Why bankers refused to be interviewed by Russell Brand

The British Bankers' Association said they chose not to feature in Brand's film The Emperor's New Clothes because the campaigner had encouraged an 'orgy of banker bashing'

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Bankers refused to answer Russell Brand’s questions about the 2008 financial crisis because they were concerned he wanted to encourage “an orgy of banker bashing”.

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A spokesman for the British Bankers’ Association (BBA), which represents over 200 banking institutions, said that while they were approached to appear in Brand’s new political documentary The Emperor’s New Clothes, they turned the offer down because they believed they would not be given a “fair and balanced interview”.

The documentary explores the 2008 financial crisis and was made by Brand and director Michael Winterbottom. The British filmmaker said that they contacted all the major UK banks offering them to take part, but were turned down by all of them.

“We contacted all the banks and asked to talk to people on camera,” Winterbottom said. “All the banks refused, because they know that what they’ve done is indefensible. If you think about it, how often do you see a leading banker being interviewed about things? Almost never. We contacted all the individual banks, we contacted the British Bankers’ Association that represents the banks. Even they refused to talk to us.”

But Paul Stephenson, Executive Director of External Affairs, said that comments from Brand put them off appearing in the film.

“What I explained to Michael was, while they were calling us asking if we wanted to be interviewed, Russell Brand was calling for an ‘orgy of banker bashing’. We were somewhat reluctant because we weren’t sure it would be a fair and balanced interview,” Stephenson said.

“Our job is to go and give the other side, and put the case for the banking industry in the UK, and we do that on BBC, ITV News whenever we can,” he continued. “But when someone is coming from such an ideological standpoint and is literally quoted in the paper that day saying ‘we want to have an orgy of banker bashing’, that gives quite a clear steer. I would imagine that is what drove the nervousness of most of the major banks as well.”

In the film, Brand is seen attempting to gain access to the offices of RBS, an act that was branded a “publicity stunt” back in December by a City worker in a tongue-in-cheek blog post.

“I get it, Russell, I do: footage of being asked to leave by security is good footage,” the open letter read. “It looks like you’re challenging the system and the powers that be want your voice suppressed. Or something. But all it really means, behind the manipulative media bulls**t, is that you don’t have an appointment.”

Winterbottom, however, said that they decided to stage the protest when their requests for interviews were rebuffed.

“With all the organisations we tried to talk to people, but most people refused to talk to us,” he said. “They hope by being invisible that people forget about them. And the idea of the film, and the idea of the stunts in the film, is to try and make fresh again what’s going on.

“In 2008 with the financial crisis, everyone assumed there would be a radical change. Two years later we are told it’s the fault of public spending, it’s a public spending crisis. It’s all the fault of spending too much on students or disabled people. And so the idea of the film is that it reminds you how obscene the gap between the rich and the poor is.”

The film also sees Brand turning up at the Daily Mail proprietor Lord Rothermere’s London home to challenge the billionaire over his so-called ‘non-dom’ tax status, which allows some wealthy British residents to limit the amount of UK tax they pay on foreign earnings. Lord Rothermere was not at home at the time.

A senior source at the Mail confirmed that the paper had received a “broad” request for an interview by the filmmakers, which the Mail then declined.

“My understanding of it is there was one approach from a researcher who basically was looking for an interview with somebody who was a successful person in the media dynasty,” said the source. “The next thing was there were people inside [Lord Rothermere’s] house with no warning whatsoever; [Russell Brand] was climbing all over the walls and upsetting the people who were in there who were concerned about what was happening.”

Winterbottom said he was proud to work with Brand, and that the film would act as a catalyst for change.

“I’m an admirer of the fact that he puts so much energy into his campaigning and political activism,” Winterbottom said of Brand. “There has been a massive transfer of wealth to the richest and most powerful people from ordinary people. A financial crisis has been changed into a public spending crisis. But it doesn’t have to be like this. Things were different 35 years ago and things will be different in the future. The only way to make them different is to get actively involved and change things yourself.”

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The Emperor’s New Clothes is currently in selected cinemas and available to watch on demand.