When Antony Gormley first announced his plans to enlist members of the public to stand on top of Trafalgar Square’s empty fourth plinth and do exactly as they wished for an hour, he anticipated “a certain degree of anarchy”.
Today, 10 minutes before the first participant was due to take her first historic steps up, he got just that, but perhaps not quite as he had wished.
The plinth’s “first” participant, housewife Rachel Wardell, was poetically pipped to the post by an interloper determined to storm this organised chaos for his own purposes.
As Boris Johnson, the major of London, Gormley and scores of spectators waited for the clock to strike nine, a spidery figure was seen scaling the heights with a banner tucked under his arm.
Minutes later, he had made it on top of the plinth and unfurled his anti-smoking banner which read: “Save the Children. Ban Tobacco and Actors Smoking”.
Stuart Holmes, a seasoned protestor who usually stood on a soap box outside the High Courts had become the first member of the public – even unofficially – to use the plinth as his very own giant soapbox.
By the time Ms Wardell was due for her ‘first turn’, many were more interested in him than in her. Johnson commended the man for gaining his fifteen Warholian minutes of fame.
“I want to thank the organisers and thank this man for ascending the plinth as brilliantly as he has...What is fame? Is it a lottery or is it self-selected as this chap’s demonstation? This is one of the questions the fourth plinth asks us to meditate on,” he said.
Gormley gently prompted the man to get off the plinth after the clock struck 9am. “I hope you will do the gentlemanly thing when Rachel arrives...” he said.
She clambered on, and stood with a giant lollipop in her hand with an advert for the NSPCC. Green lollipops were handed out by NSPCC volunteers.
Mr Holmes – who was cautioned by community police afterwards – said he had come to Trafalgar Square after hearing about the event on the radio this morning, and had decided to scale the plinth on an impulse.
“I decided 20 minutes before that I’d do it. I was slightly anxious because I thought I wouldn’t be fit enough. It wasn’t that difficult. I think my message is an important one,” he said. When asked what he thought about becoming a participant in a public artwork he added: “It kills two birds with one stone.”
Later on, as various participants clambered on board, ranging from Jason Clark, an NHS nurse from Brighton who simply stood and filmed himself as well as the crowd, to another, Suren Senviratne, a graduate from Goldsmiths who was dressed in a panda costume and advertising his mobile number so that the public could ring him and hear of his experience, Gormley said the participants would provide a “living picture” of Britain, adding that Mr Holmes had been a “great warm up act if the whole thing is about freedom of speech.”
* Applications to stand on the plinth are being taken through the website www.oneandother.co.uk , where video footage of participants can also be seen.