LONDON – An orange-hued 20-foot tall “Trump Baby,” clutching a mobile phone and sporting a giant diaper, took flight over Britain’s Houses of Parliament for two hours on Friday morning, kicking off a day of widespread protests against the US leader’s controversial visit to the UK.
A crowd of about 2,000 onlookers, including locals, tourists, activists and children, cheered as the balloon rose over Parliament Square, hovering at about 30 meters (98 feet) against a cloudless blue sky.
Leo Murray, an activist who organized the blimp, told CNN the giant balloon had been designed to speak to Trump “in a language that he understands, which is personal insults.”
“This is how most of the world sees Donald Trump, certainly most British people,” Murray said. “It’s a popular perception that he is a big angry baby … anytime something doesn’t go the way he likes he chucks his toys out of the pram.”
Murray was joined by activists in red jumpsuits wearing “Make America Great Again”-style baseball caps labeled: “Trump babysitter.”
“Trump is a giant baby, and he’s actually proven that point in his comments about our prime minister yesterday,” said Nona Hurkmans, 33, a London-based activist.
Hurkmans was referencing Trump’s interview with British newspaper The Sun, in which he said May’s “soft Brexit” plan would be likely to “kill” any UK-US trade deal.
In the same interview, Trump conceded that he felt unwelcome in London.
‘He should be vilified, not invited for a visit’
On the fringes of Parliament Square, political activist Madeleina Kay serenaded crowds with a chorus of: “Bollocks to Brexit, bollocks to Trump.” Beside her, a man in a Trump mask and gorilla costume chatted to a Boris Johnson impersonator from inside a cage. A group of protesters in sombreros milled around, as others passed out #TrumpBaby stickers that read: “Make racists unwelcome again.”
Among the melee was Annie Jeffs, a 54-year-old artist from Somerset, with a handmade Trump puppet in tow.
“I’m not very happy about the invitation of a misogynist, racist, pervert to my country,” said Jeffs, who stood at the edge of the square flanked by statues of Indian independence movement leader Mahatma Gandhi and British suffragist Millicent Fawcett.
“He should be vilified, not invited for a visit.”
That sentiment was echoed by a number of other protesters, many of whom said they signed a petition to prevent his visit after Prime Minister Theresa May invited him to the UK in 2017. That petition garnered 1.8 million signatures.
“When he first said he was going to come I signed the petition to stop the visit. There’s nothing to be gained from him here. He’s an embarrassment,” Ann Heinson, a British woman who now lives in California, said.
A handful of Trump supporters were also in the mix, including at least one wearing an authentic “Make America Great Again” cap.
Trump supporter Wendy Angel left the northern English city of Newcastle at midnight to join counter-demonstrations, taking an eight-hour bus ride to London with five others.
“I think it’s [the balloon] a disgrace to the nation, a waste of money on hot air floating in the sky,” Angel said. “Trump is one of the most important figures in the world and he should be welcomed.”
“I’m just really sad we don’t have a Trump here — a man for the people,” Angel added, voicing frustration over the British government’s pace in executing the Brexit vote.
Angel said the group planned to meet up with other counter-protesters they had connected with on Facebook.
Trump vs. London
Trump’s schedule didn’t take him near the planned protests, but he is believed to be familiar with the “Trump Baby.” Asked if he was concerned about protests during his visit, Trump told reporters in Brussels on Thursday: “I think they like me in the UK,” and said the British people shared his concerns on immigration, claiming “that’s why Brexit happened.”
But instead of holding his meetings in London, Trump has instead held talks with Prime Minister Theresa May at her country retreat outside the city and will take tea with the Queen at Windsor Castle, west of London.
The request to fly the blimp was approved by London Mayor Sadiq Khan earlier this month. Khan, who has has been outspoken in his opposition to Trump’s visit, gave the unusual request the go-ahead after more than 10,000 people signed a petition.
Organizer Murray explained that, while some people might be uncomfortable with the idea of ridiculing the US President, he feels that Trump’s policies have created an atmosphere where “normal diplomatic rules have become very much suspended.”
“I feel like once we got to the point where we have a head of state who is suspending due process for some of the world’s most vulnerable people and snatching babies from their parents at the border and locking them in cages — at that point I don’t think we need to be civil to this man,” he said.
Murray said that organizers “don’t really care” if Trump sees or reacts to the blimp.
“It’s about lifting the spirits of the nation and it’s already doing that, you know. It’s just putting smiles on the faces of people who had started to despair about the state of politics,” he said.
Sarah Elliott, chairwoman of Republicans Overseas UK, told CNN she did not think Trump would be fazed by the stunt.
“I think whenever his detractors go after him, it makes him double down and it actually encourages him to keep going and prove everybody wrong,” she said. “So I think that’s the effect the balloon will have,” she said.