From 007 to Donald Sinden in five easy steps: making yourself irrelevant, the Julian Assange way

We were once mesmerised by him, but now he's just a half-forgotten curio

Share

Trying to fathom what goes on in the brilliantly analytical but peculiar and paranoid mind of Ecuador’s best known London house-guest seems, in the absence of a crack squad of Zurich’s most skilled psychoanalysts working in shifts around the clock, a futile task.

But from the anecdotal accounts of Julian Assange’s acquaintances, and remembering the photograph taken soon after he emerged from Wandsworth prison in 2010, you’d be safe to have a few bob on a very vivid spy movie fantasy.

Jemima Khan, a supporter in words and funds before she became one of many to fall out irreparably with him, described him as “the new Jason Bourne”. Until the lack of sunlight and fresh air in the garden-less Knightbridge embassy he has occupied since seeking sanctuary there in June of 2010 aged him, he had the look of the angelic-faced, white-haired Illya Kuryakin from The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Recalling that snap of a tuxedoed Assange posing outside a press club with a martini, meanwhile, he palpably fancied himself as Australia’s second James Bond (in succession to George Lazenby).

Whatever secret-service icon Assange may have taken for his role model, Monday’s baffling press conference established this much beyond doubt. Not since poor Frank Bruno mistook himself for Frankie Dettori has the gulf between a public figure’s self-perception and the reality been so pronounced.

Exactly why the WikiLeaks demi-god summoned the media to the embassy at all remains, on the surface, a mystery. Nominally, he wished to alert a waiting world – albeit one waiting less impatiently for news of him than was once the case – to his medical problems.

He says he has lung problems and an arrhythmic heart, although the only overt sign of physical damage is the yellowing of his teeth. This appears still to be medically verified, but one assumes he is not trying to pull an Ernest Saunders, and that he is genuinely unwell. Yet no one beyond the Ecuadoreans (who have less than altruistic reasons to want rid of this nuisance) appears to care about his health, or his claim that his human rights are being violated.

 

Assange further announced that he will escape from his self-imposed captivity “soon”, though how? Colditz-style though an underground tunnel? By jetpack? Cunningly disguised as a diplomatic bag to evade the police stationed outside the building?

The means is as opaque as the matter of where he intends to go. On the obvious grounds of arrest, we can probably rule out Sweden (where those allegations of rape and sexual assault await), and the US, and every other country on the planet other perhaps than Cuba and North Korea.

Assange is not merely a nagging pain in the arse to various nations (though the Americans are now much more interested in Edward Snowden). Far from being a real life George Lazenby, Assange has become a pastiche of the Tom Hanks character in the film The Terminal – a pitiful, stateless person trapped in an airless, artificially lit stasis that must feel as if it will never end. As indeed it may not. Ecuador’s Foreign Minister raised the prospect that he could still be rotting away in the embassy 10 years from now.

Worse even than that for a world-ranked narcissist, Assange has become a half-forgotten curio; an almost total irrelevance to a global public that was once mesmerised by him and his saint-or-sinner ambigiuity. The agony of that probably explains why he bothered holding such a mystifyingly pointless press conference. All he really wanted to do, you suspect, was remind us that he still exists.

Somewhere buried beneath the oddity of Assange – who in adulthood has replicated his childhood, on the run with a mother who feared she would lose him in a custody battle – and this surreal Ecuadorian stand-off is a human tragedy. A man of serious talents and real courage, whose work had genuine geopolitical impact, is rapidly decaying in a hell of his own construction.

Yet the traditional formula holds: Comedy = Tragedy + Time. In the internet era of withered attention spans, the process is accelerated. After two and a bit years in diplomatic limbo, the dramatic treatment that comes to mind is neither a spy movie nor a remake of The Terminal. It is a retrograde, laughter-track’n’catchphrases sitcom based on the premise that Ana Alban, the Ecuadorian ambassador to the Court of St James’s, compels Assange to earn his keep by serving as her butler.

The template, as mature readers will have guessed, is Two’s Company, the 1970s ITV show starring Elaine Stritch as a waspy American thriller writer who hires Donald Sinden – hamming it up to the max, for a change, like an end-of-the-pier Reginald Jeeves – to run her Chelsea home.

It would be quite a comedown from The Fifth Estate, the turgid WikiLeaks  film, and the only nod to his dream role would be that his insubordination when ordered to mix her a martini would vaguely echo 007’s ritual impertinence towards Judi Dench’s M. But the Julian Assange of today is a shrunken figure, pitifully and indefinitely marooned in an absurdist situation of interest solely for its comic value, and fit to star in nothing more glamorous than ITV’s Oooh, Yer Excellency!

READ MORE:
America might be waging a war on whistleblowers, but Julian Assange is still a prisoner of his own ego  

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£13000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to be part of a ...

Recruitment Genius: 1st Line Technical Support Engineer

£19000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT and Telecoms company ar...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Manager - Visitor Fundraising

£23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...

Recruitment Genius: Developer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
An investor looks at an electronic board showing stock information at a brokerage house in Shanghai  

China has exposed the fatal flaws in our liberal economic order

Ann Pettifor
Jeremy Corbyn addresses over a thousand supporters at Middlesbrough Town Hall on August 18, 2015  

Thank God we have the right-wing press to tell us what a disaster Jeremy Corbyn as PM would be

Mark Steel
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future