Looking for Nigel

‘I know what you want, you want a book.’

‘Umm, well…’ I started to say.

But standing in front of me on this unexpectedly sunny day in January, with the UK election still seeming a distant mirage, was Gobby, legendary former BBC producer for 30 years, lesser known as Paul Lambert and now Nigel Farage’s ‘Director of Communications’. And as countless heavyweight political leaders have found before this small photographer – when faced down by this man, it is generally best not to argue.

SmallNigelPics_0016Unravelling flags with Beryl, Cliffsend Village Hall, March 31st 2015

I agreed that having spent the previous few months spent photographing migrants in Calais I was an unlikely candidate to be asking to document the UK Independence Party and their leader Nigel Farage’s 2015 election campaign, but it felt important to me to try and understand their point of view. One way or another they said yes. We all regretted it pretty quickly, but by then my limpet-like qualities had started to exert themselves; I might very well drown on the way but I was clinging on until May 8th.

SmallNigelPics_0005Arriving for the Immigration Speech, Emmanuel Centre, London, March 4th 2015

And so in February it began, as I bombed around the country in my tiny car, nearly always lagging some way behind Nigel and his team as they raced around in their blacked out Land Rover or private jet; from England’s bleak seaside towns peopled with the elderly who hark back to days of former British glory under Winston Churchill, to the former industrial heartlands of Heywood & Middleton in the North of England, from fishing and farming towns like Grimsby and Boston in Lincolnshire to his local constituency in Kent.

Looking back, the sheer lunacy of it all should have been evident quite early on. One grey morning we waited for nearly an hour for Joey Essex to turn up at the Grimsby docks and tell a bamboozled Nigel Farage that he was a ‘really reem guy’ at which point we, the by now starving media, had a feeding frenzy trying to capture this great and proud moment in British election history. Later that afternoon we waited for two hours for Nigel not to turn up for a photocall at a local pub after a small group of demonstrators frightened him away, while he had a meal of fish and chips in a cafe around the corner. This not being enough to deter us, we finally abandoned The Hope & Anchor and sped off in the direction of an ice cream parlour in Skegness for our next supposed rendezvous, only to find that the location we had been sent to did not exist and bemused local people were subsequently treated to the sight of a convoy of press cars and sat trucks driving up and down the only street in the village, hopelessly fighting with our sat navs, swearing and looking frantically at each other out of our vehicle windows.

SmallNigelPics_0018

Local people wait in vain for Nigel to arrive at The Hope & Anchor pub, Grimsby, April 8th 2015

 Worst of all, somewhere over the course of this adventure, the little feature I had hoped for was inflating into ‘The Coffee Table Book’. I still don’t know quite how or who started it, but I know it became pretty embarrassing as I slogged around the wilds of Cornwall, Grimsby and Thanet, getting precious few photographs of Nigel Farage that you could use on even a pound shop pamphlet of any quality and racking up the miles, with my ever-hilarious press colleagues querying: ‘Will it be matt or gloss then, the Coffee Table Book?’.

SmallNigelPics_0020

Before a public meeting, Boston, Lincolnshire, April 8th 2015.

‘I think really….’ I said to journalist and perennial Farage-follower Owen Bennett over a beer, after yet another soul-destroying day chasing Nigel around Kent, ‘…. coffee table books tend to be more about things like, well, ‘Elephants of the Kalahari’, that sort of thing, and not so much about middle-aged former City-workers called Nigel – you know?’

SmallNigelPics_0006Taking a break in The Coldstreamers pub, nr. Penzance, March 4th 2015

DSC_2241Before a public meeting, Rochester Corn Exchange, April 20th 2015

A great photojournalist once told me that he’d got through almost his entire career by smiling when the going got tough. ‘When the shit hits the fan’, he told me with a grin to melt a dictator’s heart, ‘just give ’em a big old smile’.

God knows I tried. But it hit the fan pretty quickly as Nigel’s people seemed to be under the impression that while I could potentially be of use to them, I was also very possibly radioactive.

On the rare occasions on the UKIP trail that I got to see Gobby again he would ask me how I was doing, but somehow in the dulcet tones of a man who hoped the answer might be, ‘Actually Gobby, I’ve developed a serious medical condition that looks like it will keep me in hospital until May 8th and I have no cameras with me today because I’ve had to sell all my gear to pay for it.’

A woman comes up to Nigel Farage wearing a pair of comedy beer goggles, as he is interview by the media during a beer festival at Winter Gardens, in Margate, Kent, on April 4th 2015. Photograph by Mary TurnerBeer goggles, Margate Beer Festival, April 4th 2015

But by April, having come this far, it was impossible to give up. The curious thing was that as the campaign really got under way and became more and more intense, I started to wonder, watching him, if Nigel felt the same way.

SmallNigelPics_0011Boston, Lincolnshire, April 8th 2015

And somewhere along the line it became strangely moving. As we visited endless locations where unemployment and austerity have ravaged people’s lives, it was a daily grind of seeing people who feel utterly let down and disenfranchised by the political system. Most aren’t inherently racist, the accusation levelled most heavily at the party for their right-wing views, but are laying their fears and sense of powerlessness at the door of immigration and the European Union.SmallNigelPics_0014Public meeting, Cliffsend Village Hall, Ramsgate, March 31st 2015

And here he was, almost in Westminster, a leader, the man they’d been waiting for, who despite his own privileged background, makes these people feel that he understands their needs and would look out for their interests, not just those of the wealthy, the highly educated, the cosmopolitan, the middle and upper classes.

SmallNigelPics_0009 Metal workers, Concept Metals, Heywood and Middleton, March 4th 2015.

Ukippers never say they don’t want their photograph taken, they’re proud of who they are and who they support. They seemed pleased that anyone from the media would be taking an interest in their lives and opinions, genuinely touched that I’d stuck around this far. I was forever being offered cups of tea, biscuits, a sit down, the little things that your granny, people from the generation who remember rationing or who’ve known unemployment and hard times never forget.

Local people listen to Nigel Farage speak at a  public meeting in the local village hall in Sandwich, Kent, on April 18th 2015. The charismatic party leader spoke at nearly 30 public meetings on the election trail is his bid to become and MP in South ThanPublic meeting, St Luke’s Avenue, Ramsgate, April 2015

 It’s a fascinating thing to watch Nigel at work when the media circus has died down. Unlike some politicians he doesn’t give the impression that he wants to go home and have a good wash afterwards, he comes alive chatting to ordinary people. He’s nothing like the hard, combative man of the TV debates, he’s at home canvassing on the streets, in the pub, the club, and love him or hate him, it works for him.

DSC_1424a

Elderly ladies queue for the Immigration Speech, Westminster, March 4th 2015

One young mother in a Ramsgate pub took him on just days before the election: ‘Look Nigel I don’t know if I’m going to vote for you, not sure I care, I don’t see the point’. ‘Well why not?’ he said. Five minutes later you could tell that when it was just her and her pen hovering over a box on on a piece of paper on May 7th she would probably vote for him. He signed her excited little boy Fred’s UKIP flyer. ‘He probably doesn’t know who he is,’ she laughed afterwards, ‘thinks he’s a celebrity or something.’

DSC_3072

The Wheatsheaf, Ramsgate, May 2nd 2015

SmallNigelPics_0010

Audience during a public meeting, The Circus Tavern, Purfleet, Essex, April 13th 2015

Union Jack covered campiagn brouchures lie on seats at the Cliffsend Village Hall nr Ramsgate, Kent ahead of a public speech given by Nigel Farage in his bid to become the local MP for South Thanet, on March 28th 2015.

Cliffsend Village Hall, Ramsgate, March 31st 2015

While UKIP attracts more than its fair share of eccentrics, there are also many very sane and thoughtful people who feel left behind in their own country and it has frequently been uncomfortable to watch over the last couple of months. The feeling in the voice of one elderly man still resonates with me now from the moment he stood up after a public meeting in Cornwall and said: ‘Nigel, Sir, when the country needed him Churchill came, he was a leader, and you Sir, are a leader.’ His fears for his country may well be unfounded, but there is every chance that his family, his father, fought for freedoms we take for granted now and he does not deserve to be mocked and ignored.

SmallNigelPics_0017The wall of Bill Etheridge’s mostly purple UKIP office, Sedgley, West Midlands, April 7th 2015

There are few things that can traumatize the nation’s press like a General Election and by the time May rolled around the end could not come quickly enough for most of us. By day I attended Nigel’s endless photocalls, public meetings and book signings in pubs, village halls, town halls and community centres. By night I was having horrible dreams where I found myself running around Westminster hopelessly looking for Nigel and Gawain, his ‘Head of Press’.

SmallNigelPics_0013

Disco curtains after Nigel’s speech, The Holly Tree pub, Margate, March 2015

DSC_5223

              Ann sells UKIP fruitcake for 50p at the Holly Tree Pub, Margate, April 2015

One long evening in Ramsgate. I tried to convince Dan from Getty that it was a really good idea to get a shot of Nigel walking into the hall of St Luke’s Community Centre, beneath the mural of a joyous football ground with the words ‘The Players Tunnel’ painted large over the entrance.

‘Of course it’s a bloody photo!’

‘But what does it mean?’ he queried like the artist he is. ‘I’m just really not sure it means anything…..’

‘It means, Dan….’ I replied, by now teetering dangerously on the psychological edge, ‘that he’s in the game, ready to walk out onto the Westminster pitch for God’s sake, a man mountain with bouncebackability and if it comes to penalties he can make himself big in the goal and if he gets elected he shoots and he scores and if he doesn’t? Well then he thinks it’s all over and it is now!!! Okay?!’

Quietly, he looked away from me and towards the ‘Players Tunnel’. He was right. It was a horrible picture.

DSC_1531

The Players Tunnel, April 17th 2015.

Despite it all Nigel himself remained endlessly fascinating. Like most of us I suspect, I’d bought into the image of the ‘probably evil but generally gregarious, jovial beer-swilling, cigarette smoking’ character he presents to the world.

The Sky news team harass Nigel Farage as he takes a cigarette break after a photocall on St George's Day, in Ramsgate, Kent on April 23rd 2015. Photograph by Mary Turner

The Sky News team interrupt Nigel’s cigarette break, St George’s Day, 2015

What slowly emerged was a calm, serious, thoughtful, poised and increasingly tired man quite frequently in a lot of physical pain and not untouched by the abuse hurled his way. There is an unexpected subtlety about him, that he extinguishes in front of the press like a light.

SmallNigelPics_0012Ramsgate office, UKIP Action weekend, April 11th 2015.

SmallNigelPics_0007

Upstairs at the Carn Brae Leisure Centre, Cornwall, 6th March 2015

I cannot think of many politicians so prescient in their understanding of the power of the image. Sure it was a horrible photo, but he paused for a moment and gave us that shot of him in the ‘Players Tunnel’; others would not have. Nor can I think of one that would sign books for pensioners long into the night in a village hall in the back end of beyond, for just a handful of votes. Nigel Farage knows better than anyone that UKIP is unlikely to survive for long without him at its head.

DSC_1417

Signing posters, The Holly Tree pub, Margate, April 18th 2015

I cannot pretend to agree with Nigel’s policies and ideas for the future of the UK. His soaring rhetoric always left more questions in my mind than it answered, but I learned a lot about the party, its followers and the man. When the election results were finally announced on the morning of May 8th, to boos and hisses from his many detractors, Nigel, his team and supporters who had worked for months against the big political machines were trying to hold back tears. On stage he looked like a little boy in a suit that was a bit big for him, enduring public humiliation, his dream over.

Nigel Farage descends the stairs of the Walpole Bay Hotel where he spent the night of the election count as it became apparent that he would not win the South Thanet seat. May 8th 2015

On stage at the Winter Gardens as the South Thanet election results are revealed, May 8th 2015

One night, towards the end of this seemingly impossibly long campaign, Nigel held a public meeting with local candidate Mark Reckless in the Rochester Corn Exchange after a series of heinous photo calls in tiny Kent bookshops and tea-rooms designed to hold a group of pensioners on a Saturday afternoon not forty-five sweaty and irreverent members of the British press.

I’d long been thinking that if I pushed my luck any further I would be out on my ear. Increasingly desperate though, I gambled and begged Sarah, Nigel’s press officer, to get me a few minutes photographing him before he went out on stage.

DSC_2264

Nigel relaxes for a moment on the bannisters, Rochester Corn Exchange, April 20th 2015.

 Five minutes later, wordlessly, he stepped out in front of me. His bodyguard James, nodded, ‘Hello trouble’. I took this to be security speak for ‘You’re on’ and started snapping away. After a moment, unexpectedly, Nigel came over for a chat – wasn’t it a beautiful building? These old once-loved places, so sad. We talked briefly about the lovely venues we’d encountered on the campaign before he wandered away to the entrance doors where he stood looking out into the conference room, waiting to go on. And then briefly, for a fraction of a moment he leaned gently into the door frame, ever so slightly supported by it. The sheer scale of his campaign, this small party punching above its weight because of this man, in one of the most unforgiving democratic election systems in the world, written in his body language.

Nigel Farage leans, momentarily, on a door frame, as he waits to go on stage and give a public speech at the Rochester Corn Exhange in Rochester, Kent. Photograph by Mary TurnerPublic meeting, Rochester Corn Exchange, April 20th 2015

 I know that for just a fraction of a moment we were both thinking – this is a photo. And then it was gone. One of us decided that although it was a photo, they probably weren’t 100% sure it was the look they wanted to achieve. Because in the next frame on my memory card it’s gone; he is standing bolt upright in the doorway again, ready to walk out on stage, the man dissolved back into the myth that is Nigel Farage.

69 comments

  1. m kohli

    fabulous piece! really well written and made me empathise with the efforts of the man .. even tho i would never consider myself a supporter of the party.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Bob McDade

    Labour Party supporters blame a hostile press for their election defeat but Ed Miliband got off lightly in comparison to Nigel Farage. I like that he is genuinely at ease when talking to ordinary voters, something none of the other party leaders were/are/will ever be, (with the honourable exception of Nicola Sturgeon). Superb photographs, by the way.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Danny

    Very fair article and excellent photos displaying real people and venues of those denigrated by the political/media elite, contrasting with the staged, glossy PR events of the main parties. My only criticism is the familiar disclaimer “I cannot pretend to agree with Nigel’s policies and ideas”, its as if you have to say that to appease the self-righteous bullying of the media/artistic class. I met him once when I spotted him at a hotel bar, being harangued by a couple of journalists. He noticed me hovering behind them and broke away to satisfy my curiosity and engage me in conversation. He was completely at ease with a random member of the public.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Danny, thanks for comments. I listened to his speeches many times though and really do disagree with a number of his policies. I’ve spent a long time working with asylum seekers here, for example, who I know could bring a great deal to the country but wouldn’t stand a chance under his ‘Australian style point system’. Agree – he’s so at ease with people, and I think misses the days when he could meet people more naturally and travel on public transport etc. Fascinating guy.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Fantastic article, well done. I met Nigel v briefly on the day of the by election in Clacton last year… In the pub afterwards a Cameraman tried to goad him into toasting David Cameron(it was Cameron’s birthday) but he said ‘I don’t think we want to over do it’ … As you say he is nothing like the monster the press try and make him out to be. Unfortunately the power crazy establishment parties have the ability to write the narrative

    Liked by 1 person

  5. A very well written piece. Great job! I really enjoyed it. Last month I created a new page called Real Life Natural Wife. I hope you’ll come check it out and leave me a comment with your thoughts.
    Congrats on being freshly pressed!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Darcy. We (media) quite often went out canvassing with Nigel on the streets on weekends and we used to wonder whether we’d open the door to Nigel Farage on a Saturday morning! Glad this has been more welcome. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Well done, Mary. I was so impressed that I had to reblog your piece on mine.

    For so long, it was basically a Tory/Labour contest. That is the case no more. There is a void of voters who are distinctly unimpressed with what is on offer, and they are either not voting or looking to other parties. So what is left is a mad scramble to fill that void.

    I don’t know what the answers are. I wish I did.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Hi Mary – what a wonderfully good-natured photo odyssey. Thank you for racing around the UK in pursuit of Mr Farage.

    Your photos capture something about the quiet despair and dogged survival of UKIP’s natural constituency. The forgotten and the disappointed. I’m not speaking as a UKIP supporter – there’s too much of a BNP/National Front Lite edge to their rhetoric for me, but I can see why their offer seems bright and new when ordinary politics has stagnated.

    Thank you for all your hard work and for your humanity. Nigel Farage is easy to demonise, but, as with Ed Miliband, the media caricature isn’t the whole story.

    Best wishes
    Elaine

    Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Mary – I was struck by your clear-sightedness. You seemed to cut through the accepted, media-moderated, Mr Punch image of the man to something more subtle and more human.

        I’d be interested to know – do you think the rigours of the chase made it easier to see the man clearly? I suppose mythology falls away when you’re all exhausted.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. pixie

    Wow, what a truly wonderful piece. You have shown a human behind a monster, created by the media. Love him or hate him you have to respect his determination. I am a ukipper, and it’s refreshing to read an article that isn’t about hate, and bully tatics. Wonderful read.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m pretty convinced he’s created most of his image himself and firmly wants it to stay that way, on the evidence of the last week! Thanks very much for your comments, pleased that the work seems to speak to people across the political spectrum.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Here is Nigel’s response to this. ”I wasn’t happy to discover that the press office had semi-officially sanctioned a photographer to follow me around. She was tenacious, turning up everywhere: Grimsby, Camborne, Dudley and of course Thanet. I could hardly turn around without spotting her in the shadows. She was all politeness and decency, but being photographed and recorded whenever I had a moment of downtime wasn’t something I enjoyed at all.”

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Matt

    This really makes him seem just like someone working incredibly hard to do what he thinks is the right thing. You’ve made me feel a bit bad for disagreeing with him so strongly!

    Like

  11. Thanks so very much.This piece will have greater importance as the years go on,and we look back on this time in our countries history.Pictures were great.Hoping that life will serve you well.Adrian Smith.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: