior. I began as an editorial assistant. By that point, I think the internet was just coming around. I remember there was one computer in the whole office that was connected to the internet and we'd go and stand around this green screen and be like, "we're talking to someone in America? Whoa, you're typing messages?" It was hilarious. Yeah, so that was then. I eventually became a columnist and everything like that, but by the mid '90s, I was in a band and all we wanted to do was play music. We played a lot of venues around town. We were playing acid jazz funk back then. We played in clubs and at bigger venues. We got the attention of some people in the music business and we started writing stuff for different artists. Like we did a show with Shirley Kwan, Sandy Lam and some others. They got us to work on some new music for their movies as well. It was fun. And then we said, "we're too big for the city. We're going to London." So we went on a plane and went to London, and we spent a few years in the London scene. At that same time, to make money while we were playing music, I began to work at a Newswire agency WENN. That was like celebrity news. So that was my first taste of English, real fleet street Journalism. I remember the guy who owned it was Jonathan Ashby. He's like a fleet street legend and just watching him in action was like a masterclass.
Can you describe that?
We'd have to write what we called a "spot" for Jonathan because he would record a minute long monologue and send it to the radio stations in America as a kind of letter from London. We would write something and he would just look at it in silence for like 30 seconds, make some adjustments and then it would instantly be better. Then he would just deliver it with no pauses. We were just like, "whoa, this guy is amazing." We would show up at work and look at what was coming in the photos that day from the previous day. It would always be like photos of Gerrie Halliwell from the Spice Girls, and we'd get to see pictures of her holding a dog. A little poodle or something. So we'd need to come up with a story. We'd be like, "oh wait, are you meant to hold a dog like that?" Like under the belly. So we would call a vet and be like, "how are you meant to hold a dog?" And they'd be like, "uhh... You know... Maybe?" Then we'd be like, "but if you held a dog from the belly, could something happen?" "Well... Maybe?" "Ah! Maybe!" So the headline of these stories would come out like "doctors fear for the safety of Gerrie’s dog." Like we just create these mad stories. That's an outlandish example, but pretty much everything we did was kind of like that.
“I realized the salespeople at the time were paying me out of their own money because they couldn't be bothered with talking to the editors to get the job done because they hated doing paid content.“
What did you do after that?
I went to Australia for a while and then I came back to Hong Kong in 2003. That's when I joined Tatler. I'd never done magazines before. When I joined, I came because my brother was at Tatler. He said, "I'm leaving this job. This job is sh*t, but you'd be really good at it” because he knew I liked fashion. He's more serious. He wanted to work at some serious places, like TIME. My brother was also into politics and he was serious, you know, proper journalism. So I was like, "okay cool. Let me try it out." I think he was right. I basically joined in 2003 and stayed ever since, except for an 18-month period when I went early on in 2005 to start the competitor Prestige. I was hired to be part of the startup editorial team with the guys who owned it. I rejoined Tatler in 2007 and I've been there ever since.
What was the name of the band?
The Vitamin Trip. In Hong Kong, we were called UBE. The funk band, but then the singer left. And so we renamed ourselves to The Vitamin Trip.
Can you show us some photos?
I can probably dig some out. There's probably some video, too. We used to get together and play together as anniversaries. We celebrated our 20th anniversary. We did a gig, you know, and like people who used to watch us back in the day because, I don't know if you know like Elvin Wong, the radio DJ guy, he was one of our biggest advocates back in the day. He always comes to the gigs. There's a few other guys too that remember us from back in the day.
What made you want to move back to Hong Kong?
The reason I came back to Hong Kong in 2003 was because the woman who I loved back then, wanting to marry, who is now my wife was here, so I had to come back here. I came back to kind of get that thing sorted. That was 17 years ago.
What made you want to do Dining and Events for Tatler?
My whole career path has been through the editorial side. I started at the bottom, at the level of freelance advertorial. That's like the bottom rung. It's like, you're not even in editorial, you're an advertorial writer. Paid content. That was my first gig. Believe it or not, I did really well because some of the salespeople at Tatler at the time knew that they could call me the night before and I would go the next morning to interview whoever it was, the CEO of whatever watch brand or anything like that. I used to like it because at the time I liked it because they were paying me cash. Of course, now, you know, because I know how everything works. I realized the salespeople at the time were paying me out of their own money because they couldn't be bothered with talking to the editors to get the job done because they hated doing paid content. So it was like, this is this guy who would just do it for cash. And I wrote relatively well so they were like, "yeah, fine." So this stuff, with like thousand dollar notes in my hand, if I delivered this, you know, 600-word piece on the CEO of this jewelry brand within 24 hours, which I would do. So that's how I started. Then I got the full-time job in bonafide editorial and then I sort of worked my way up from Junior Editor to Associate Editor at Prestige, came back as Editor at Tatler then Group Editor-In-Chief. So I kind of went up and up and up, until you know, Chief Creative Officer.
“The challenge is knowing how to exist successfully when all of this is happening, to be constantly thinking about how to modulate more on the platform while keeping authenticity.”
What do you find challenging today in your role?
I think people get sucked out today in the next thing really quickly. It's like trends are happening with shorter and shorter cadence. So it's like, "we got to get on Instagram." You're on Instagram, and we're like, "oh you got to get onto TikTok." Then you get on Instagram and it's like, "oh let's get onto Clubhouse.” We all get sucked into this energy where people are like "let's do this right now. Let's become number one on Clubhouse today. Go. Go." And of course, you can't do it because by that time there's a new Clubhouse and you're chasing that guy. It's like everyone's got very short attention. There's no focus because you're chasing the next Clubhouse.
How do you feel about that?
What it means is everyone's distracted. And so people forget and lose their own voice and individualism. You're constantly trying to modulate everything. I look back at the Monocle dude, like Tyler Brûlé. They don't do any social media. You ask, "how the hell do they not do any social media?" These guys are crazy. Then you realize they don't want to be social because they don't want to be playing a game of modulation. They want to maintain a type of authenticity to their audience and voice. On the flip side, some brands are only on Instagram. I.e. Diet Prada. The challenge is knowing how to exist successfully when all of this is happening, to be constantly thinking about how to modulate more on the platform while keeping authenticity.
"It's a malaise of the times.”
Do you have any advice for the younger generation? How do you become so adaptive?
It's sort of like this whole thing everyone's talking about now, right? For school kids, it's called growth mindset. Never think I can't do it. Think like "how can I do this?" Honestly, the one thing I learned, the biggest obstacle that you face almost all the time is yourself. It's you. You are your biggest obstacle half the time, because you're either the biggest doubter and don't even try it or you're really not very self-aware. So you know, just try and be self-aware. Be mindful of how you sound to others, how you act in front of others. If you can ask yourself every night "What did I do today? How might that have looked to other people?" Then maybe you can improve and be willing to improve. There's no point doing the same things every day. You need to be thinking about how you can do things in a better way. If you do that every night, every other night or once a week for like months and years, you begin to develop a style of working with other people to get the best out of them.
In case you missed it, check out our interview with Ryan Nightingale, founder of Shady Acres.