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Gary Barlow is a racist

May 28, 2012

“Sometimes as I live upon my island,
Cut off from emotion and its pain,
That’s when I am tempted by the waters, the waters that can take me far away.”

So sang Gary Barlow in the title track of his 1997 debut solo album Open Road.

Well, the temptation eventually proved too great. The waters recently took the lyrical wunderkind and X-Factor arbiter far away to the Solomon Islands, The Sun reporting that he paddled by canoe for six hours to the “remote island of Malaita” during filming for a BBC documentary about his official diamond jubilee song.

We were all white men and there were only eight of us.

“I really did think, ‘They’ve taken us all this way up the river and they could kill us and eat us alive and no one would know’.

It’s conceivable that Tony Blair’s favourite tabloid made a rare misquote, but either way the article is almost unsurpassed as an exercise in dusty clichés about foreigners.

A “mob” “ambushed” poor Gary, armed with bows and arrows and spears.

The “clan” were wearing necklaces decorated with capitalised TEETH.

The helpless eight white men found themselves “surrounded” by a “tribe”. The whole tribe? Why is it that everyone outside Europe and north America always insists on “surrounding” visitors? Can’t they just stand in front of them, like normal people do?

In the wilderness years before he became the new Simon Cowell, Gary clearly had plenty of time to swot up up on his Conrad. Where else could black men have taken him other than up a river?

Where I suspect Barlow’s song-writing imagination ran away with him just a little was when he thought he’d end up as lunch. The last case of cannibalism in Melanesia was at least half a century ago. At least he’s in good company. When Prince Philip visited Papua New Guinea he famously asked a backpacker: “You managed not to get eaten, then?”

In the unlikely event that Gary came under attack, he’s right, no one would have known — except all the people who lived there, who’d have probably phoned the police on their mobiles and got him airlifted to hospital.

Mob, clan, tribe. Whatever. Happily it turned out that they were just a performance troupe who wanted to honour Phil’s wife on her special anniversary. The Take That frontman lived to sing another day.

When I went to Malaita, the most populous island in the country, I flew. From the capital it took about half an hour. I don’t remember feeling threatened unless you count these menacing individuals I encountered near the airport on the outward journey.

In Auki, Malaita’s capital, some pleasant government officials welcomed myself and a colleague into their offices and allowed us to interview them for the research we were doing, at length, in English.

We visisted an interesting village just outside town, with green fields irrigated by the river and tucked among lush vegetation. These subsistence farmers were trying to adopt a system of sustainable rice permaculture with the help of Japanese agricultural technologists.

Afterwards we wandered round town and spoke to some fishermen on the pier. On the whole people wore jeans and T-shirts. Most were keen to chat. Granted, the range of goods available in the shops was a bit limited and there wasn’t much to do.

People in far-flung places aren’t all that different. They gossip; show curiosity about strangers; go to the toilet; surf the Internet. They’re not spear-wielding cavemen intent on maiming the white man.

Elsewhere Barlow sang: “Whatever I said,
Whatever I did I didn’t mean it.”

On this occasion, I hope not.

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