March to Leave

Early on Saturday morning I found myself on assignment for Getty Images sat in my car in the pouring rain on a side street near the Port of Sunderland as I followed the instructions given in an email from the media liaison people representing the ‘March to Leave’ group and waited at the planned start point for the march.

The March to Leave campaign was organised by the Leave means Leave protest group and the idea behind the march was that it would give pro-leave supporters an opportunity to demonstrate their discontent with the way they see Brexit has been handled by the government by taking part in a march all the way to London.

Sunderland was the start point for a planned 14-stage journey over the days leading up to March 29, the original date for the UK to leave the European Union. The destination for the 300 or so folks who turned up on day one was Hartlepool.

About an hour before the due start time and on a still very deserted street word filtered down on text message among the photographers and other media that the start location had been changed ‘for security reasons’. With the new start point now given we all made our own way to the new location which was to be outside the Hendon Grange Pub.

As the ever increasing numbers of media waited in the torrential rain it became quite clear that when Nigel Farage arrived it would descend into chaotic scenes. When he appeared and strode down the muddy track to the start point the waiting media began jostling for positions and his security team formed a ring of protection around him and made it quite clear that they weren’t going to stop for anyone.

One thing you learn quickly as a photographer is that you need to be able to walk backwards almost as naturally as you walk forwards! You need to be able to do this while trying to make well composed and well focussed pictures and while trying not to get in anyone else’s way but at the same time ensuring you hold your own ground and don’t end up getting pushed out of your position by someone else.

You also need to be able to look through the viewfinder but also keep an awareness as to who might back into you and inadvertently push your own camera into your face causing injury – I saw at least one photographer with blood dripping from a viewfinder shaped cut on his nose!

You also need to make sure you don’t trip over anything or slip in the mud and end up on your arse which is never a good look and most importantly in this situation you needed to avoid standing in the numerous piles of dog shit that littered the floor like confetti at a wedding!

Despite the security precautions taken by the organisers there were still a large amount of pro-european supporters there who must have also had the heads’ up about the change on location and as EU flags were unfurled the two factions exchanged their different opinions in various degrees of civility.

Meanwhile Farage and his ring of protection were striding out at a fair old lick and were making good progress across the muddy fields as they followed the coastal path heading to Hartlepool.

Now the dilemma we photographers faced was just when to leave him and go back for our cars. It’s too easy to get caught up in the moment and before you know it your five miles down the path and you have to walk all the way back for your car. So after about a mile or so I, Scotty Heppell (Reuters) and Andy Buchanan (AFP) cut loose and headed back to the start point.

The plan then was to head down the coast road and try and pick them up again before parking ahead of them and walking back towards them to shoot a few more. This method worked quite well and we repeated it several times through the day. During this time you also had to take the time to file in some pictures to the desk – there’s no point doing all this stuff if you can’t get any pictures sent in and onto the wire.

It’s also fair to say that the weather was atrocious on the day and the old chamois leather – that highly technical go-to weather protection kit for photographers – were out in force and earning their keep wiping away the torrent of rain drops smeared over lenses in the futile attempt to keep them clear and this made the day even more challenging.

By mid-afternoon Scott Heppell, Chris Furlong (Getty) and myself found ourselves in a car park outside a pub in the centre of Hartlepool waiting for word on when Farage would end this stage of the walk and meet with his fellow walkers in the pub for a pint.

Hearing that we might have to wait for several hours before he arrived we were debating the worth of hanging around when an impromptu conversation I had with a Sky news cameraman led to the tip off that rather than arriving at the pub we were waiting outside in four hours he was actually going to arrive at another pub nearby in about ten minutes!

So making the decision to go I quickly let Scott know who had already decided to head for home and he made a quick detour back to the pub and Chris and I drove there and parked up. Within minutes Farage and his ever present security guys strode along the road and finally arrived at the pub, called ironically The Merry Go Round!

With a few final frames shot outside the pub as he arrived there only remained one shot left to get to bring this wet and crazy day to an end and that was the ‘Nigel Farage drinking a pint in a pub’ shot. This was obviously an original idea and has never been done before. Obviously. But you kind of have to get it if you’re there. So with our dripping  waterproofs and muddy boots we tramped into the pub frantically wiping the condensation from the lenses and waited as he got his pint and took a drink.

A few quick shots later and we were done and jumping back into the car I edited, captioned and filed my stuff back to the desk before leaving them to it and called it a day.

Here’s a few from the day…


Images (c) Ian Forsyth / Getty Images

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Published by ian forsyth photography

Press and Documentary photographer covering the North of England. Stringer & contributor for Getty Images News. Prints are available to buy on my website.

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