Mayor Election 2016: Meet the mayor candidate: John Langley
John Langley is setting the record straight.
A few weeks before our meeting in Broadmead he released a series of videos entitled The Naked Truth where he laid everything out bare; not literally, there are other videos for that from the former Ukip vice chairman of Bristol who unceremoniously parted from his post after his double life as porn star Johnny Rockard came to light.
“Everything from suicidal childhood through to politics,” he tells me in a matter-of-fact way in Starbucks over a coffee, served to him in his own cup by the female baristas who he is on first-name terms with. (“This is my office,” he tells me. “Where I come for a couple of hours a day to people watch.”)
“It’s just about saying: ‘look I’m a human being, I’ve made mistakes like everyone else and I’m not perfect.’ That’s the way I am.
“Politicians now haven’t even got a parking ticket between them. It puts them on a pedestal which isn’t what it’s about. Whereas I’m more down to earth.”
His man-on-the-street credentials can be found in his long and varied life which has seen him get kicked out of the army, become a male escort, be hospitalised through drug abuse, get arrested for assault, get sectioned under the Mental Health Act numerous times, become an unlikely porn star and become an even more unlikely politician.
Born into a strict Catholic family with two elder sisters in Brixton in south London, he left home at 17 after a violent domestic incident.
He had been forced into the army by his parents, but was kicked out after only six weeks for his attitude. When he left home he did 36 jobs in 18 months before becoming a door-to-door salesman which took him to Soho, where he found his calling.
“I got to see a very different side of life to my Catholic background. I got to meet all the strip club owners and all the girls who worked the street,” he says.
“I started off as a male escort. There was money in it and ladies and a lot of wonderful things. It was getting paid for sex by women.
“I wasn’t bloody good at anything else, except in the sack,” he says. “You know, you do what you are good at – and I happened to be very good at that.”
After Soho, Langley roamed the country, falling into a “peripatetic lifestyle” where he developed a drink and drug problem – principally cannabis, speed and uppers.
That was until he was taken into hospital with kidney problems and had a major operation which left him pondering his future while bedridden for weeks.
He eventually become a New Age traveller, living first in a caravan in Cornwall and then in a bender shelter he made from hazel. Touring the New Age bookshops of Plymouth, he says he found success in self-help guides.
But his mental health got the better of him in the end. “I lost the plot, started hearing voices and ended up in a mental institution. I’ve been in several institutions, but no one ever got to the bottom of it until Exeter.”
The Exeter trip was as a result of Langley assaulting his 13-year-old step-son in 1983, which ended up with a criminal conviction – a details of which were revealed in a series of Ukip shame stories in the national press earlier this year. (Langley says the court order reported in the press was, in fact, invalid.)
He was diagnosed with personality disorder which he says he has now learned to manage successfully. One of the things that helped was his work with mental health charities and support networks.
This, in turn, set him up for a future in politics. “I got political through mental health, and seeing people being labelled,” he says.
“I joined the Liberal Democrats, which we don’t talk about,” he adds, physically shuddering as he says this.
I suggest he is more ashamed of that than his work in the adult industry.
“Well, yeah. It was a good experience. But I’m against political parties per se, it’s all about power and control.”
He was far more impressed with Ukip, about who he doesn’t have a bad word to say, despite the way he was practically forced to leave when a porn video of him receiving oral sex in Castle Park came to light.
I ask him if it was a mistake.
“For them it was,” he laughs. “No, I don’t have any regrets over anything I’ve done in my life. It was very simply a misinterpretation of the law.
“I positioned myself in a corner of Castle Park with almost 360-degree vision behind a wall I could look over and see what was going on.
“If anybody was likely to come along I could see them before they saw me,” he explains. He pauses and then adds: “I could shag somebody right here.” He looks across the cafe. “But if those women over there complained about it then it would be against the law.”
Before we head out for a quick walk around Broadmead, I ask him what his 20-year-old son thinks of his work. “I’m just dad. He’s very open-minded. He couldn’t care less,” he says.
As we leave Starbucks we start to talk about his policy ideas. Of all the candidates, he is one of the few who has endless practical, realistic ideas. Many of them are not grand. But most of them affect people on a day-to-day basis.
Walking past the shops he tells me of his desire to relax business rates for small independents.
“There’s not enough variety, it’s dominated by chain stores and multinationals,” he says. “Where are the local people who should be earning a living? We need to do something to encourage independent stores back into Bristol.”
He moves quickly on to his idea to get council officers to DNA test dog mess and track down the owners and prosecute them.
“The dog poo one has gone down really well,” he says. “It’s not just about the big policies, it’s about the smaller ones which make a difference in people’s lives. If a mum is taking out her children and they straight into dog poo it’s just not nice.”
The idea of having on-board bus announcements in Bristolian accents “has also gone down a storm”, he says.
But his real focus if he was mayor is to switch the way decisions are made to make them more democratic. His Brigstow Assembly – “a vehicle”, not a party – wants to open up local governance and take the power away from parties and leaders.
“We will have proper referenda,” he says. “We’ll say to people, ‘look we have £4 million to spend on transport,’ and we’ll ask, ‘what do you want us to do?’
“The more people we get on board, the more people that get excited about the city, because people feel disenfranchised at the moment.”
We stop as our photographer arrives. We discuss that his shaded glasses might not come across well in the pictures. Jelena, an Erasmus student from Croatia with Bristol24/7 on a three-month placement, asks him if he is happy with the shots and shows him a couple.
“That’s alright,” he says. “I’ll have a dozen,” he jokes. “When can you get them to me?”
“We can send you a couple,” she says.
“And your number?” he asks, letting out another laugh.
I tell him Jelena is from Croatia and ask him if he holds his old Ukip views on the EU and all that comes with it.
“I was never really on that side with Ukip,” he says, before adding that he is still undecided on the in-out referendum.
I suggest he will struggle to get away from the labels from his Ukip past and porn star present. “Let ‘em label me,” he says. “People can label me all they want, but if they want to get to know me and know what I stand for and what I want for the city, then that’s very different.
“If you want to be judgemental, then don’t vote for me. Take or leave it, there will be people who will vote for me.”
Bristol24/7 is hosting a mayoral hustings featuring all candidates at The Lantern at 7pm on Thursday, April 28. Entrance is first come first served. For more information, visit www.colstonhall.org/shows/mayoral-hustings/