After Mr. Son of God himself, David Shayler, had been so accommodating in letting me spend an evening in his squat with his friends, it seemed only fair that I return the hospitality. So a couple of days later I arranged to meet David, or Dolores once the wig is on, to spend a day out in London, soaking in the culture as Vice picked up the tab.
The first unavoidable consequence of coming to Baker Street is that you will have Gerry Rafferty's sax solo blaring across your internal monologue for the next 24 hours. The second is that you will probably have your picture taken next to a statue of/picture of/person pretending to be Sherlock Holmes. The third is that the queues for Madame Tussauds will be appalling. “Two to three hours,” the guide tells us. Three hours. Jesus. “You see that queue?” he says as he points to a queue that stretches down the block all the way back to Rochester. “Well, once you get through that, there's another one inside.” While the citizenry of Delhi, Bogota, and Bratislava stand around waiting to be fleeced like cattle awaiting the bolt-gun, we discuss whether it is worth it. “You've got to be joking,” Dolores rages. “I'm not standing in that queue.” We push off. Sharpish.
"I've never been in London in drag in the daytime. I've been out here at night sometimes. To go to tranny clubs. There's one near Leicester Square that's quite good.” Previously under wraps, Dave's cross-dressing days date back to his teenage years. Though they really bloomed with his ex-girlfriend Annie – who, incidentally, stood by him throughout his spy saga, and with whom he co-authored a book. “People don't seem to be looking much. It takes a lot to shock Londoners. Even in this awful cheap wig!”
One tube later and we were in the heart of swinging London. There were a lot of tourists about. We were some of them. David hasn't been back here in a couple of years. “I have a love-hate relationship with London,” he confesses. “I moved here when I was ten from the northeast to the home counties. I came back when I started working for the Sunday Times. I soon swore to myself I'd get out one day. But now, it's quite nice to come back and see it as a tourist.”
And what Soho alley would be complete without a lady of the night to grace its pavement? Oh. Wait a minute... isn't that? Yes. It's David. “I used to come here a lot when I worked for the Sunday Times,” David tells me. “We'd drink in pubs like the Jon Snow and the Polar Bear. I was a trainee there for seven months. But they sacked me. It was one of these moments, I'd just left university and sort of thought I had it all sorted out, that everything in life was going my way. Then they dropped that bombshell on me and I found myself having to start all over again. It was definitely a learning curve.”
We pass a sex shop he once visited, and I ask the Messiah about his views on intercourse. “I teach that sex is a perfectly natural human thing. It's nothing to be ashamed of. Part of my teachings are that we should all embrace our sexuality as something beautiful. I'd stop short of free love, but something like that.”
It wasn't this one, in case they were hoping for a celebrity endorsement.
Britain: is it a surveillance society? What are they looking for? What on earth can the police hope to be seeing in that van that would make it worth their while plonking it there all day? How much does it cost to spy on this titchy patch of road anyway? David's not afraid of their cameras though, he's bigger than Jesus!
Having scratched Madame Tussauds from our itinerary, we decided to throw ourselves upon its rival. “This used to be the Rock Circus,” I recalled. “I think I remember it,” David agreed, as we smoked one of his licorice roll-ups and talked prophecy out back. At £25 a head, it wasn't exactly priced to sell, but what it lacked in value it more than made up for in a lack of queues, friendly and efficient service, and taxidermied calves with two heads.
David M. Shayler (right) and a Tyrannosaurus Rex (left). “I wonder whether it's to scale,” said David. “I doubt it. Aren't they, like, the size of a house?” I replied. We agreed that they probably were. The "deer with six legs" you can see in the background is a bit of a swizz. Two of those six – i.e. the important two that take it over the "regulation deer" quota of four legs – are tiny stumpy things, completely useless for actually walking on.
The actual human skeleton behind is inscribed in ink with the story of Jesus, stations-of-the-cross-style. David rejects Jesus as the Messiah. “There can't be two Messiahs. It's a logical impossibility,” he confirms. The boy behind (what was he staring at?) looks like he's never seen the transvestite son of God posing in front of a crucified skeleton before.
Whatever sort of tourist attraction you are these days, it seems essential that you have a house-of-horrors bit, where you revel in the ghoulish parts of human nature under the flimsy guise of education. And long may it continue, because Ripley's was excellent. Pull the lever and you get to electrocute this guy until he convulses.
Guess these people are what they call "middle Americans."
We proceeded into the hall of mirrors. Now, I don't know about you, but to me, taking a man who believes he's the TV son of God into an intensely disorientating mirror maze lit only in psycho-killer red, filled with yapping Japanese tourists, and blaring one repetitive manic trance riff on the PA over and over for 20 minutes doesn't sound like a wise thing to do. But we both enjoyed it enormously.
By the time we emerged into peachy afternoon sunlight, some other folks from the squat had turned up for the party. They were nice enough.
We moseyed to lunch.
It was pretty decent. This is the chicken escalope. The holy notion of a free lunch is central to any self-respecting squatter's belief system, so I paid for all the food.
David! You're not allowed to smoke that in here! You'll be back in Belmarsh if you carry on like this, young man.
The fact that these people are wearing Union Jack headgear indicates one thing only: they are not British. No, it seemed like these were our fabled "middle Americans," who were so backward that they gawped at David and took pictures. On old-fashioned cameras. Yes, this is how primitive certain parts of the world are.
No trip to London is complete without this shot. It's the sole reason these things still exist.
Leicester Square: still shit.
At the top of the escalators was the Tudor collection. By Thomas More's wall-size portrait, David quoted some lines from A Man For All Seasons and related how they applied to him. Like many Messiahs, I suspect he has a persecution complex. At the Martin Amis & Friends exhibition, he pointed to Christopher Hitchens and recalled how the Hitch had once interviewed him in Paris for Esquire magazine. “He said in his piece that I was fat and pasty-faced. But obviously when they took the pictures I was actually quite tanned. He just came there to try and stitch me up.” Later, upon his suggestion, we tried to get a picture of him flipping the bird to Mrs Thatcher. But the attendant, sensing the only chance he'd have all day to do something other than stare at an empty room, stopped us. By Lord Rothschild's picture, David explained the Baronet's role in the global conspiracy. “All the signs point back towards the Rothschilds,” he confirmed.
Trafalgar Square was a florid nosegay of big city life, thronged and happy. A punk girl with a mohican was charging £1 to have photos taken with her. Yes, there was someone on the plinth. No, I have no idea what they were doing up there. #oneandother
The park was bloody adorable, too. The squatters skinned up. By law, as soon as hippies stop moving in a verdant area, one of them is required to whip out a pair of those balls on string that you twirl round your wrists to no particular purpose in a sort of tai chi sense. What are those things called?
Soon, we were upon the Horseguard's Parade.
Will this bald guy look back on this day as another treasured memory added to the bank about Londres, with its los tolerance sociale, and its famous femininas que es masculinas? Or will he return to Uruguay scowling, sneering angrily about people who interject themselves upon your photos in Londres, with its los hombres del vaginas, and its disgustingly licentious societe degenerato?
Downing Street. I asked one of the coppers manning the booth if he knew who David Shayler was. He did not. Not sure what this says about British security priorities. At this point, other tourists started randomly snapping David, and it developed into a bit of a snapping frenzy.
Reinforcement coppers enter Downing Street in the background. I put it to David that perhaps the government paid people to protest over issues like climate change as a convenient smokescreen to cover up bigger scandals. He didn't disagree.
So, then, to the seat of government. The rotten rump of Parliament, where a bunch of brigands dig themselves deeper into our collective pockets every day their porcine regime persists. It was really nice.
With its despicable regal doorways.
David rested his weary feet, clobbered after a day in heels. The sun sloped in the sky. A group of youths played football behind us. David recalled that, when he worked for MI5, he used to have a kick-about right here with the boys from the MOD. I wondered whether any of his colleagues from the Libya desk ever fondly remembered the things he'd said to them across a steaming photocopier. Whether they suspected, even then, that he might be "different." We skinned up.
MI5's top secret headquarters just opposite Vauxhall Bridge. Apparently they made his life hell when he left. But he has found his peace with them. “Obviously there are other things that I know, which I'm not going to reveal because there's no point. They were well-run operations that had a lot of success. I was only blowing the whistle on the cock-ups.”
From Baker Street to the London Eye, that damned Gerry Rafferty song was still stuck in my head. It wasn't coming out, no matter what I did. Even humming Spitting Image's "Chicken Song" – possibly the most maddeningly insistent and insistently maddening piece of music in popular history – still couldn't dislodge the bugger.
We bade our adieus. I had to go to Luton, he and the squatters were gonna hang around, find a party. By the river, we recreated exactly the shot that Shayler posed for 12 years ago, to illustrate the original Mail On Sunday feature that launched his career as David Shayler Celebrity Traitor. Long before David Shayler Celebrity God or David Shayler Transvestite 9/11 Denier. He thought back to that time. The transition didn't seem to trouble him much. His mind can easily span these different entities, it seems, without ever developing the vertigo you'd expect inherent in the question "How did I get here?" Or to put it another way, he has knitted his life into a narrative that, at base, is much the same as anyone else who ever looked back on their decisions with a sense of fait accompli. All lives are lived through retrospective justification, no matter how unusual.
If only it were a raygun.