Can Dr Earth save the planet, and win Edmonton?

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Indy Politics

He drives a Maserati and has called himself a “tantric master.” He claims to have been saved from drowning as a small child by a divine miracle and owns what purports to be the world’s first ecological nightclub. He is a multimillionaire who goes by the alias of “Dr Earth” – though others have likened his looks to those of Dr Evil, Mike Myers’ parody of baldy Bond bad-guy Blofeld in the Austin Powers movies. And although he doesn’t own a white cat, he does have three dogs: Tory, Monarchy and Zeus.

Of all the Conservative candidates hoping to enter parliament at the next election, Andrew Charalambous is surely one of the most interesting. It was his unsubtle campaign leaflets depicting a bloodstained knife, headlined “LABOUR’S CUTS” and highlighting a supposed 44 per cent rise in violent crime that thrust him into the media’s scrum for election stories. But there is plenty more to Mr Charalambous than that.

On the telephone prior to our interview, he describes himself as a “maverick,” but later he shies away from this term. “Other people may identify me that way,” says the 42-year-old. “That isn’t my own perception. I consider myself very mainstream.” Yet a YouTube video in which he sits in front of a coal fire in his white-suited Dr Earth persona and declares with outstretched arms “Let’s Club4Climate, let’s party” – paints a different picture.

It is largely through his esoteric environmental efforts that Mr Charalambous – a former judge of the Miss Earth eco-themed beauty pageant – has gained notoriety thus far. He runs Club4Climate, which dubiously proclaims itself “the world’s biggest environmental organisation on the planet”. It was under this banner that in 2008 he opened Surya, a nightclub in King’s Cross that is partly powered by energy harnessed from movement on its dancefloor. He then proposed to launch a holiday island where people could “save the world lying down drinking next to the pool”. Profits from both ventures were to go to Friends of the Earth, but the charity rejected Club4Climate’s eco-friendly claims outright and refused to take his money. Unperturbed, Mr Charalambous declared: “We’re going to give them the money anyway.” While Surya is still open, however, the holiday island idea was scrapped during the recession.

Now, 18 years after Mr Charalambous had the thankless task of taking on Tottenham’s Bernie Grant in his only previous campaign, his attentions have turned to another red part of North London: Edmonton. This time he is standing against the Labour backbencher Andy Love, who enjoyed an 8,025 majority at the last election but fared badly in the expenses scandal. Despite its working-class and highly multicultural population, Edmonton has not always been a safe Labour seat and was won by the Tories in 1983, ‘87 and ‘92.

In his cluttered election office upstairs in the Bush Hill Park Conservative Club, its walls covered by calendars from Tory HQ, cartoons from the Daily Mail and posters from the Sun, Charalambous clearly senses an opportunity. As his portly belly pushes keenly against a long-sleeved grey T-shirt with a small Tory tree logo embroidered on its chest, he speaks passionately about the seat he is working hard to win.

“We're living in the third most deprived part of London,” he says between sips of Red Bull. “The stab capital of Britain, perhaps of Europe. Shanktown. A place where we're likely to die ten years younger and we're continually starved of resources. Our local MP has failed to bring any significant resources and he will have to pay the price for that.”

Pay the price? Given his appearance, one could imagine Charalambous reaching over to an ominous, small red button at those words. But while he might have an appearance akin to Ian Fleming's global super-villain, he is an apparently calm, philosophical character who made his money through the unglamorous world of ethical housing.

It's this spiritual side to his character that he plays up to in one of his election leaflets. “I believe it is my duty to share with you, my brothers and sisters in Christ, what the Lord has done for me,” it reads. “I have always believed in miracles and that all things are possible through him. As a small child I remember falling into a lake. I couldn't swim but I prayed to the Lord to save me. As my short life flashed before my eyes at the bottom of the lake, I remember thinking I am too young to die. Somehow, suddenly I found myself at the top of the lake. In all the deepest, darkest moments of my life during my failings and my successes, Christ has always been my strength, the friend I could always turn to.”

Charalambous tells of how he went to “statistically the worst comprehensive school in Britain” - William Forster in Tottenham - and admits there were days he did not want to go. But it was the Christian values of his Greek Cypriot parents that drove him on to work hard and eventually qualify as a barrister. “If you wanted to study or be a good pupil or excel, it certainly was not a good school,” he says. “There was a lot of disruption in the classroom, there was lots of criminal activity. I remember for weeks on end we had no lessons at all, they'd just lock us in the classroom. But I've always lived my life by the precept that failures do what they want to do, winners do what they have to do.”

In business terms, Charalambous is certainly a winner. He and his property portfolio have been reported to be worth £100million in recent years - though he will only say his fortune is much less now than it used to be - and he has donated £140,000 of his own money to the Conservative campaign fund. Having achieved this wealth, however, he says that he does not find monetary wealth to be a great reward.

“There's no possession that has value to me. I have expensive items, but these are not me.” He points at his gold watch. “These are just material objects. I like money, but money is a neutral object. I'm a very poor man who just made lots of money.” In what sense is he a poor man? “In every sense,” he says. “I'm a humble person.” You can be humble without being poor. “I want to be poor in spirit.”

Maybe this claim to be a “poor man” is a reference to the fact that, while he is very rich, he is unmarried and without children. Yet, even then, these continued professions of humility still seem strange coming from someone who previously boasted of having dated “some of the most beautiful women in the world” on his website.

The many contradictory facets of Charalambous's personality are difficult to ignore, and pressed on his Dr Earth moniker and image he finally admits: “I am not your usual politician.” All the same, he does have some eye-catching, populist policies for Edmonton. As well as supporting zero-tolerance policing and campaigning to stop the closure of the A&E department at the nearby Chase Farm hospital, he has also talked up his chances of securing an EU regeneration grant to build an extension of London Underground's Victoria Line into the area.

Edmonton’s neighbouring constituency, Enfield Southgate, hit the headlines in 1997 when Stephen Twigg defeated Michael Portillo. Should Mr Charalambous enter Parliament and begin making speeches in that trademark white suit, it would surely not be long before Edmonton gained its own fame in political history.

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