Dom Joly: Going Live
PUBLISHED: 11:47 23 August 2016 | UPDATED: 11:47 23 August 2016
My one major contribution to British public life is the fact that all live Westminster broadcasts now have to take place ten feet in the air
This is my first post-Brexit column. I don’t intend to get into my views on the subject. What is done is done. Suffice to say that Winston Churchill, a half-American UKIP hero, got it right when he said, “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with your average voter.”
I’ve found the whole referendum thing very upsetting. It’s pitted people against each other both online and in person like nothing I’ve ever experienced before – at least in the UK. There’s no war like a civil war. Trust me, I grew up in Beirut.
I think it’s the permanence of the outcome that has riled people the most. In normal elections, whatever the outcome, it’s a temporary state of affairs and you can have another go next time.
Perhaps this is why I felt so engaged? My political history is normally one of complete neutrality. I take the view that they are all as bad as each other, and have spent most of my adult life trying to insert some comic mayhem into the middle of events.
Before my comedy career I was a producer at ITN in Westminster. After mucking about a bit too much I was finally fired after David Mellor got hit in the face with a football during an interview with me. Admittedly I had organised friends to be playing a game in the background and had suggested that they “disrupt” the interview, but honestly had no idea that they would be so accurate. Still, I felt that this was the sort of TV that the British populace were crying out for and vowed to continue in this vein.
Once I’d left the serious world, I fell into comedy and started using my political experience to good effect. It just so happened that there was another Tory leadership election. John Major had resigned and challenged the Eurosceptic “bastards” in his cabinet to stand against him (sounds familiar). I knew that every round of results would mean loads of live news reports on College Green, in front of Big Ben. So I went to work. Michael Portillo was thought by many to be the likely main challenger but he couldn’t make up his mind. Five of us formed a Mariachi Band and claimed to be ‘Miguel’, Portillo’s distant Mexican cousins. Every time the news cameras went live, we were in the background singing and brandishing signs saying things like “Portillo for Presidente.”
The next week brought another round of live broadcasts. This time I appeared on the green as an alcoholic chicken. Said chicken could be seen in the background of interviews necking a flagon of cider before stumbling around and eventually passing out. The last shot of the chicken was on Sky News. It featured a couple of my friends, dressed as paramedics and dragging the unconscious chicken towards a distant ambulance.
By now I was enjoying my regular participation in national events. The following week a large shudder of clowns met up at Westminster tube station. I handed out their custard pies and we set off for a live food fight. But when we arrived at College Green, a surprise awaited us. The major news organisations, tired of our shenanigans, had put up a scaffolding platform so that their anchors could have the same view but be high off the ground and free of our interruptions. The clowns were upset. I was livid but was not to be defeated. I made some calls and eventually got through to the people I needed. Four hours later, in the middle of an interview with Michael Howard, viewers were surprised to see first a head, then a wobbly torso appear in the background waving frantically. I’d hired a troupe of acrobats to form a human pyramid in order to get me into shot. It was simply my way of letting the news people know that we would not be cowed.
So, when you watch the live broadcasts of the current Tory leadership election, spare a thought for my one major contribution to British public life – the fact that all live Westminster broadcasts now have to take place ten feet in the air. My mum is so proud.
Follow Dom on Twitter! @domjoly