Reverend Billy

Reverend Billy and his choir from the New York-based Church of Life After Shopping are currently on a British tour, and on Saturday they were doing a little tour of some of the sights of London.

© 2009 Peter Marshall

I came across them at Downing Street where I was photographing protesters from South Yemen on the other side of Whitehall, and saw a group of people in green robes singing and dancing on the pavement in front of Downing St.

When I first started walking around London you could take a stroll down Downing St whenever you liked.  Philip Jones-Griffiths took a nice picture (halfway down the page) there of nannies taking their charges for a walk and stopping to chat with the two policemen on duty outside the famous door of number 10, oblivious of the fact that those prams could have contained enough high explosive to blast Harold Wilson (or whoever was then our Prime Minister) to kingdom come.

Today the west end of the street is completely blocked, and there are tall iron gates at the Whitehall end. You are only allowed in if your name is on the list (or if you are a photographer, usually with a press card) and then go through an airport style security arch and at times also a quick pad-down search, and any bags are pretty throuroughly checked. Probably there are twenty times as many police on duty – and many are carrying rather nasty looking automatic weapons.  Photographers then have to walk to a pen across the road from the door, and are likely to be told off if they try to photograph as they walk to it, or if they point a camera in any other direction than across the road.

Outside the tall gates, tourists are allowed to peer and photograph – though from so far away it’s hardly worth the effort. But nobody is allowed to demonstrate there, and the police are generally pretty hot on enforcing the ban.

But they just didn’t know what to do with the Rev Billy and his choir, who had been performing for several minutes before an officer came and challenged him.  And then Billy had a clear advantage – he’s argued with police on numerous occasions and the officer concerned clearly had no idea at all what to do when preached at and told he had a shopping problem.

The choir continued to dance for several minutes while the unfortunate officer got exactly nowhere, then the whole group danced off down Whitehall to their next stopping point in Parliament Square, and I left them to photograph another event.

More pictures on My London Diary.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.