Don't you know who I am? Mr Toad may have escaped from prison as a washerwoman, but real-life incognitos seldom get disguises right

Bin Laden favoured a cowboy hat, but how does his ruse compare to other masters of disguise?

Ever since the Book of Genesis, in which Jacob puts goat skin on his hands and neck to trick his blind old dad, mankind has been nuts about disguise. It became a popular trope in British culture down the centuries. Shakespeare’s characters regularly disguise themselves, in both his comedies (Viola dressed as a boy in Twelfth Night) and his tragedies (Edgar got up as a lunatic called Tom O’Bedlam in King Lear.) Sherlock Holmes counted a week wasted in which he didn’t impersonate a beggar, an Italian priest or an asthmatic sailor to astonish Dr Watson and confound his enemies. In The Wind in the Willows, Mr Toad escapes from prison by disguising himself as a washerwoman.

Real-life incognitos, however, seldom get disguises right. Michael Jackson, on his gimme-everything-in-the-shop retail sprees, often chose the cunning strategy of wearing a baggy blue jumpsuit and a ski mask so that everyone in the shop would laugh and point and shout: “Who is that pillock?” Sometimes he’d settle for the full burqa-with-niqab-and-black-gloves look – combined with fancy trainers and three white children, suggesting to the passer-by that he might not be a 100 per cent Muslim. Princess Michael of Kent, on a bus tour of southern Africa, decided to darken her skin and dye her hair black to “get to know the real Africa”. Not a great idea. The Queen’s cousin later admitted: “I didn’t get away with it.”

Slightly less damaging to international affairs was Justin Timberlake’s innovative approach to avoid being recognised at the Comic Con extravaganza. He asked Esquire’s Chris Jones to join him in the costumes of Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie while being interviewed for a profile piece. 

For wild inventiveness, however, Osama bin Laden walks off with the Garibaldis. According to Al Jazeera, a document in the hands of the Pakistani government reveals that, among other mild eccentricities, the al-Qa’ida warlord wore a hat to disguise himself. Not just any old hat – he affected a wide-brimmed cowboy hat when walking around his compound, to prevent him from being identified by airplanes or helicopters. We’re not sure a Stetson is the ideal fashion look for the thin-faced jihadist (Dylan’s famous line: “It balances on your head like a mattress balances on a bottle of wine.”) but it clearly did the trick and hid him from discovery.

What suspicious helicopter pilots must have thought, on seeing a Texan cowpoke wandering about the Pakistani-Afghan border, is anybody’s guess…

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Recruitment Genius: Project Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This privately-owned company designs and manuf...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources Officer

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen at th...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager - London - £40,000 + Bonus

£36000 - £40000 per annum + Bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own