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Brian Paddick: 'I've done my public service. Now it's time to have some fun'

What possessed the high-ranking former Metropolitan Police chief to enter TV's most notorious jungle? And what's he planning for his next trick? Deborah Orr steps into the contradictory world of Brian Paddick

Saturday 17 January 2009 01:00 GMT

Few retired policemen would ever even be invited to take part in a reality television show, let alone accept. Yet some of Brian Paddick's previous stunts – leaking his softy-softly policy on cannabis to a newspaper without telling his bosses about it, say, or running against Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson for Mayor of London – have been fairly spectacular. So by comparison, his appearance on I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! was a pretty inconsequential undertaking.

In fact, the 50-year-old's sojourn in the Australian jungle, drinking penis coladas and demonstrating his amazing lack of peacemaking prowess, was so inconsequential that the former deputy assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police has difficulty believing that he ever did such a thing. "It was strange," he says, with some wonder, safely ensconced back in his blandly comfy riverside flat in Vauxhall, south London, "because the day after I'd come out, watching the others on TV, it was as if I'd never been there".

Paddick's only personal reminder of his deep immersion in the shallow is his shrunken waistline. Plucking at his clothes – his smart dark trousers and ribbed grey jersey look just like the regulation outfit one would choose for an an off-duty policeman – Paddick confides: "I lost nine kilos in 17 days. My trousers are ... All my clothes are now too big for me."

Wardrobe wipe-out is only one of the less-than-marvellous consequences of Paddick's bid for light-entertainment triumph. He also admits, rather mournfully: "I really like people who say they didn't see me in the jungle." Whatever he thought he was going to get out of taking part in the show, it doesn't seem to have happened for him.

Paddick makes light of his decision to sign up for the contest. "I did I'm a Celebrity in order to try and dissuade the BBC, and others, from phoning me whenever there was some sort of crisis going on in the police. And having just done the BBC news channel, BBC London radio, BBC London news, the 10 O'Clock news and the PM show all in one day, about Bob Quick [the Metropolitan Police's anti-terror chief, who was recently forced to apologise after calling the Tory party "wholly corrupt"], that obviously didn't work."

He's joking, but he's also a bit proud of being in demand, despite his protests. Paddick is scathing about Quick's astonishingly ill-judged decision to have the Conservative MP Damian Green arrested at the House of Commons, and also about the way in which the Met has attempted to justify its actions subsequently. Clearly, however, he's being utterly disingenuous in his assertion that he'd prefer to keep his opinions to himself. A polite, "No, thank you" is all that is needed to keep the Beeb at bay, and ITV as well for that matter. Why, if he wants to step back from commenting on the police force, does he keep on saying "Yes"?

"I'm in a dilemma, really," Paddick says. "On the one hand I think, 'I've done my 18-hour days, I did over 30 years in the police, I've done my public service. Now's the time to have some fun.' On the other hand, I think, 'That's 30 years of experience I should be putting to good use'."

Paddick was well aware that his craving for high-profile fun might damage his ability to put 30 years of experience to good use. His jungle exertions seem yet more inconsequential when one bears in mind that prior to his trip Paddick had given crucial evidence for the family at the inquest into the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes.

Paddick says that he was first told that the man killed in Stockwell tube station carried a driving licence identifying him as Jean Charles de Menezes, a Brazilian national, about five hours after the incident. No one disputes that there was a driving licence. The man who conducted the post-mortem says it was in the back-pocket of de Menezes' jeans. The staff officer at the scene says he found it "on a nearby seat" and didn't tell the Commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, about it.

Subsequent events offer an insight into the police's use of language. At the first press conference after the event, the Commissioner claimed that the dead man was "directly linked to the ongoing anti-terrorist operation"; Paddick let it go. He felt that Sir Ian was "being economical with the actualité". But he accepted that maybe the licence could have been forged, and also that, strictly speaking, there was a "direct link", as de Menezes had come out of a building in which a terrorist lived. He was more alarmed later that day, when Andy Hayman, then the head of anti-terrorism, said that there would have to be an identification by DNA, which obviously would defer an official announcement for weeks. But Paddick swallowed his misgivings until Sir Ian did an interview with the News of the World exactly one month after the shooting, claiming that he and all of his advisors believed for 24 hours "that the person we shot was a suicide bomber or a suspected suicide bomber".

"For the first time," says Paddick, "there was a direct conflict between what I knew and what the Commissioner was saying." From there on in, Paddick was isolated in the force, and his eventual retirement was inevitable. Or as he puts it: "From that moment on, it went rather rapidly downhill." The investigation into the death of the Brazilian electrician was still going on as Paddick larked about in the TV show, and he does not claim he had not been warned about the possible consequences of his frivolous decision. "The legal team for the de Menezes family urged me not to do the show because they thought it would damage my credibility as a witness," admits Paddick. But he also implies that the attitudes of the legal team may have had a perverse influence on him. "They want to use me. I mean, Birnberg Peirce are radical lawyers who want to use me as a battering ram to beat the police with on a regular basis, which I'm not necessarily ..."

He trails off. Paddick remains ambivalent about the police. He doesn't want to direct criticism at the service unless he thinks it's helpful. This sometimes naïve desire always to help, he says, is very much part of his character. He was always going on about "helping" and "being the peacemaker" while he was in the jungle.

"It was a lot more difficult than I thought it was going to be, to stay on an even keel and do the things that you would really have liked to have done or said, rather than what actually happened," says Paddick, like they all do. "But it's all cunningly devised in order to make you sleep-deprived, food-deprived and dehydrated so that you behave in a rather uncharacteristic way."

Paddick, a little surprisingly since he was a police officer for three decades, wept rather more than the Wags. "I'm not normally that emotional, but I have this thing about helping people, and I had to look after the other people in the camp, even if it was boiling water and fetching firewood, and whatever else. And trying to play referee and trying to bring Timmy Mallett and David Van Day into the group, and all that sort of thing, was all in character."

In the television show, the eye-popping thing about Paddick's peacemaking ambitions was that they were so inept. Day after day, he shuttled between warring groups of sulky has-beens, sowing discord where he hoped to bring harmony. Eventually, he had a few home truths yelled at him by Joe Swash, a young former EastEnders actor, who accused Paddick of trying to keep in with everybody by pandering to certain people who were behaving like bullies. After the passionate outburst, everybody was a bit ashamed, and started making an effort to be nice. Paddick still claims the credit though. "It was by setting him off that we actually changed the dynamic and everything calmed down. So I'm quite glad I lit the blue touch-paper, but ... there we go ... as if it matters."

Weirdly, it does matter a bit, which is the real danger when people who want to be "taken seriously" go on to reality shows. The needy yearning to be liked and admired by all, displayed by Paddick in the jungle, caused much ruckus, and cast an interesting light on some of the controversies he became embroiled in as a policeman, particularly his decision to introduce his relaxed cannabis policy in Lambeth. Paddick explains it as a scheme devised to help officers afraid that they would end up charged, like a colleague recently had, with "misfeasance in a public office" which carries life imprisonment, if they did not "arrest every single person that we find with cannabis".

"They refused to carry on the informal process, so I said: 'I will find you an officially recognised shorthand method of dealing with it, so that you don't spend all your time dealing with cannabis arrests and you don't have to put your jobs on the line."

Now, some people in Paddick's position might have been tempted simply to tell the officers not to be such literal-minded idiots, and point out that they could continue using their own judgement as long as it never found its way to the top of any wardrobes. But Paddick, being a strange combination of earnest and thorough chap, and people-pleasing egomaniac, decided to go for a slightly more nuclear option instead.

"So, over two or three months I enlisted the help of a freelance journalist, who acted as devil's advocate, and a couple of trusted colleagues, who worked on how we could have a practical system ... Then when we thought we were ready, because I thought my superior, Mike Todd, would not approve and would just laugh at me or put the report in the bin, we put it on the front page of the London Evening Standard without telling anybody at Scotland Yard."

Despite all the Sturm und Drang this caused, and despite the fact that we are not much further forward now in the policing of drugs than we were back then, Paddick insists he was right to abandon procedure and go directly to the media. The proof, he says, is that later, when he'd prepared what he calls "a major report into stop and search", it was indeed put in the bin.

Paddick says that his biggest regret is that he championed his Brixton drugs policy when his views on stop and search are more important. But actually, even though he makes some colourful anecdotal points as he talks about the subject, Paddick does not seem to have anything very new or radical to add to the debate, beyond the widely telegraphed liberal view that stop and search makes minorities feel victimised and drives a wedge between communities and the people who are supposed to be protecting them.

Nevertheless, Paddick's explanation of how his liberal views were formed is fascinating. He says that until he went for a year to the police staff college at Bramshill, Hampshire, as part of an accelerated promotion procedure, he accepted the police culture. "It was Scarman [the investigator of the 1981 Brixton riots who published a radical report on policing] who talked about the liberalising effects of education. I did three months at Brixton as a Sergeant, I did 12 months at Bramshill doing a mixture of police studies and academic work and then I went back on the same team at Brixton. The riots happened during the year I was away, but I went back that weekend to help out. When I came back my perception was that my former colleagues had become racist. But it wasn't that, it was the liberalising effect of education. Being out of the culture and going back and seeing it from a completely different perspective.

"I had been inculcated into the culture to the extent that I didn't even recognise the racism that was there. I think it was during that 12 months that I radically charged my views, I disengaged from the culture of the police service and never re-engaged again. And because I had been physically there, during the riots and had studied the causes and so forth, and then was involved in the policing of the aftermath, I felt I really did understand the need for community policing and the need to tailor policing to the needs of the local people.

"I think it was about a third of the way through this 12-month course at Bramshill that we were told that the difference between the rank we were aspiring to, and the rank we were currently in, was that in our current rank we were expected to accept the given paradigm, but that once we reached Association of Police Chief Officers (ACPO) rank, the difference was to look at things from a different perspective and to try to convince people that our paradigm was the right one. To no longer be constrained by the rules that we were given, but to rewrite the rules. And I took that to heart."

No doubt the lecturers at Bramshill had not told Paddick that it was important to alert the media every time you challenged the paradigm. But it's still rather delicious to comprehend that Paddick's rebellious antics and whistle-blowing stances stem from his perception that he is only obeying orders. He says he has no regrets about leaving the force, and pins his hopes for the future on becoming a Lib Dem-nominated member of the House of Lords. Quite how this goal meshes with his hopes of "having fun" and appearing on reality shows is anyone's guess. But despite all of his contradictions, and his almost touching mixture of eagerness and self-regard, one can't help feeling that Paddick will add far more to the gaiety of the nation in the Lords than on the telly.

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