Mayor Election 2016: Meet the mayor candidate: Stoney Garnett
Stoney Garnett, comedian, compere and Bristol City superfan, is in a serious mood.
“You’re not the first person to say that,” he says when I point it out about 10 minutes into our conversation in his front room in Whitchurch.
“That’s because I’m passionate,” he says, before explaining that this time (he ran for mayor in 2012, coming ninth out of 15 candidates) he’s launching a more earnest shot at being Bristol’s leader.
“I am deadly serious. That’s why this time people I talk to everywhere I go, they’re seeing a different side of me.”
I do know. It’s become abundantly clear from our time together. Garnett’s chat is unstoppable. Ask him one thing and five minutes later he’s giving you an answer to something completely different.
“People from every walk of life I love meeting, talking, you know,” he says. “That is the thing I got maybe over the rest of our candidates because they don’t really go out,” he adds, before tailing on off on a tangent about meeting the homeless and building more prefab houses.
One of the reasons which brings him into conversation with so many people around the city is his red feathered fedora – a present to himself on a holiday to Austria 22 years ago which rarely leaves his head.
“Sometimes if I walk along and don’t have my red hat on, people ignore me,” he admits. “It’s weird. There’s no one else in Bristol that wears a red hat.”
There is someone with red trousers…
“I know that. Fair shout to him. He stuck by it. Wherever he is, you recognise him by his red trousers and you’ll recognise me by my red hat. We’re going from red trousers to red hat, that’s what I say. Except I’m already fed up of hearing it, to be honest.”
He tails off on another story. “I went campaigning at the Rovers ground the other day and got abused. Someone chucked a plastic bottle and someone threw a screwed up programme. The police and the stewards said you better move along.”
Of course, that’s another reason why the former postman is a public figure – his lifelong dedication to his beloved Bristol City.
He’s barely missed a home game since he was seven (he’s 68 now), and sits with his family and friends in the Dolman Stand.
“It’s a beautiful ground now. I thought they were going to ruin Ashton Gate, but maybe we don’t need an arena anymore. We got one,” he says with a wink.
He veers off again on another tangent. This time it’s parking down at the ground. “You will never get rid of parking cars. You will never get rid of the car owners unless you say certain models have got to be scrapped. Because once it starts raining you will get in a car, I don’t care who you are.
“But what you could do is – I’ve got to word this right – say Bristol is full up,” he adds, lunging into another detour.
“We love you coming to Bristol, you can stay for a nice weekend, fabulous. Obviously we got to clear up after. But, you can’t come and live here because we’re going to run out of space.
“We’re going to be like New York in ten years’ time. We’re going to have massive buildings growing out because people got to live somewhere and unless you nip it in the bud,” he says.
“No people, no asylum seekers, for four years,” he adds. “We’ve already got brilliant Caribbeans and Sikhs here and they’re Bristolians, they’re okay. But I say we’ve got to stop, because we’re full up. We’re actually full to the brim.”
And, out of nowhere, we come full circle: “I go back to Bristol City with the housing and the parking and whatever you do people will still park for football, they love the football.”
To try to understand where Garnett is coming from, we go back to the beginning. Born in Knowle West, he went to Connaught Road School (“Brilliant school. I loved school”).
His first job was with British Rail at what is now the Engine Shed, where he helped keep the train records. After leaving British Rail, he worked in a succession of jobs before becoming a postman for 24 years.
He got into comedy through compering at charity events and fundraisers around the city and kept it up most of his life.
He even had a spell in the world of showbiz with a few extras roles in films where he proudly met Anthony Hopkins, Ray Winstone and Roy Orbison (and yes, he has a story for each one).
Now retired, he spent the final part of his working life as a “dogsbody” for drinks wholesaler Matthew Clarke, just around the corner from his house.
He was married for 28 years, but is now divorced and lives in his own home with his son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren. And it’s these grandchildren which are spurring him on and into politics again.
“You’ve got to look ahead, not for me, but for my grandchildren and maybe a great-grandchild coming along,” he says, when I ask why he’s standing.
“Where are they going to live in years to come? The schools’ll be full up and they’ll probably have to go miles away.
“I’m just thinking of that. I also think that Bristol is changing. I don’t really want it to change that much, you know what I mean?”
And herein lies one of the anxieties at the heart of many of Garnett’s policies and ideas: change.
“Hartcliffe is changing. Withywood, Southmead, Fishponds; they’re all changing. And it’s problems of traffic too,” he says, returning to one of his top priorities.
“Everything seems to be a problem now and such a rush. I love the term ‘the rush hour’ – it’s always slowing down. I think the biggest problem we got in Bristol is the traffic lights. Too many. Where I live here in Whitchurch we got four sets of lights there within a matter of a couple of hundred yards.”
He disagrees that it should be a free-for-all on the roads, with no lights or restrictions, before adding that he no longer drives anymore.
“I just packed it in because the roads are ludicrous. They are absolutely awful for anybody, even for pedestrians they are awful.”
He takes the bus around town instead and as mayor would extend bus lanes to places like Whitchurch.
The other traffic problem he wants to clear up is cyclists – especially the ones riding on the pavements. “If I became mayor, I’d say get off, go on the road, don’t use the pavement.
“I’ve been hit a few, well not hit – wouldn’t worry me mind, I’d just push them out the way. Well no, if they were going to run into me then..,” he tails off.
He begins again: “I’d like to keep Bristol the size it was. Don’t try and go further into too much progress. Because it ain’t working, I don’t think it’s working.”
I ask how he would halt the changes in Bristol he feels are ruining the city.
“I’d probably become like a referee. I’d referee the council. I’d say you carry on what you’re doing there, you’re doing a good job there. I’d be the last to say ‘you can’t do this, yes you can’. No. That’s not me.”
That doesn’t sound much like a referee.
“When I blow the whistle and stop the game, I might say ‘sorry, what did you say?’ and I might disagree with it.
“If I disagreed with something that one of the councillors or one of the people on my team said then I wouldn’t say ‘no’. I’d say we’d have to talk about it.”
We take a quick walk outside where Bristol24/7 photographer Jelena is waiting, and I ask Garnett how realistic he thinks his chances are of getting elected.
He says he’s got mass appeal – even George Ferguson backed him as his second choice last time, apparently – mainly because he is the “only true independent” candidate.
“All the others belong to a political party,” he says. “George was a Lib Dem for a couple of years – don’t think a leopard will change its spots. It’d be like me becoming a Bristol Rovers fan.”
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/