Get thee behind me, as the bishop said to the stalker
Tuesday 03 November 1998
Very Unusual Jobs Indeed
A man who stalks stalkers
John Penworthy is in his thirties. You wouldn't notice him in a crowd. You probably wouldn't notice him by himself on Beachy Head. Until he followed you home. That's the idea. Because his job is to follow stalkers, and he only gets noticed when he wants to be.
"Like many other people I was an unemployed actor, but unlike many unemployed actors I managed to use my acting skills in a related field.
"Parenthetically, it's odd that when actors can't get acting jobs, they go off and do something totally unconnected with acting, like waiting in a restaurant..."
Surely waiting and acting are very closely allied? Waiters have to pretend to emotions they don't feel and follows scripts they don't believe in...
"Whatever," says John Penworthy, looking at me oddly. "But I met a friend of mine who was being stalked by a local lady who had fallen in love with him, and persuaded herself that he loved her back, and he was desperate to shake her off. So I said, more as a joke than anything, Why don't I stalk her? And I did. And it scared her off. So I thought, there could be a job here...."
It is, apparently, a horrible experience to be stalked. You feel observed and hunted the whole time. You look up and see your stalker across the road. You go swimming and find your stalker swimming beside you. You pick up the phone and it's them... You feel taken over.
"Yes," says Penworthy, "stalkers feel they own their prey, and have no reservations about how they stalk them. All that a victim can do is go to the police. But if the stalker has committed no crime, the police can do nothing. Except hire me..."
What Penworthy does, basically, is subject the stalker to the same treatment as the stalker is meting out. Last month he was stalking a stalker who had become obsessed with a schoolteacher. She was following him to work and hanging round the school all day.
"So I hung round with her. I followed her all round the school grounds. I just tagged on behind her. It's not as if I was trying to shadow her, and avoid being spotted. The opposite. I wanted her to know I was there the whole time, so she would get as sick of me as he was of her.
"It works, too. They can't stand the tables being turned. She turned and confronted me in the bushes by the playing fields. `What do you want? Why are you following me?' `Because,' I said, `I love you. And you love me too, don't you?'
"This freaked her out. She left the school. I hung around her house for a day or two and that freaked her out too. I don't think we'll see her back again."
The oddest job John ever had was when he was hired by a bishop to stalk a stalker.
"You wouldn't think anyone would be potty about a bishop, would you? This woman was. Maybe it was the robes. Anyway, she used to attend every service he took, front row, follow him, phone him, leave notes in his Bible and prayer book
"So I started to haunt her. Follow her, talk to her, pretend I was a missionary sent to save her soul... Trouble is, it backfired and she fell in love with me, and she forgot about the bishop and started stalking me."
"Well, the bishop was happy enough because the pressure was off him now. There wasn't much point me going on stalking her, because that was just what she wanted now. So I got someone else to stalk her."
You got someone to stalk the woman you had been stalking?
"Yes, well, it sounds a bit crazy put like that," says John Penworthy, "but it's a crazy world, the world of stalking.
"Take what I'm doing at the moment. I'm stalking a man who's stalking a famous actress. And I think - I'm not sure, but I think he has put a tail on me."
So that's a four-way stalk?
"Yes," says John Penworthy, putting on a large moustache prior to going out. "And do you know what? I'm seriously thinking of getting the tail followed. Mark you, I'm also seriously thinking of getting out of this racket before I lose my sense of reality."
Do you know what? I think he has got a point.
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