Voor wie de beste man niet kent. Russel Brand is een Britse acteur, komiek, politiek activist én de ex van de Amerikaanse zangeres Katy Perry. Nou is hij de laatste tijd vooral bezig met het protesteren tegen banken. Vorige week probeerde hij de Royal Bank of Schotland (RBS) binnen te stormen met een filmploeg om de bankiers te confronteren met, in Russel zijn ogen, hun torenhoge salarissen en buitensporige bonussen die betaald worden van belastinggeld.
De flamboyante acteur kwam het gebouw wel binnen, in tegenstelling tot zijn cameracrew. Doordat de beveiliging de deur op slot deed konden mensen noch naar binnen noch naar buiten. Door dit geintje hield meneer Brand veel werknemers van het werk af en die waren daar behoorlijk geagiteerd over. Zo ook de Noord-Ierse Jo.
De man moest door deze enigszins mislukte publiciteitsstunt een lange tijd in de kou wachten omdat hij het pand niet in kon. Tot overmaat van ramp werd Jo’s lunch daardoor ook nog eens koud. Jo liet het er niet bij zitten en schreef een brief aan Russel Brand. In die open brief verplettert de bankier al Russel’s uitgangspunten. Welke mening je ook bent toebedeeld, dit is een parel van een brief. Komt ‘ie!
Hi. I’m Jo. You may remember me. You may even have filmed me. On Friday, you staged a publicity stunt at an RBS office, inconveniencing a hundred or so people. I was the lanky slouched guy with a lot less hair than you but (I flatter myself) a slightly better beard who complained to you that you, a multimillionaire, had caused my lunch to get cold. You started going on at me about public money and bankers’ bonuses, but look, Russell, anyone who knows me will tell you that my food is important to me, and I hadn’t had breakfast that morning, and I’d been standing in the freezing cold for half an hour on your whim. What mattered to me at the time wasn’t bonuses; it was my lunch, so I said so.
Which is a great shame, because I’d usually be well up for a proper barney with you, and the points you made do actually deserve answers. Although not — and I really can’t emphasise this enough, Russell — not as much as I deserve lunch.
Before I go any further, I should stress that I don’t speak for RBS. I’m not even an RBS employee, though I do currently work for them. What follows is not any sort of official statement from RBS, or even from the wider banking industry. It is merely the voice of a man whose lunch on Friday was unfairly delayed and too damn cold.
So, firstly, for the people who weren’t there, let’s describe the kerfuffle. I didn’t see your arrival; I just got back from buying my lunch to discover the building’s doors were locked, a film crew were racing around outside trying to find a good angle to point their camera through the windows, and you were in reception, poncing around like you were Russell bleeding Brand. From what I can gather, you’d gone in and security had locked the doors to stop your film crew following you. Which left us — the people who were supposed to be in the building, who had work to do — standing around in the cold.
My first question is, what were you hoping to achieve? Did you think a pack of traders might gallop through reception, laughing maniacally as they threw burning banknotes in the air, quaffing champagne, and brutally thrashing the ornamental paupers that they keep on diamante leashes — and you, Russell, would damningly catch them in the act? But that’s on Tuesdays. I get it, Russell, I do: footage of being asked to leave by security is good footage. It looks like you’re challenging the system and the powers that be want your voice suppressed. Or something. But all it really means, behind the manipulative media bullshit, is that you don’t have an appointment.
Of course, Russell, I have no idea whether you could get an appointment. Maybe RBS top brass would rather not talk to you. That’s their call — and, you know, some of your behaviour might make them a tad wary. Reputations are very important in banking, and, reputation-wise, hanging out with a guy who was once fired for broadcasting hardcore pornography while off his head on crack is not ideal. But surely a man who can get invited onto Question Time to discuss the issues of the day with our Lords & Masters is establishment enough to talk to a mere banker. And it would be great if you could. Have you tried, Russell? Maybe you could do an interview with one of them. An expert could answer your questions and rebut your points, and you could rebut right back at them. I might even watch that. (By the way, Russell, if you do, and it makes money, I would like a cut for the idea, please. And I’m sure it would. Most things you do make money.)
But instead of doing something potentially educational, Russell, you staged a completely futile publicity stunt. You turned up and weren’t allowed in. Big wow. You know what would have happened if a rabid capitalist had just turned up unannounced? They wouldn’t have been allowed in either. You know what I have in my pocket? A security pass. Unauthorised people aren’t allowed in. Obviously. That’s not a global conspiracy, Russell; it’s basic security. Breweries have security too, and that’s not because they’re conspiring to steal beer from the poor. And security really matters: banks are simply crawling with highly sensitive information. Letting you in because you’re a celebrity and You Demand Answers could in fact see the bank hauled in front of the FCA. That would be a scandal. Turning you away is not. I’m sorry, Russell, but it’s just not.
Your response to my complaint that a multimillionaire was causing my lunch to get cold was… well, frankly, it was to completely miss the point, choosing to talk about your millions instead of addressing the real issue, namely my fucking lunch. But that’s a forgivable mistake. We all have our priorities, Russell, and I can understand why a man as obsessed with money as I am with food would assume that’s what every conversation is about. Anyway, you said that all your money has been made privately, not through taxation. Now, that, Russell, is actually a fair point. Well done.
Although I can’t help but notice that you have no qualms about appearing on the BBC in return for money raised through one of the most regressive taxes in the country, a tax which leads to crippling fines and even jail time for thousands of poor people and zero rich people. But never mind. I appreciate that it’s difficult for a celeb to avoid the BBC, even if they’re already a multimillionaire and can totally afford to turn the work down. Ah, the sacrifices we make to our principles for filthy lucre, eh, Russell? The condoms and hairspray won’t buy themselves. Or, in my case, the pasta.
And then there is that film you’re working on, isn’t there, for which I understand your production company is benefitting from the Enterprise Investment Scheme, allowing the City investors funding your film to avoid tax. Was that the film you were making on Friday, Russell, when you indignantly pointed out to me that none of your money comes from the taxpayer? Perhaps it had slipped your mind.
And, of course, you’ve been in a few Hollywood films now, haven’t you, Russell? I take it you’ve heard of Hollywood Accounting? Of course you have, Russell; you produced Arthur. So you are well aware that Hollywood studios routinely cook their books to make sure their films never go into taxable profit — for instance, Return Of The Jedi has never, on paper, made a profit. Return Of The fucking Jedi, Russell. As an actor, and even more so as the producer of a (officially) loss-making film, you’ve taken part in that, you’ve benefitted from it. (While we’re on the subject, I hear great things about Hollywood’s catering. I hope you enjoyed it. Expensive, delicious, and served (at least when I dream about it) nice and hot.)
But still, you’re broadly right. Leaving aside the money you make from one of the most regressive of the UK’s taxes, and the tax exemptions your company uses to encourage rich City investors to give you more money, and the huge fees you’ve accepted from one of the planet’s most notorious and successful tax avoidance schemes, you, Russell, have come by your riches without any effect on taxpayers. Whereas RBS got bailed out. Fair point.
Here’s the thing about the bailout of RBS, Russell: it’s temporary. The plan was never to bail out a bank so that it could then go bust anyway. That would be too asinine even for Gordon Brown. The idea was to buy the bank with public money, wait until it became profitable again, then resell it, as Alastair Darling clearly explained at the time. And that is still the plan, and it does appear to be on course. Not only that, but it looks as if the government will eventually sell RBS for more than they bought it for. In other words, the taxpayer will make a profit on this deal.
Of all the profligate pissing away of public money that goes on in this country, the only instance where the public are actually going to get their money back seems an odd target for your ire. What other government spending can you say that about, Russell? What other schemes do they sink taxpayers’ money into and get it all back, with interest? And how many people have you met who have actually been right in the middle of working to make a profit for the taxpayer when you’ve interrupted them to cause their lunch to get cold?
As for bonuses, well, I’ll be honest: I get an annual bonus. I’m not allowed to tell you exactly how much it is, but I will say it’s four or five orders of magnitude smaller than the ones that make the headlines. It’s very nice — helps pay off a bit of credit card debt (remember debt, Russell?) — but, to put it in terms you can understand, I’d need to work for several tens of thousands of years before my bonuses added up to close to what you’re worth.
But here’s the key thing you need to know about bonuses, Russell: they come with conditions attached. My salary is mine to do with as I will (I like to spend a chunk of it on good hot food). My bonus my employer can take back off me under certain conditions. Again, I do not speak for RBS, so cannot say anything about the recent FX trading scandal or PPI or any of that shit. But, in general terms, bonuses have conditions attached, such as “And we’ll claw back every penny if we discover you were breaking the rules.” And yes, it does happen. The only bonuses that make the news are the ones that get paid. But, every year, bonuses either don’t get paid or are even taken back off staff for various reasons, including misconduct. I’d’ve thought, Russell, that anyone who wanted bankers to be accountable would approve of the scheme.
And now, if I may, a word about your manner.
Much as I disagree with most of your politics, I’ve always rather liked you. You do a good job of coming across as someone who might be fun to be around. Turns out, that’s an illusion.
Because, you see, Russell, when you accosted me, you started speaking to me with your nose about two inches from mine. That’s pretty fucking aggressive, Russell. I’m sure you’re aware of the effect. Putting one’s face that close to someone else’s and staring into their eyes is how primates square off for a fight. Regardless of our veneer of civilisation, when someone does that to us, it causes instinctive physical responses: adrenaline, nervousness… back down or lash out. (Or, apparently, in the case of the celebrity bikes you like to hang out with, swoon.) I’m sure that, like turning up with a megaphone instead of an appointment, such an aggressive invasion of personal space makes for great footage: you keep talking to someone in that chatty reasonable affable tone of yours, and they react with anger. Makes them look unreasonable. Makes it look like they’re the aggressive ones. Makes it look like people get flustered in the face of your incisive argument. When in fact they’re just getting flustered in the face of your face.
I’ve been thinking about this the last couple of days, Russell, and I can honestly say that the only other people ever to talk to me the way you did were school bullies. It’s been nearly a quarter of a century since I had to deal with such bastards, so I was caught quite off my guard. Nice company you’re keeping. Now I think about it, they used to ruin my lunchtimes too.
One last thing, Russell. Who did you inconvenience on Friday? Let’s say that you’re right, and that the likes of Fred Goodwin need to pay. OK, so how much trouble do you think Fred faced last Friday as a result of your antics? Do you think any of his food got cold, Russell? Even just his tea? I somehow doubt it. How about some of the millionaire traders you despise so much (some of whom are nearly as rich as you, Russell)? Well, no, because you got the wrong fucking building. (Might want to have a word with your researchers about that.) Which brings us back to where we came in: a bunch of admittedly fairly well paid but still quite ordinary working people, admin staff mostly, having their lives inconvenienced and, in at least one case, their lunches quite disastrously cooled, in order to accommodate the puerile self-aggrandising antics of a prancing multimillionaire. If you had any self-awareness beyond agonising over how often to straighten your fucking chest-hair, you’d be ashamed.
It was paella, by the way. From Fernando’s in Devonshire Row. I highly recommend them: their food is frankly just fantastic.
When it’s hot.”
Russel Brand heeft inmiddels ook al gereageerd op deze brief.
Thanks for your open letter, I do remember you from the melee outside RBS and firstly, I’d like to say sorry for your paella getting cold. It’s not nice to suffer because of actions that are nothing to do with you. I imagine the disabled people of our country who have been hit with £6bn of benefit cuts during the period that RBS received £46bn of public bail-out money feel similarly cheesed off.
I can’t apologise for the RBS lockdown though mate because, I don’t have the authority to close great big institutions – even ones found guilty of criminal activity.
The locking of the doors and your tarnished lunch came about as the result of orders from “the faceless bosses” upstairs after I wandered in on my own while we secretly filmed from across the street – then security swarmed, all the doors were locked and crowds gathered outside. I must say Jo; it felt like RBS had something terrible to hide. But more of that in a minute.
Neither was I there for publicity, although you could be forgiven for thinking that; for many years I have earned my money (and paid my taxes) by showing off. If I needed negative publicity (and, believe me, that’s all talking publicly about inequality can ever get you) I could get it by using the “N word” on telly, or putting a cat in a bin, or having a romantic liaison with the lad from TOWIE.
I was there with filmmaker Michael Winterbottom making a documentar