Frequently during his talk at the Union on Wednesday, Brian Paddick uses the word ‘controversy’, and it’s not difficult – considering his life and career – to see why. As well as being openly gay, he was the Liberal Democrat candidate for London Mayor in last summer’s elections. He attempted to implement a highly contentious cannabis policy in his role as Police Commander for Lambeth and then became the focus
of a cannabis scandal himself. He gave evidence against the London Metropolitan Police in the Stockwell Tube Station inquiry, whilst he was the Deputy Police Commissioner to Sir Ian Blair. And then he went on last year’s run of I’m a Celebrity! Get Me Out of Here.
He is a man who everybody claims to know something about, or at least have an opinion on – a somewhat intimidating reputation to have, I feel. However, upon meeting him, he is infallibly polite, funny and charming. He describes his mayoral candidate rival Boris Johnson as ‘loveable’, and states ‘liquidised camel penis’ as his favourite eating challenge during I’m a Celebrity.
Having studied PPE at the Queen’s College, Oxford is not new to him, and ‘walking around here makes me feel like I’m at home’. He missed out on the typical student experience as he arrived here aged 22, married, and funded by a police scholarship. However, he insists with great warmth that the experience was wonderful, and that he ‘would do it all over again’.
His path to Oxford began in an unconventional fashion typical to him, as he decided to write a letter to the admissions tutor at Christ Church before he officially applied. He received a firm but polite no, but his refusal to give in became a characteristic that would reappear in the course of events in his life.
Following his time at Oxford, he went on to do a postgraduate diploma at Cambridge. However, his ‘experience of student life’ was to be compromised again as he only studied during the vacations from his police training.
Religion has played a large part in Paddick’s life – whilst a student here, he preached at St. Aldates Church to ‘punk rockers and glue sniffers’ and attempted ‘a conversion mission’ and a promotion of Christianity. However, after coming out as homosexual and ‘going from church to church’, he found that ‘at the end of every service, the vicar would always query where my wife was’. Although he is ‘still a believer’, he is no longer an active part of the body of worshippers after the continual wrong assumptions about his sexuality.
This difficulty in reconciling two seemingly integral aspects in his life – his religion and his sexuality – seems trouble him less than I would have imagined, but then again he seems to be used to dealing with inconsistencies.
His sexuality comes under constant public scrutiny and I ask him how it feels to be labelled by the media as formerly being ‘the most senior and openly gay police officers in Britain’. He describes to me an article written the day following the July 7th bombings in London. At the time he was face that represented the police in the media, however the article in question focused on his sexuality alone. This indicated the major media interest in his homosexuality, and the journalist treated it as a concern.
‘Being gay is not everything about me’, he states, although the vast majority of the public seem to treat it as if it is. In 2008, Paddick made the Pink List, an annual compilation of the most influential homosexuals in Britain, for the second year in a row. However, he states that ‘I don’t feel that I’m influential, not in the fact that I’m gay anyway’. He makes jokes throughout his speech in the debating chamber about being homosexual, and is incredibly at ease when he is discussing it with me. He briefly discusses his marriage and being open with his wife about his sexuality, marking it out as being ‘one of the hardest things I have ever had to do’.
Clearly, this is a man with a lot of emotion beneath his calm exterior, and this comes across most vividly when I inquire as to what he feels his biggest achievement is. Smiling and apologising for being ‘gushy and gooey’, he tells me that meeting his current partner, Norwegian civil engineer Petter Belsvik, and marrying him just last month is most definitely it. ‘I had to kiss many frogs to find the right one.’
He went through much media furore after his ex-lover made cannabis allegations about him, which he denies furiously, claiming that he smoked the drug on a daily basis. This story had followed the controversy surrounding his drugs policy where, as Police Commissioner, he elected to focus on ‘harder’ drugs such as heroin and issue on the spot fines for those caught with cannabis. He felt that it made sense to focus on it this way, rather than cracking down on cannabis as planned and thus straining police resources. He didn’t try to implement this policy by the book either, although he admits that ‘in retrospect maybe I should have done’, as he first discussed the policy in a London newspaper, rather than submitting it to Scotland Yard.
His frank and outspoken manner on the matter is impressive, as are his unshakable beliefs. The police shooting of a Brazilian electrician at Stockwell Tube station brought Paddick into the limelight once again and only serves to highlight just how unswerving he can be. The police emphatically declared that they believed the victim, de Menezes, to be a terrorist for 24 hours following the incident, which Paddick declares emphatically as ‘wrong’.
According to him, just hours after the event he was informed by members of the police that an ordinary Brazilian citizen and he went on to testify for de Menezes’ family in the trial. His heavy criticism of Sir Ian Blair’s events during the crisis was ‘what I feel prevented me from moving up the ladder’ in the police force into the most senior position – but he does not regret speaking out.
Paddick’s work in the police force is now over after the de Menezes crisis and although he feels he can ‘never go back’, he is moving up and on. As well as featuring in interviews and lecturing at the University of Ashridge’s Business School, he has just been offered a presenting job for a programme which will visit riot squads in different countries. Aptly named ‘I predict a Riot’, he turned it down, ‘it sounded a bit too butch for me really’. Although he has come under much public scrutiny over the years, Paddick remains unswervingly passionate and principled. He ‘couldn’t not tell the truth’ when it came to the injustice he felt surrounding Stockwell, even though it cost him dearly. ‘I greatly miss being on the beat, and actually helping people’.
He leaves me with the impression he has a lot of things he still wishes to achieve, stating matter of factly that ‘I’m not mature, except in age perhaps’. Whatever preconception you hold about Brian Paddick, be prepared to keep on changing it.