There are few opportunities for Post Magazine to sample the true glamour of showbusiness, so meeting the insurance industry's biggest celebrity was a welcome exception for Ralph Savage
Having spent the early part of a fairly normal Thursday trudging between meetings with London's insurance executive set, I was struck by a genuine sense of the unknown.
The regular run of assignments had been punctuated with an afternoon trip to Holborn Studios, in the trendy Hoxton area of London. The reason? To grab a few minutes with Lucky - arguably one of the most famous dogs in the UK. Indeed, his reputation preceded him: a number 76 bus passed me on the way there, bearing an image of Lucky inviting me to consider an opportunity for personal-lines peace of mind.
Celebrities can sometimes be remote but 11-year-old Benson - Lucky's real name - soon showed that the trappings of fame have not dented his charm. Post Magazine had been invited to sample a day in the life of More Than's popular brand icon, and while Benson worked the cameras, his owner, Nigel Tate, the proprietor of professional animal agency Dog Stars, spilled the beans.
So, are the marketing demands of one of the UK's biggest insurers gruelling?: "It varies," says Nigel, diplomatically. "At the moment, More Than is doing quite a lot of advertising with him. This is day four of a seven-day stills shoot and we were doing some TV stuff last week. We'll also be doing some more TV before the year is out. All in all, I guess Benson will have done about 28 or 30 days on this campaign.
"These types of days with a photographer are quite nice and the crew is really good. He enjoys it, he really does. He looks forward to coming out."
And what about the travel burden? "We live in Kent, so it depends where the shoot is going to be," continues Nigel. "Here in London, I'll be with him all day. We bring him to the studio, and he has a little look around and something to eat. We do some pictures and he'll have a break in between. I'll also give him a walk once or twice so he can do his bits."
That day, Lucky/Benson - he responds to both - was posing for a variety of shots, representing the insurer's home, motor and travel products. He is obviously photogenic, but persuading a dog to stand up with his front paws resting on the open windowsill of a car door takes some doing.
Triumph over adversity
Nigel explains that Dog Stars would accept nothing less in terms of talent but Benson's story had difficult beginnings: "We've had him since he was about five. He was a rescue. Basically, his owners couldn't cope with him; he can be quite high maintenance, quite destructive. But we took him in at that age because we were looking for a dog like him. So he came to us."
Is he an insurable risk? Perhaps in the high net worth category? "He is insured by More Than," Nigel confirms. "As well as being on its logo, he also has a pet policy with it."
Having two names is not the only aspect contributing to Benson's possible identity crisis. He also has two families: one on-screen, one off-screen. "The More Than family has comprised the same group of actors since the campaigns began," explains Nigel. "He's been working on it since 2000. He was originally a missing dog and it focused primarily around his owner, Blair. Gradually they've introduced the rest of the family."
Benson has also been required to do some fairly dangerous stunt work - being left alone in a moving car, for example. However, it would appear these aspects of his work remain trade secrets and rumours of body doubles and animatronics are consigned to the gossip pages. "The Americans like to have lots and lots of back-up dogs," says Nigel. "But with Lucky, he's individual and unique. We are searching for a lookalike-type dog at the moment but he doesn't currently need one. He does everything we ask of him."
Being a brand icon has its restrictions: Benson has signed a contract with Royal and Sun Alliance prohibiting him from working in any other areas related to financial services. "He does do work outside of More Than, which is fine as long as it's not other financial services," says Nigel. "Most recently, he starred in Disney's 102 Dalmatians; when Cruella De Vil buys a dog shelter, Benson appears as one of the impounded pooches."
Although he usually works alone, Benson's home life represents a strange return to the land of celebrity. He co-habits with Arnie, the well-known face of music store HMV; and, more recently, his kennel-mate has been Grizzler, the amazing talking dog of Wall's Sausages fame.
But being in the public eye is not the only side to his work. Supporting charity is also a mainstay of Benson's professional life. His philanthropic streak may possibly have been encouraged by his own difficult upbringing, says Nigel: "More Than sponsors a number of charities and has links with Battersea Dogs Home and the RSPCA. He's been to openings and things like that."
And, not content with being the public face of the company, Benson has been increasingly used for the insurer's senior management training exercises, as Nigel reveals: "He goes round to the More Than dos and staff motivational events. He loves it and the staff love him - a lot of them have not seen him in the flesh."
Basically, Benson gets a treat almost every time he performs well professionally - managers, take note.
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