V&A Keynote Speech

The V&A 'Revolution - Records and Rebels 1966-1970) exhibition closed earlier in 2017.  I was invited to give the keynote speech at the launch dinner at the museum.  It was well received.  Here's the text:

While staying in a Sikh temple in Delhi in April 1965 a couple of guys from San Francisco gifted me with a 1000 microgram capsule of Sandoz pharmaceutical grade LSD.  I took my first trip in September of 1965, 51 years ago almost to the day.  Then I went back to complete my final year at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.   In October Timothy Leary came to Philadelphia with his message to explore higher consciousness.  This created a psychedelic community, as happened wherever Leary went.

Like many who became health conscious on acid, I adopted the macrobiotic diet and later visited the Paradox macrobiotic restaurant in New York’s Lower East Side. On the spot I decided to cancel my career path of Peace Corps - Navy pilot - State Department and decided instead to open a macrobiotic restaurant in London. I imported books about macrobiotics that were sold at the Indica bookshop.  I supplied brown rice snacks every week for the UFO Club from when it opened in December of 1966. My little band of macrobiotic missionaries would talk to people who were eating it, explaining, between Pink Floyd sets, how sugar was bad for you and whole grains were good for you. The American Medical Association described the diet as ‘leading to death.’  My restaurant opened in February 1967 and one of my first customers was Yoko Ono, who knew macrobiotics from Japan.

People got religion – not the old guy in the sky variety, but the personal spiritual discovery embodied in yoga and meditation and Zen Buddhism.

Our clothes helped us identify each other.  I imported coats I’d seen in Afghanistan a year earlier.  The Beatles bought some at Granny Takes a Trip boutique on the Kings Road and set off a global craze.  I also imported Tunisian kaftans, Tibetan shoulder bags and Chinese silks that Aedan Kelly would dye with blobby designs that were then tailored into shirts and dresses.

Clothes also helped the police to identify us and they started randomly searching and arresting people who looked colourful or had long hair.  We understood what it was like to be black and this fuelled empathy for civil rights as well as for drug law reform.

We believed in the power of peace and love.  The Vietnam war was at its peak – we tried to stop it and faced up to the full force of the law in Grosvenor Square, Chicago and Kent State.

We experienced nature and the environment on an intuitive and empathetic level, seeking out green places like Golden Gate Park or Kensington Gardens.  We read the romantic poetry of Keats and Blake, deploring dark satanic mills.

When the Move sang “I Can Hear The Grass Grow’ or The Small Faces sang ‘It’s All Too Beautiful’  we responded viscerally.   Then the Beatles summed it all up as “All you Need is Love.”

Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth both were born out of this awareness of our oneness with our beautiful planet.

We got sexy.  It was hard to repress sexuality when all your other senses were heightened, so if you were gay you let yourself go, if you were polyamorous you started to swing. Sexual experimentation led to sexual liberation.

We were a community – with a strong sense of communalism.  Not communism, quit the opposite: we didn’t trust the State but we did form communes. Our individualism, communalism and libertinism combined to forge a political libertarianism.

It wasn’t easy to get a job if you dressed like a hippie and had long hair, so many set up their own businesses. Fashion, publishing, natural foods and music were areas where entrepreneurial spirits could follow their heart and make a good living.

Our goal was to create an alternative society, an exemplar of how life could be and should be.

We underestimated the degree to which the legacy industries that profit from war, environmental degradation, ill health and financial manipulation would still control the agenda 50 years later.

This exhibition captures magnificently the deep spiritual, philosophical and political intent of those times and their impact on the world today.

It could help to accelerate the change of which we dreamed.

Perhaps it will help us to build Blake’s hippie vision of a new Jerusalem in this green and pleasant land.

Go Greenpeace Rainbow Warrior 3

In 1977 Greenpeace organised a ‘Save the Whales’ rally in Kensington Gardens. Spike Milligan came over to rally the troops with a quirky but passionate speech. We sat on the grass to listen and many people ended up soiled by dogshit. This was just inside the park gates where dogs would dump as soon as they were let loose on the grass. In those days people never cleaned up their dog mess. What’s more dog food was usually made with whale meat. The irony of the moment was not lost on us and I couldn’t help thinking, darkly, that ‘what goes round comes round.’

A few months later in a debate against Jilly Cooper on LBC Radio I said that people should clean up after their dogs. The call-in hot lines nearly melted with outraged dog owners saying I should go back where I came from and generally questioning my sanity. Yet over time cleaning up after one’s dog became normal behaviour.

Greenpeace fought much tougher battles. They were trying to stop nuclear testing in the Pacific Ocean and whaling in the Atlantic. At the end of 1977 I went along to Surrey Docks to see a rust bucket trawler that Greenpeace had acquired which they planned to refurbish and rename the Rainbow Warrior. (I had the chance to go on the maiden voyage to Iceland to challenge whaling, but I had court appearances scheduled over Whole Earth jam illegally sweetened with apple juice).

The Rainbow Warrior was sunk in Auckland, New Zealand, on the orders of France’s President Mitterand in 1985. During ‘Opération Satanique’ French secret agents attached explosives to its hull to blow it up before it could lead a flotilla to oppose nuclear testing in Pacific island atolls. This act of terrorist sabotage killed Fernando Pereira, a photographer. The culprits were sentenced to 10 years for manslaughter but released when France threatened to block New Zealand’s agricultural exports to the EU.

Greenpeace converted another ship, Rainbow Warrior ll, and carried on being a pain in the bum for evildoers in the whaling, bombing and oil rig industry. It’s retired and is now a hospital ship in Bangladesh.

When Monsanto’s GM soybeans started flooding the market in 1996 the Soil Association lobbied hard to protect organic food and had desperate meetings with tin-eared ministers of agriculture and environment. While we talked Greenpeace took action. First they sailed up the Mississippi to block the export of soybeans at source. Later, led by Lord Peter Melchett, Greenpeace activists pulled up a GM maize crop in Norfolk, ‘decontaminating’ the field. Arrested and jailed, they were exonerated in court and set free. They had stopped the GM tide, protecting organic farming from extinction.

On November 10 we attended the launch of Rainbow Warrior lll near Tower Bridge. No rustbucket of a trawler this one but a brand new ship that will travel mostly by sail, with engines powering it for perhaps 10% of the time. Its €16 million cost was funded entirely by contributions from tens of thousands of supporters.

Damon Albarn re-formed The Good The Bad and The Queen and played on deck to spectators lining the shore at Butler’s Wharf. Michael Eavis (Glastonbury Festival, £400,000 a year contribution to Greenpeace) had driven the ship on the last leg of its trip. We toured the ship and learned about its revolutionary design – soon container ships could be using its advanced wind-capture principles to cut the emissions from seaborne trade.

Greenpeace has been on the front lines stopping the destructive greed that makes the world a worse place, thereby providing cover for organisations like the Soil Association, Garden Organic, Slow Food and Fairtrade that are working to build a better world. We all owe them a tremendous debt. Joining Greenpeace and supporting their work is the least we can do to repay their efforts.