Anarchy in the blood: Is tuition fees rampager Charlie Gilmour trying to impress the anti-establishment father who walked out on him as a baby?
Last updated at 11:18 AM on 15th December 2010
Scarf to cover face. Check. Piece of concrete to use as potential ammunition. Check. Latex gloves (to avoid leaving incriminating fingerprints?). Check.
Charlie Gilmour, it seems, planned his headline-grabbing role in last week’s tuition fees demonstration in London in meticulous and sinister detail. Or to put it another way, his behaviour - including swinging on the Union flag at the Cenotaph - cannot be dismissed as an isolated error of judgment, as much as he and his parents might want us to believe that was the case.
In fact, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that this was young Gilmour’s moment; something he had been preparing for all his life given his extraordinary background.
Seat of learning: Protester Charlie Gilmour pictured at Girton College, Cambridge, where he is studying history
His (biological) father is a notorious anarchist; his mother is from a communist family, a theme we shall return to.
‘My intention was not to attack or defile the Cenotaph,’ he said in a grovelling public apology after he was plastered over the front pages and the TV news bulletins in the aftermath of the riots.
‘Running along with a crowd of people who had been repelled by the police, I got caught up in the spirit of the moment.’
In fact, the ‘spirit of the moment’ - or ‘my moment of idiocy’ as he put it - lasted more than six hours.
At various times, Gilmour was seen menacingly brandishing a rock in his hand, running away from the Supreme Court building after setting fire to a pile of newspapers in the doorway (without thought to the possible carnage an inferno might cause) and in the baying mob surrounding Prince Charles and Camilla’s limousine.
Then, of course, there was his Tarzan impersonation at the Cenotaph.
Flying the flag: Charlie Gilmour adopted a high-profile position during last Thursday's demonstrations. He brandished a red flag for photographers before swinging from a Union Jack at the Cenotaph
Perhaps most disturbing of all, however, were those Latex gloves, the kind professional criminals don before going on a ‘job’. In fact, Gilmour was filmed by the BBC outside Topshop with a woman’s lace-up boot under his coat, suspiciously similar to footwear on sale in the store for £85.
Few people would have guessed, least of all his fellow protesters, that the long-haired and ‘impoverished’ yob who ‘distinguished’ himself on that shameful Thursday has Savile Row suits hanging in his wardrobe at Cambridge or is a part-time model or was brought up on a £1.4 million estate set in 130 acres in the heart of West Sussex.
His adoptive father is Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour (personal fortune estimated at £78 million). His mother is the Left-wing author and journalist Polly Samson.
Charlie himself was educated at £9,000-a-term Lancing College and is now in the second year of a history degree at Cambridge where, we learn, clothes are not his only hobby. One of the others is drugs.
Indeed, he boasted on Facebook about being high on LSD - commonly know as acid - after returning from his assault on the Cenotaph. He later took down the posts about the hallucinogenic drug.
Charlie Gilmour is not the first, and he certainly won’t be the last, son or daughter of rich and famous parents to indulge in such pursuits or indeed get into trouble with the police; Gilmour has now been bailed on suspicion of causing criminal damage and violent disorder.
Rock on: Gilmour, wearing latex gloves, was repeatedly seen tossing a rock in the air
Fanning the flames: Gilmour was also photographed attempting to start a fire outside the Supreme Court. Police arrived to put out the flames
But might an explanation for his conduct conceivably lie in the old saying ‘Like father, like son’?
For while Charlie was adopted by David Gilmour, his biological father is, in fact, Heathcote Williams, one of the most controversial anti-establishment figures of the Seventies.
Among the entries on Heathcote’s CV? Setting up an anarchist ‘state’ in the middle of London and declaring war on the motor car (which included a call to arms to his compatriots to vandalise vehicles by ‘slashing their tyres’, ‘shoving potatoes up the exhaust’ and ‘sloshing brake-fluid onto the bodywork’).
Heathcote, like his son, caused havoc while a student at Oxford - turning up to his law finals in an SS uniform, a stunt which resulted in him being kicked out of the university.
In his 20s, he worked briefly as a professional fire-eater, and even dated the iconic model Jean Shrimpton. But that was just the start of what would turn into a very controversial life.
Today, Heathcote Williams - who was born John Henley Jasper Heathcote-Williams in 1941 -lives in a white brick terrace house in Oxford, where he continues to write poetry, song lyrics and political tracts.
‘Excellent,’ he declared when first told by the Mail that his ‘Charlie’ had been pictured on the ‘front line’ of the London demonstration, before changing his mind and distancing himself from his son’s behaviour.
‘He is over 21, you know,’ he said. ‘Charlie is his own man. I don’t take any responsibility for his actions. He is a 21-year-old and is his own person. It is his decision what he does.’
Certainly, Williams himself was never one to respect authority. Though it’s hard to believe, the 69-year-old now standing on his doorstep in a blue cardigan and patterned neckerchief was once an enfant terrible.
Like father like son: Charlie Gilmour's father, Heathcote Williams, pictured in 1995
The Eton-educated son of a QC, he was one of 120 squatters who commandeered an area of Notting Hill which he dubbed the Albion Free State - his name for the Utopian vision of a Britain free from government control.
Frestonia, as the extensive squat became known, declared itself independent of Great Britain, with the actor David Rappaport being proclaimed foreign minister; Williams himself served as ‘ambassador to the UK’.
The rebellion exasperated the authorities for years before the bulldozers finally moved in to renovate the area.
Radical: Heathcote Williams in the Seventies
His fame - some might say infamy - earned him an appearance on a BBC political discussion show. Williams - appearing as a talking tree - regaled viewers for a full 15 minutes on the virtues of what life would be like if it wasn’t ruled by Westminster.
‘The only state is the state of your mind,’ he announced.
But the occasion ended in chaos when a fight broke out at the studio between two members of Williams’s anarchist group, who were dressed as a gorilla and a wizard. The ‘wizard’ pulled a knife on the ‘gorilla’, who promptly kicked the ‘wizard’ in the testicles.
So much for the brotherhood.
Undeterred, Heathcote Williams was still preaching the anarchist gospel in the Eighties. His Autogeddon essay was an extended diatribe against cars and the global economy of oil; one of a series of increasingly violent pieces published in the alternative Press of the time.
It was during this period - the late Eighties - that he met Polly Samson. She was in her mid-20s; he was in his 40s.
Samson - like Heathcote Williams - had a far from conventional background. Her mother, the offspring of a Chinese businessman and a cockney chambermaid, left China aged six, returned to the country when she was 16 and served as a major in Chairman Mao’s Red Army.
She had one child by a Filipino general, another by a British journalist, and Polly by Lance Samson, a reporter on the communist paper the Daily Worker. Samson’s parents lived in China, Korea and East Berlin before settling in Britain.
Samson was working in publishing when she met Heathcote Williams and she fell pregnant with Charlie almost immediately. But their relationship was short-lived.
In fact, Heathcote Williams walked out on her and baby Charlie after a little more than a year together. Samson has written that when he left, he quoted Cyril Connolly’s famous dictum to her (Connolly was a celebrated literary critic in the Forties): ‘There is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall.’
Could there possibly be a more callous way to treat the mother of your child?
His departure left Samson, now 48, bereft.
‘I was utterly miserable,’ she later recalled.
‘Part of it is the feeling of responsibility you have towards your child and just the feeling you have utterly failed. I still, to this day, don’t think it was my fault.
'When I saw Heathcote [in 2002] we had a conversation about it. I told him: “I was never going to stop you working, you know.”’
Not long after they separated, mutual friends introduced Samson to David Gilmour. They married in 1994 and had three children of their own.
This, then, is the extraordinary background of Charlie Gilmour.
Earlier this year, he gave a glimpse into his flamboyant lifestyle in a newspaper interview.
Happy family: While still a schoolboy, Charlie Gilmore (right) joined father David, sister Alice (left) and mother Polly (second right) at Buckingham Palace where David was awarded with a CBE for services to music
‘I’ve always loved good-quality clothing,’ he said.
‘My parents said that if I got to Cambridge, they would buy me a Savile Row suit. They made me two suits — a single-breasted day suit and slim-cut dinner suit, which is useful, as there are all sorts of feasts and formal occasions at Cambridge.’
He recently took part in a student fashion shoot inspired by Brideshead Revisited and has been on the books of London agency Select Model Management.
Not surprisingly, Gilmour has gained a reputation for being vain, an image enhanced by his decision to hang two portraits of himself on his university bedroom wall.
But, as we now know, there is also a much darker side to Charlie Gilmour’s life at Cambridge.
Students say he not only takes drugs — including, it is alleged, the horse tranquilliser Ketamine — but also shared them with his peers. On one occasion he was found unconscious on the floor of his undergraduate accommodation. His drug-taking, they claim, caused one girlfriend to dump him.
'Not surprisingly, Gilmour has gained a reputation for being vain, an image enhanced by his decision to hang two portraits of himself on his university bedroom wall.'
When he was interviewed by the student newspaper about a blind date he had gone on, Gilmour admitted they had spent the evening chatting about ‘fate, destiny curses, evil gipsies and LSD’.
Inevitably, this sort of behaviour has impacted on his academic progress.
‘He scraped a 2.1 in his exams last year, but I don’t know how he managed it,’ said one who knows him.
‘To say he is slack in his studies is an understatement. He is more interested in having a good time than studying.’
That much was apparent last month when he was captured on video during a protest against tuition fees in Cambridge. Gilmour had climbed on to the university’s historic Senate House and had reached over to a police officer holding back a baying crowd, swiping away his helmet to cheers from his compatriots.
We know this was just a dress rehearsal for his much more troubling role in the London student riots which were condemned by Home Secretary Theresa May this week.
‘The idea that some have advanced that police tactics were to blame, when some had come armed with sticks, flares, fireworks, stones and snooker balls, is as ridiculous as it is unfair,’ she said.
‘I think that the vast majority of the public of this country were dismayed to see a privileged young man desecrating the Cenotaph in that way, attempting to desecrate the memory of our troops.’
Whether his father shares that same sense of shame and fury is another matter.
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