The well-known and well-heeled are hardly a rare sight in the red-brick wedge of crescents and squares between the Brompton Road and Sloane Street in London's Knightsbridge, with one-percenters regularly stepping out of their Ferraris into the side doors of Harrod's.
But for the past two years, a building next door to the department store has been the site of a most peculiar parade of celebrities. Pamela Anderson is expected to be the latest famous person to sign the visitors book at the Ecuadorian embassy, where Julian Assange, the quixotic WikiLeaker, has avoided extradition to Sweden since June 2012.
Anderson, of Baywatch fame, will pop in for tea, perhaps, at Assange's specially installed kitchenette, with Vivienne Westwood. Westwood, who knows Anderson through their mutual interest in animal rights activism, has visited before, although, as she says in today's edition of New Statesman magazine, "I haven't been for a bit because I'm so busy. And you can't turn up and just knock on the door."
The fashion designer, like Anderson, is sympathetic to Assange's predicament and is likely to remain so after a Swedish court this week upheld an arrest warrant against him for alleged sexual offences against two women (Assange's lawyers wanted the warrant to be cancelled, and claim the charges are a pretext for handing him over to the US, where he faces possible espionage charges over the leak of classified material in 2010 and 2011).
The unlikely pair will follow in the footsteps of Eric Cantona, another attendant at the strange court of Assange. Footage emerged on Tuesday showing the former footballer engaged in an exercise session with Assange on a treadmill inside his embassy bolthole. Last weekend, the film director Romain Gavras had tweeted a photo of the same scene, in which a sweaty Cantona works out while Assange monitors his efforts. A WikiLeaks spokesman revealed only that they were working on some future collaboration. The treadmill links Cantona and Assange via Ken Loach, the film director, who donated the machine to Assange soon after his confinement so that he could keep fit.
In 2009, Loach, another visitor to this odd patch of Ecuador in London, made Looking for Eric, which starred Cantona. Other visitors from film have included John Cusack as well as Maggie Gyllenhaal, who came with her husband and fellow actor, Peter Sarsgaard.
It would be odd, perhaps, if Yoko Ono hadn't popped in (she has, bringing along her son, Sean Lennon) while John Pilger is perhaps chief among the sympathetic journalists to have had an audience with Assange. Assange struck celebrity gold in October 2012 when MIA, the rapper and loyal supporter, sent a speculative, public tweet to Lady Gaga, who was in London at the time. "If ur at harrods today, come visit Assange at the Ecuador embassy across the st. im there. ill bring TEA and CAKE," she said. The activist's magnetism was such that Gaga duly followed, later sharing an awkward photo of herself alongside Assange. It's not clear what they talked about before Gaga was seen emerging at midnight after five hours inside.
Jemima Khan, once among Assange's most loyal supporters, said last year that she was invited to the embassy for a photo opportunity, but was told Assange was "too busy" to respond to her questions about his legal position. She is among several former supporters who have expressed feelings of alienation towards him, including journalists, activists and lawyers. Celebrities, meanwhile, have tended either to continue their support, or fade away as Assange lost his "leaking" crown to Edward Snowden.
Westwood is resolute and so, too, is her son, who is planning an event strange even by the new standards of this corner of Knightsbridge. Ben Westwood is also a designer and announced last week that he had recruited Assange to model his latest collection during London Fashion Week in September. "I think it was a marketing thing," Vivienne explained. But marketing for whom?
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