What Is the Iron Lady Worth Now?; Paul Kelleher Should Be Honoured for Decapitating a Statue of Margaret Thatcher. Instead He Faces a Jail Term Tomorrow

By Sewell, Brian | The Evening Standard (London, England), February 18, 2003 | Go to article overview

What Is the Iron Lady Worth Now?; Paul Kelleher Should Be Honoured for Decapitating a Statue of Margaret Thatcher. Instead He Faces a Jail Term Tomorrow


Sewell, Brian, The Evening Standard (London, England)


Byline: BRIAN SEWELL

PAUL Kelleher will tomorrow be the subject of a modest headline in this paper. Paul Kelleher? Who he? An EastEnder? A rising pop star? A footie prodigy in the ascendant with Sven-Goran Eriksson? The latest lover of some long-limbed bimbo of the cinema? No, no - none of these. Kelleher is the man who in May 2000 walloped a statue of Mrs Thatcher on loan to the Guildhall Art Gallery and decapitated it. There is no argument that he it was who did the deed, and tomorrow Judge George Bathurst-Norman will deliver his carefully considered sentence. How carefully considered? In court Kelleher argued that he had acted lawfully in making a justified protest against the political ideology of Thatcherism. If only he had left it at that, the jury might have felt inclined to agree, for there is no doubt that when communism collapsed in Russia, we in the West rejoiced in the felling of colossal statues of Stalin in every town from Vladivostock to Nizhni Novgorod, recognising the profound symbolism of such happenings. But, emotionally and speciously, he went on to argue that he believed his son, a babbling infant of two, to be in immediate need of protection from the global consequences of Thatcherite philosophy.

With such manifest nonsense - for were that so, his target should have been the living flesh of Tony Blair rather than the chill marble of an old and unseated Thatcher - he lost the sympathies of many who could see virtue in the deed and who would, had they been jurors, not only have cleared him of guilt, but slapped him on the back.

Kelleher was charged with criminal damage to property worth more than pound sterling5,000, for which the maximum sentence is a decade in jug - much more than for running down a child on a pedestrian crossing or battering an old dear to death for her pension.

Why did he not argue with this valuation? Admittedly the cost of the statue to a benefactor was pound sterling40,000 when it was carved a year or two before, but in the gallery it was insured for pound sterling150,000. How did this astonishing increase come about?

What was the basis for such figures? Is a sculpture necessarily worth what a sculptor charges for it, necessarily worth whatever figure an owner chooses to pluck out of the air? A sane man could reasonably have argued that the Thatcher statue wasn't worth a bean.

There is, it seems, a tradition in the House of Commons - to which the statue belongs - that it must collect, commission or be given some memorial of its prime ministers, to have a serried rank reaching back to the first of them, the monster Walpole in the 18th century.

With plain Mrs Thatcher, as she was in the Commons, a modest portrait of her head and shoulders was not deemed enough, nor a half-length, nor a three-quarter, nor even a lifesize full-length - and, recalling how arrogantly she behaved with poor Rodrigo Moynihan when, for the National Portrait Gallery, that honest man let her eyelids droop, forcing him to repaint them, the portrait painters of Britain were lucky to escape the commission.

IT went instead to a sculptor virtually unknown in the corridors of connoisseurship, Neil Simmons, who, importing a twoton block of marble from Carrara, chiselled away until there emerged from it an effigy only vaguely resembling Mrs Thatcher - without the symbolic handbag few of us would take it for anything more specific than an allegorical personification of the Lady Mayoress, the mother-in-law or any other example of insufferable womanhood. …

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