Jonnie Marbles: 'It just seemed like the obvious thing to do'

Despite widespread criticism and a couple of death threats, the comic who threw a foam pie at Rupert Murdoch insists he is unrepentant. Sarah Morrison meets Jonnie Marbles
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Were it not for the fingernail-shaped cut on the bridge of comedian Jonathan May-Bowles's nose – courtesy of a now internationally renowned slap from Rupert Murdoch's wife, Wendi Deng – it would be almost impossible to believe that this is the man who dared to throw a foam "pie" at the world's most influential media tycoon.

For some, his action was unforgivable: he interrupted the culture committee's grilling of Rupert Murdoch on the hacking of a murdered girl's phone and in doing so made a previously unsympathetic man appear oddly human. Simultaneously he created an unexpected heroine in Deng after she jumped to her husband's defence.

Not only could his action run the risk of closing off parliamentary committees to the public in future, the whole thing seemed to smack of the antics of an unbridled ego.

Sipping pomegranate juice in a central London café, the 26-year-old activist and co-founder of the anti-cuts group UK Uncut seems positively well-mannered. Nevertheless, he is undoubtedly Jonnie Marbles, the Windsor-born father of one with a quarter of a million YouTube hits to his name since he assembled his foam flan in a House of Commons bathroom and flung it in the direction of the News Corporation founder.

Facing just a public-order offence after Mr Murdoch asked for charges to be dropped, the former climate-camp protester insists: "I know it was the right thing to do. I did it for anyone who has ever had a day when they have looked at the front page of The Sun or the News of the World and thought the world is a terrible place. I hope they feel a little bit better because they have seen this man taken down a peg or two."

But May-Bowles admits he always knew the stunt would be "divisive" and that he "understands why some people are cross and think I did the wrong thing".

His Twitter following increased by 15,000 after the incident, but the softly spoken May-Bowles says he was receiving insults at a rate of one tweet a second the morning after he was released from custody, with two death threats being sent to him before his first post-pie day was up. Of one thing, though, he is sure: "If I had been doing this for my own profile or image, I would have taken the time to take the videos of me failing at comedy off the internet," he says. "This was about Rupert Murdoch's image."

It is clear that May-Bowles is more comfortable writing comedy than starring in it, but for a man who says he likes to live a "utilitarian life", he does not take his particular strain of activism too seriously. While he describes his pie-throwing as "the single weirdest, most terrifying thing I have ever done in my whole life", he points out that it was always "intended to be ridiculous".

Admitting he is perhaps not best suited to the media circus, he describes how he "felt a little embarrassed" as he spotted some of his foam drip on to Mr Murdoch's face and down his shoulder: "I knew that I was doing something right and I knew why I was doing it, but I realised it was deeply impolite."

He had planned to "unleash a whole load of vitriolic things" before throwing the foam. But when it came to the event: "My head was swimming. I'm not Rambo, my hands were shaking, I got up there, I did it, and all I could come up with was, 'You naughty billionaire'." But he is adamant that he delivered a "kind of justice" last week.

Having been arrested three times before – he recently heard that charges brought against him and fellow protesters who occupied Fortnum & Mason on an anti-cuts march on 26 March have been dropped – he says his family have been "amazingly supportive". His dad, David Marshall Bowles, a former accountant, was involved in the liberation movement in Rhodesia when he was younger. His sister, Helen, 23, has also been involved in climate camps.

May-Bowles is keen to stress that "despite living in Windsor, we are not a wealthy family". His mum, a former librarian, inherited the house which he grew up in, and he was educated at a grammar school until he left to study politics and international relations at Royal Holloway, University of London. He started student life later than usual, because at the age of 18 he had a one-year-old son and a wife he wanted to help support. No longer married, he says his main loves are still "activism, politics and my family".

He stresses that his background in comedy has given him a thick skin, but even he seems aware that this time he may just have engaged in a battle of unequal proportions. "Of course, I am terrified. I may have pissed off one of the most powerful men in the world," he says.

But before long he is smiling again as he talks about his future plans – "guerrilla comedy", staged in unused spaces before anyone returns to reclaim them. And any note of seriousness melts away as he leaves, apologising to the photographer for not having shaved before the interview. "I went to start and I realised the police still had my foam," he says.

Comments