Paul kept identity secret as he spent two weeks behind bars for helping Greenpeace highlight Arctic firm’s disaster plan smokescreen
Clash star Paul Simonon kept his identity secret as he spent two weeks in jail with shipmates from a Greenpeace protest vessel.
The bassist joined the crew of Esperanza as “Paul the assistant cook” because he wanted to experience first-hand the work of the direct-action environmental organisation.
He was arrested with others for boarding an oil rig – and didn’t even let on who he was during his time behind bars.
Greenpeace reports: “Paul wanted to join a ship’s crew and make a stand against Arctic oil drilling. We told him that if he wanted the real experience he couldn’t join the ship as a rock star passenger.
“He’d need to become a member of the crew and earn acceptance. He’d need to take a lowly job – assistant cook would do nicely – and scrub toilets and swab decks.”
The bassist was one of 18 activists who boarded a Cairn Oil rig on June 3 to highlight the firm’s refusal to announce its disaster plan. Greenpeace says: “In Arctic waters an oil spill even a fraction the size of the Deepwater Horizon disaster would be devastating and far harder to contain.”
Simonon explains: “Very early in the morning when the shift was changing, we stormed the oil rig and went to the office to ask what their oil spill response plan was. They basically said, ‘We’re not going to show you.’ I think they probably didn’t have one.
“They said, ‘If you don’t get off we’re going to phone the authorities in Greenland and say you’ve hijacked the oil rig, and the police will come and get you.’ That’s what happened.”
Simonon, who played bass and sang with the iconic punk outfit from their 1976 formation until their split a decade later, continued to live incognito in jail. He even kept up his cooking services after they complained about the prison food and warders allowed them to make their own arrangements. One of the guard recognised him but agreed to keep the secret.
He insists the action was worthwhile and cites the example of a fishermen he met in jail: “He said slowly the fishing community is beginning to realise why Greenpeace is there. He became more sympathetic by talking to us. He said: ‘If there’s an oil spill we’re out of a job.’ So slowly, hopefully, it’ll be a positive thing and people can start challenging the government about what’s taking place and find an alternative way.”
Esperanza third mate Martti Leinonen shared a small cabin and a prison cell with Simonon and says: “He was a quiet, humble and funny guy who just fitted in. He worked really hard, cooking even on Sundays, which is usually the cook’s day off.”
Now his identity has been revealed, Esperanza crewman Martin Bowley regrets a jam session on board, when he told Simonon he “wasn’t bad” and should consider a career in music.
The musician is currently playing with his band The Good The Bad and The Queen which includes Blur frontman Damon Albarn.