Peter Tatchell’s life on film: ‘So far I’ve been violently assaulted 300 times’

Peter Tatchell has protested against everyone from Mike Tyson to Tony Blair. So what did the human rights campaigner make of the documentary Hating Peter Tatchell?

The title of Hating Peter Tatchell was the brainchild of its director, Christopher Amos. When, in 2015, he first became interested in making a documentary about my 54 years of LGBTQ+ and other human rights activism, he was taken aback by the volume and ferocity of hatred against me.

So far I’ve been violently assaulted over 300 times, had 50 attacks on my flat, been the victim of half a dozen murder plots and received tens of thousands of hate messages and death threats over the last five decades, mostly from homophobes and far-right extremists. Amos envisaged a film that documented how and why my campaigns generated such extreme hatred.

My motive for doing the film was a bit different. By telling my story, I wanted to show that social change is possible and how to do it, to inspire the next generation. My goal was to highlight freedom struggles through the lens of my own direct action.

The beginnings were modest. Unable to get funding, Amos dug into his own pocket and in 2016 launched a Kickstarter campaign, raising £12,502 for research. This included trawling through around 130 hours of my old tapes of TV footage and interviews about my activism.

The big problem was trying to whittle down all the campaigns I’ve been involved in to a dozen key ones. Eliminating and prioritising was a tough call. We had to jettison the 2003 ambush of Tony Blair’s motorcade in protest at the Iraq war and my bid for an arrest warrant for Henry Kissinger over the indiscriminate bombing of Cambodia in the 1970s. Also out was my 1998 exposé of the Nazi war criminal Dr Carl Værnet; persuading the ANC of South Africa in 1987 to embrace LGBTQ+ rights; and my 1972 confrontation with Professor Hans Eysenck over his advocacy of electric shock aversion therapy to “cure” gay people.

For a time, the lack of funding made it seem as if the film would never be made. But Amos kept going. In 2016, he accompanied me to Australia to record emotional interviews with my evangelical Christian sister and mother, the latter then aged 89.

Two years later, he trailed me to Moscow to film my one-man protest during the football World Cup. We had to undertake elaborate security measures to evade pre-emptive arrest. A lot of the setup filming was covert, using a small camera and posing as football fans. It was incredibly stressful and we had several rows. But in the end, I pulled off a protest outside the Kremlin against the anti-LGBTQ+ witch-hunt in Chechnya and Putin’s tacit collusion.

After rejections from UK sources, in 2019 Amos got an Australian production company, Wildbear Entertainment, on board. Full production got under way in January 2020. Just before the pandemic, we shot interviews with Ian McKellen, Stephen Fry and the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, over my 1998 Easter Sunday protest in Canterbury Cathedral for LGBTQ+ rights. Carey was a big surprise. After initially condemning my tactics, he very generously concluded by praising my human rights work.

In May 2020, Elton John and David Furnish signed up as executive producers, which gave us a big morale boost and, later on, helped Netflix agree to stream the film.

Disappointingly, we were unable to get an interview with Mike Tyson. I had ambushed him at his gym, over his homophobic slurs, just before his world title fight in Memphis in 2002; persuading him to recant and express his opposition to anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination.

Tatchell meets heavyweight boxer Mike Tyson in 2002.
Ambush … Tatchell meets heavyweight boxer Mike Tyson in 2002. Photograph: Nick Potts/PA

Also missed out was an interview with the US Black Power activist Angela Davis. She led the US delegation to the World Youth festival in communist east Berlin in 1973. The Americans denounced my advocacy of gay liberation and sought to have me expelled from the event. Davis later came out as a lesbian and a supporter of LGBTQ+ rights. I desperately wanted both her and Tyson interviewed for the film to show the power of redemption. Alas.

Film editing faced huge challenges during the Covid lockdown. It was done in a three-person bubble in the Australian city of Castlemaine, Victoria. The rest of the production team were scattered across the globe, working in isolation. The film’s dramatic soundtrack was made by musicians forming a virtual orchestra and recording their parts separately in home studios.

Dirtiest campaign … Tatchell during the 1983 Bermondsey by-election runup.
Dirtiest campaign … Tatchell during the 1983 Bermondsey by-election runup. Photograph: ANL/Rex/Shutterstock

At many points I had my doubts, but the end result is impressive, with fast-paced revelations about my school-age radicalism, abusive stepfather and activism against the Vietnam war, anti-gay policing and church bigotry. There’s footage of my defeat as Labour candidate in the notorious 1983 Bermondsey by-election; described by many as the UK’s dirtiest, most violent and homophobic campaign.

The film also captures my efforts in 1988 to persuade world health chiefs to stop the persecution of people with HIV/Aids; my attempted citizen’s arrest of Robert Mugabe on charges of torture, which left me beaten unconscious; and the outing of bishops who colluded with an anti-LGBTQ+ church despite their own homosexuality. What’s not to like?


Peter Tatchell

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Sex, lies and celluloid: how realistic is Netflix's drama Hollywood?
It’s got orgies, arrests, scandals and eccentrics. But is the central story – about gay and black people triumphing in 1940s Tinseltown – realistic? We sift the ugly facts from glossy fiction

Pamela Hutchinson

21, May, 2020 @5:00 AM

Article image
'I see my life as a failure' – the amazing rebirths of Seven Up star Neil Hughes
He wanted to be an astronaut but became a squatter, grouse-beater and Lib Dem councillor. As the Up series hits 63, the man whose story gripped a nation explains why he won’t be watching

Dave Simpson

03, Jun, 2019 @5:01 AM

Article image
'We wanted people to see we exist': the photographer who recorded lesbian life in the 70s
She toured America photographing women like herself, at time when being out could cost you your job, home and family. As Eye to Eye, a book of her groundbreaking work is republished, Joan E Biren, known as JEB, recalls why the images were so vitally important

Charlotte Jansen

15, Feb, 2021 @6:00 AM

Article image
The anti-Marie Kondo: Netflix celebrates the clothes we keep
Worn Stories looks to unravel the tales behind the most treasured items in our wardrobes – but is such meaning and emotion easily conveyed via television?

Claire Marie Healy

31, Mar, 2021 @1:00 PM

Article image
Men unzipped: Me and My Penis, the TV show where masculinity goes commando
Channel Four’s bold new documentary confronts anxieties about the male member. We go behind the scenes – and meet Ajamu, the artist and ‘sex activist’ who gets men to reveal all

Tim Jonze

24, Aug, 2020 @9:00 AM

Article image
The unmissable TV shows of summer 2017
Naomi Watts is a shrink in meltdown, William and Harry remember Diana – and Ed Sheeran feels the chill in Game of Thrones. It’s your complete summer TV and streaming guide

Mark Lawson and Kate Abbott

12, Jun, 2017 @5:00 AM

Article image
Your cultural Cop26: films, TV shows and podcasts to help you save the planet
From Ted Danson on the oceans to Greta Thunberg on everything else – get armed with the facts and inspired to make a difference

Alexi Duggins

26, Oct, 2021 @3:27 PM

Article image
'Deep down, I knew it didn't happen': The woman whose memory invented a murder story
When two men disappeared in 1974, Erla Bolladottir’s testimony put her boyfriend and his friends in prison for murder. She tells us how the case made her the most notorious woman in Iceland – and why they may be innocent after all

Paula Cocozza

04, Aug, 2017 @2:46 PM

Article image
‘Annoying snobs was part of the fun’: Paul McCartney and more on the Beatles’ rooftop farewell
As Peter Jackson’s TV series Get Back recasts the Fab Four’s final days in a more positive light, the ex-Beatle remembers the responses to their historic gig above the streets of London

John Harris

18, Nov, 2021 @10:45 AM

Article image
'Shout queer!' The museums bringing LGBT artefacts out of the closet
From Michelangelo’s David to a Hindu deity, cultural institutions are digging into their vaults to display once-hidden objects of same-sex desire and gender nonconformity

David Shariatmadari

08, Jul, 2019 @3:22 PM