Is it a seabird? Is it a fish? No, it's a new superhero: John 'One Paddle' Prescott

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The Independent Online

Concussed, and with a badly gashed eyebrow, Graham Cook bore the hallmarks of an encounter with John Prescott in his more pugilistic moments.

Concussed, and with a badly gashed eyebrow, Graham Cook bore the hallmarks of an encounter with John Prescott in his more pugilistic moments.

But unlike the egg-flinging, mullet-haired protester from Rhyl whose pummelling by the Deputy Prime Minister provided the liveliest moment of the last general election campaign, Mr Cook's injuries were received before he encountered Mr Prescott's famous lightning reflexes.

The 35-year-old engineer had been capsized by a raft while white-water kayaking on a mountain river in Snowdonia, north Wales on Friday. He had hurtled downstream in the violent, foaming water before surfacing into the arms of 66-year-old Mr Prescott and his special branch bodyguard.

Mr Cook, a plumbing and heating engineer from Ashby St Mary, Norfolk, needed six stitches after the accident, and thanked Mr Prescott yesterday.

"I didn't realise at the time who it was that dragged me out, because I had just gone about 80 metres in grade-four white water, upside down, with a raft following me," he said.

"I was a bit dazed and I was getting changed, ready to go to the hospital, and his car stopped and he asked me if I was OK. He seemed genuinely concerned.

"I think he did what you would hope anyone would do but, having said that, it was him who stepped forward and did the business."

Mr Prescott who is acting Prime Minister while Tony Blair enjoys the latest leg of his summer holiday at the villa of the Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, was on an overnight trip with his wife, Pauline, to his native North Wales.

He was staying at the White Lion Royal Hotel in Bala, where he worked as a porter 50 years ago, and had been due to see his brother Ray and visit his old school in Trevor. He had been at Canolfan Tryweryn, the National Whitewater Centre, planning a rafting expedition of his own for the following day.

Mr Prescott, however, sought to play down his role in the affair, perhaps chastened by the experience of his boss Mr Blair, whose widely reported rescue of a Danish dentist in the Seychelles in 1999 was uncovered as piece of political spin par excellence.

The Deputy Prime Minister said he had been standing on the quayside when he spotted the struggling boater gash his head.

"He was trying to get to the bank and one of the approaching rafts landed on top of him. He got to the quay and one of my Special Branch guys ran over and grabbed hold of one side. I got hold of the other and we pulled him ashore," Mr Prescott said. "He was a little bit concussed. I mopped the blood from his face and let him rest for a few minutes and we carried him to the first aid place and other people took over."

Modestly, he added: "It's dangerous crossing Whitehall. I'm a diver, I'm a professional swimmer and I'm quite confident in the water."

Until now, it had been a quiet summer for Mr Prescott. According to his friends he is furious with the media over reports that he may be standing down at the next election, claims that they describe as "absolute crap". He has already told his constituency he will stand and wants to stay on as deputy leader of the Labour Party - a position which is voted on by the party, not chosen by Mr Blair.

He remains fiercely loyal to his leader and will occupy a key speaking slot at this autumn's party conference. Mr Prescott learnt to scuba dive while investigating the deaths of North Sea divers as a constituency MP. A publicity stunt in which he swam against six-knot currents in the Thames to deliver a petition to Margaret Thatcher at 10 Downing Street proved particularly gruelling. But his passion for diving has also cost him a perforated ear drum, which has affected his hearing and hampered some of his Commons' performances. Photo calls in a wetsuit have also led to allegations of junketing when in 1999 he was photographed snorkelling in the Maldives during a visit to highlight the destruction of coral reefs.

Mr Cook said he wanted to make Mr Prescott an honorary member of his Waveney Valley Canoe Club, based in Bungay Staithe, Suffolk. "We have just built a half-million pound club house, using European money," he said. "It hasn't been properly opened yet, so it would be nice if Mr Prescott could come and do the honours. We could try and get him in a kayak but he might not fit, because he's a big bloke. But we could certainly take him out in something bigger if he fancied it."


TONY BLAIR It took just 24 hours for Tony Blair's 1999 rescue of a floundering Danish sailor in the sea off the Seychelles to turn from high drama into high farce. Initial reports suggested the Prime Minister, while on a winter break, had hauled the "drowning man" to safety. The following day Hans Joergensen, a 49-year-old dentist, dismissed the idea as "absurd and ridiculous", insisting he had merely been offered a lift aboard Mr Blair's boat.

DIANA, PRINCESS OF WALES Princess Diana's rescue of a drowning tramp from a lake in Regent's Park in 1994 became a central part of her "queen of hearts" mythology. While her detractors may have doubted its veracity, and one newspaper editor reportedly declined to print it, her actions earned her the undying gratitude of the man she helped save. Her driver rang the emergency services and she even went to visit Martin O'Donoghue twice in the intensive care unit.

PADDY ASHDOWN When Paddy Ashdown, a former Special Boat Service commando, rescued a drunken man from the Regent's Canal in London in 1999, his "heroism" was captured by a BBC Newsnight film crew. His first attempt to drag the man onto his narrowboat failed, but Mr Ashdown, who was Liberal Democrat leader at the time, persisted. An aide told reporters: "When they got him to the bank the man looked at Paddy and said. 'Oh God, my fags are all wet'."