Me, Myself and Icke: The day I had to dump the conspiracy theorist
- Credit: Archant
STEVE ANGLESEY remembers the time he hired David Icke... before having to let him go
Both St Jerome and Morrissey agree that the devil finds work for idle hands. So, just as a bored schoolboy on a long summer's day might poke a stick into a dead bird to see what happens, it was almost inevitable that some desperate media outlet would try to break through its lockdown torpor by giving David Icke a call.
Icke, who has followed the well-worn career path of professional footballer to TV presenter to Green Party politician to Son of the Godhead to international conspiracy theorist, duly told the Freeview channel London Live there may be a connection between coronavirus research and the Israeli state and declared the pandemic to be part of a three-decade plot by technocrats to impose fascist mass control.
The results have been a mixed bag for London Live. On the plus side, enormous publicity and better-than-average ratings. On the other, an Ofcom investigation and widespread criticism of the station's owner Evgeny Lebedev ('a major force for good', according to Boris Johnson).
The furore made me wince a bit since 20 years ago – when, in my defence, we knew much less about him than we know now – I too found myself in need of hype and audience numbers and decided the quickest way to find them was by employing David Icke.
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Back then the world had only two football websites, and I worked for the second, Football365. Our early strategy of being a slightly more irreverent version of a tabloid newspaper, complete with Fleet Street reporters and Andy Gray columns, produced scant reward and so we veered off into wilder and more fruitful tangents – reader opinion, humour, transfer analysis, gleeful character assassinations of writers and commentators who had passed their sell-by date.
Seeking a columnist who might create some noise on the message boards that predated social media, I suggested Icke, then toiling in relative obscurity nine years on from the turquoise spring when he told the world God had tipped him off about his plans to destroy it, leading to the Sun headline 'Is David Icke off his bike'?
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Since then the former Hereford United goalkeeper had emerged only rarely, probably wisely as when he did he tended to claim the planet was run by a conspiracy of shape-shifting lizards whose number included Queen Elizabeth II (even her name being a reptilian reference to 'a lizard birth', apparently). He was easy to track down on the Isle of Wight (why didn't the reptiles think of this?) and quickly agreed to write a ghosted column where he would talk and I would write. If I remember rightly, he suggested dialling down 'the lizard stuff' and concentrating on sport, with mention of his 'spiritual beliefs' where appropriate.
A series of informative and bizarre columns duly appeared, including ruminations on everything from a goalkeeper's command of his penalty box to the comparisons between political speeches and pre-match team talks to 'power' colours in football kits. He disliked the veteran commentator David Coleman and loved the veteran manager Alec Stock. The pieces got better and odder, and were called things like 'Football is the new cocaine and chairmen are its dealers'. Things went so well it was decided Icke could write them up himself. This proved to be a mistake.
In the first weeks of 2001, I got an email from a personal hero, the brilliant journalist John Diamond, who would shortly die of cancer. No doubt I thought Icke was just an entertaining weirdo, Diamond wrote, but didn't I realise that 'reptile' and 'lizard' were tropes long associated with anti-Semitism?
Horrified but lacking real evidence, I put this to our columnist, who assured me that while he did increasingly believe in a global conspiracy of businesspeople and politicians, sometimes a reptile was just a reptile. He was, he insisted, fiercely anti-racist. And maybe, he added, the whole reptile thing was just a metaphor anyway.
Yet the now self-penned columns began to rack up the crazy. If an article began by discussing Sir Alex Ferguson's refusal to criticise his players in public after bad results it would quickly divert into Masonic secrets and end with Illuminati mind control. It became an office joke that all Icke intros would be something like: 'Liverpool flattered to deceive against Arsenal on Sunday and in many ways that reminds me of what George W Bush and his paymasters are doing in the Middle East.'
An article about sweatshops producing football boots had to be edited, in a way that displeased Icke. Thereafter his contributions became more erratic (in terms of frequency as well as content) until finally in September he sent us a resignation note in the shape of an unpublishable piece alleging the 9/11 attacks were an Illuminati-inspired inside job.
Icke has continued to write similar and even worse since, and the ongoing death of common sense has rewarded him richly for it. Accusations of anti-Semitism continue to follow him around; he must have been particularly narked last year when the Australian immigration minister who revoked his visa to visit the country following protests turned out to be called David Coleman.
Meanwhile I moved on to the Daily Mirror sports desk, where my first pick as a new columnist turned out to be equally controversial. But thankfully Robbie Savage is disliked mainly for not being part of the football intelligentsia and, to the best of my knowledge, has never accused the late country singer Boxcar Willie of being part of a conspiracy of shape-shifting lizards.
Not yet, anyway.