As I sat in East London learning how to carve a spoon out of a piece of teak, I never imagined that three weeks later I would be face to face with the leader of the Labour Party talking about the meditative benefits of wood-whittling. It took more than one of our six minutes together to get to that point of course. Having spent most of his leadership being criticised and harassed by the media, it’s understandable that he would be wary at first even though we’d already had brief banter about me trying to steal a clock during the interview. After initial pleasantries that were returned with matching politeness but nothing more, I saw my chance to make a connection with a man I have wanted to photograph for over a year slowly dwindling away. I had no choice, I had to break out the big guns…
‘I did a spoon carving lesson. Er spoon carving. A lesson’
It was a gamble, I realise that now, and one that *not everyone would be receptive to.
A momentary delay as he tried to process what I had just announced… and then… bingo!
The ice was officially broken and what followed was a wonderfully warm conversation about woodworking, giving handmade presents for Christmas, Ben Okri, cats, even my mum came up at one point and he mentioned family members who live near to her. He was so engaging and genuinely interested in what I was saying, I even stopped taking pictures half way through so I could listen further, which obviously isn’t ideal when the clock is ticking (maybe that’s why I’d tried to steal it).
When my time was up with the portraits, he continued to stand next to me, carrying on our chat whilst I packed my kit away. Finally he was whisked away to his next engagement but left with a final flourish of sending my family his best wishes for when I joined them in the Cotswolds later that day, and I was left imagining there would be no more fun day than one spent hanging out with him at his allotment, carving spoons.
*The other day I was trying to engage UKIP MP Douglas Carswell in a conversation about Elton John hits so I’ve had worse moments of inspiration than this.