BNP Ballerina Defies Rising Clamour To Sack Her

Hugh Muir, Guardian (UK), Jan. 1, 2007

Officials from the English National Ballet faced calls to sack one of their leading dancers yesterday after Simone Clarke defied criticism and gave a detailed interview defending her support for the British National party.

Two weeks after she was named by the Guardian as a card-carrying member of the far right group, the ballerina hit out at her critics, voicing her belief that the BNP seemed to be the only party “willing to take a stand” against immigration. She claimed that her boyfriend Yat Sen-Chang, who is also an acclaimed lead dancer, encouraged her to join the BNP. Sen-Chang is of Chinese-Cuban extraction.

Clarke, 36, who will take the lead in the ENB’s production of Giselle at the London Coliseum next week, said she had been called a “racist and a fascist” since her decision to join the BNP 18 months ago became public.

One report claimed that following the Guardian’s revelations, fellow dancers confronted her before a matinee performance of The Nutcracker.

But she said: “I’ve never been clearer in my head that I’m moving in the right direction and at the right time. I’ve had nearly 300 emails supporting me from all over the UK and from as far away as Australia, America and New Zealand.”

She told the Mail on Sunday: “Everything will be different now. I will be known as the BNP Ballerina. I think that will stick with me for life.”

But she added: “I don’t regret anything. I will stay a member.”

The interview has caused fresh difficulties for the ENB, which was able to deflect criticism about Clarke’s BNP membership by insisting that her stance was an entirely private one. The company, which is publicly funded and is therefore obliged by the Race Relations Act of 2000 to promote good race relations, will be asked to explain how one of its highest profile employees was able to use her position as a platform for the far right party.

Her views and policies espoused by the BNP appear to conflict with equality policies that operate in the company itself and those laid down by Arts Council England, which subsidises the ENB to the tune of £6m a year.

Its policy says funded organisations “must be aware of how their work contributes to race equality and promoting good race relations”.

Prior to the interview, the ENB had said it hoped to talk to its dancer before deciding “what action to take”.

Lee Jasper, equalities director for the mayor of London and chairman of the National Assembly Against Racism, said: “The ENB must seriously consider whether having such a vociferous member of an avowedly racist party in such a prominent role is compatible with the ethics of its organisation. I seriously doubt that it is and that should lead to her position being immediately reviewed. I think she should be sacked.” He called on funders and David Lammy, the arts mnister, to intervene.

Inayat Bunglawala, of the Muslim Council of Britain, said people had a right to their private political views but added: “This will taint the ENB in the eyes of many minority communities. Questions need to be asked about how someone in that position can be allowed to abuse that position to promote the BNP.” Jon Cruddas, Labour MP for Dagenham in east London, where the BNP forms the official opposition on the council, said: “We need to know how these statements square with the more laudable positions taken by the ENB and other leading arts organisations. What she completely ignores is the underbelly of the BNP in terms of the violence, the physical attacks and the criminality of many of its supporters.”

A spokeswoman for the Commission for Racial Equality, which polices race relations legislation, said it was monitoring events. “We will be interested to see what action the ENB takes given that it has a member expressing such views in public.”

An ENB spokeswoman said the company was not yet in a position to comment.

Clarke’s membership became public in reports by Guardian reporter Ian Cobain, who used a pseudonym to join the far right party and was quickly selected to become its central London organiser. During his seven months undercover, Clarke told him that immigration “has really got out of hand”.

She told the Mail on Sunday how she travelled to London from her home in Leeds aged 10 to begin her training at the Royal Ballet School after winning one of 23 places sought by 4,500 entrants.

Her conversion to the far right was prompted by watching the television news and then reading the BNP manifesto. “I am not too proud to say that a lot of it went over my head but some of the things they mentioned were the things I think about all the time, mainly mass immigration, crime and increased taxes. I paid my £25 there and then,” she said.

She protested that it is “really silly” to point to her partner’s non-English origins, adding: “It is not about removing foreigners. It’s about border controls.”

Nine of her 10 principal dancers at the ENB are immigrants and she suggested that this may have muted the internal response, adding: “There are a lot of foreign dancers who have probably never even heard of the BNP.”

[Editorial note: Simone Chang’s website is: http://www.yschang.co.uk/

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The Sugar Plum Fairy in English National Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker had to confront angry colleagues before yesterday’s matinee performance after she was revealed to be a member of the British National Party.

Simone Clarke, 36, was named by a newspaper that had infiltrated the party and obtained a membership list.

Others reported to be BNP members by The Guardian included Annabel Geddes, founder of the London Dungeon and a former director of the London Tourist Board, and Peter Bradbury, a leading proponent of complementary medicine who has links to the Prince of Wales.

Clarke said she believed that immigration had “really got out of hand”. She added: “If everyone who thinks like I do joined, it would really make a difference.”

Her opposition to immigration is a sensitive issue at the ballet company because nine of her ten fellow principal dancers—including the father of her child—are immigrants.

Yat-Sen Chang, who has been Clarke’s partner for five years, was born in Cuba and has a Chinese father.

Only one other principal, Sarah McIlroy, is British. The rest are Cuban, Estonian, Georgian, Russian, Czech or Japanese.

The dancers were instructed not to comment yesterday, but Clarke said in a recent interview that she does not mix with the other performers outside working hours. “I don’t socialise with people in the company,” she said. “It’s all too much.”

A spokeswoman for English National Ballet declined to comment on Clarke’s private views but said that the company did not share them. “We are an equal opportunities employer,” she said. “We pride ourselves on the diversity in the company.”

Members of the audience at yesterday’s performance said that Clarke’s views did affect their opinion of English National Ballet. Jasmine Sandhu, 23, who travelled from Leicester to see the show, was upset by the revelation before she went in. “I wish I had found out afterwards,” she said. “It will damage English National Ballet’s reputation.”

Maeve Bridgland, who was taking her granddaughter to the ballet, said that it would not affect her appreciation of the performance. “But I shall have a look now to see [whether the other performers treat her differently].”

Clarke has said previously that she is considering other careers, including property development. “I’ve even thought of becoming a plumber. I enjoy my job . . . but some things need to change. It’s a question of when to start.”

Ms Geddes, who left the London Tourist Board in 1984, was reported to believe that Asian immigrants are a “bloody bore” and that black people are “ghastly”. She told the undercover journalist: “I’m a racist. We’ve got to keep little UK basically Anglo-Saxon.”

She could not be reached for comment yesterday. Visit London, formerly the London Tourist Board, distanced itself from its former director yesterday and the London Dungeon said that it had had no connection with her since she sold the company in 1984. Mr Bradbury could not be reached for comment last night.

Other people said to be members or lapsed members of the party are said to include a servant of the Queen who lives at Buckingham Palace, a former Miss England and several former Conservative Party activists. The Palace said that its servants had the right to their personal preferences “as long as they are not actively campaigning”.

The list of names suggests that the party is actively pursuing middle-class voters in Central London to augment its traditional recruiting grounds in East London, West Yorkshire, parts of Lancashire and some Midlands cities. Nick Griffin, the party leader, told supporters last month that broad-based support was vital to electoral success.

Seats of power

46 council seats held by the BNP in England

229,000 votes for the BNP out of a total of seven million cast in the local elections in May

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