13 Nov, 2015 @ 10:00
6 mins read

INTERVIEW: GSD leader Daniel Feetham talks weightlifting, nearly dying and why he should lead Gibraltar

Feet Street e
Daniel Feetham strolls down Main Street
CONFIDENT: Feetham strolls down main Street

WE’VE only just sat down with croissants and coffee on Main Street, when a middle-aged Gibraltarian woman jumps in and literally grabs Danny Feetham. 

All smiles and gushing, she insists her entire family is going to vote for the GSD leader in the forthcoming elections, and she is sure he is ‘going to win’.

It is a glowing accolade, particularly after he entirely failed to persuade a dog to come over for a pat just two minutes earlier, the cur literally sprinting away, his tail between his legs.

“And no I didn’t pay her,” he says beaming, after I finally drag him back to the job at hand: Running a rule over the leader of the opposition in advance of Gibraltar’s general election on November 26.

Either way, it has gone some way to answering my first question… Does the GSD have any chance of winning?

Despite his current opponent, caretaker Chief Minister Fabian Picardo, seemingly soaring to an easy victory, Feetham firmly believes the election will be ‘incredibly close’.

No matter that he is languishing on a paltry 16% in the opinion poll and the GSLP foe seems to be hardly putting a foot wrong. In particular, after Picardo steered in an impressive list of projects, such as Gibraltar’s first university, the World Trade Center and a new national football stadium over his first term.

“There is a shop window here versus the reality of what happens behind it,” explains gym fanatic Feetham. “This government projects itself in a positive way, but all of these schemes are actually funded by very, very large debt.”

Perhaps he has a point.

At the last election, the overall net debt was £240 million, which Feetham claims has now grown to £418 million, with alleged departmental spending being about £40-50 million over budget across the board.

And don’t forget there is the small matter of the new power station and a sewage treatment plant to fund on top of that.

Chief Reporter Tom Powell left twiddling his pen as Feetham meets fan

This is ‘gambling’ with the future of the next generation, ‘pure and simple’, Feetham insists.

“If I gave my daughter my credit card, I’m sure she would buy nice things, but she’d also ruin my finances and jeopardise our future,” he says.

The family man has two sons as well as a daughter, all with his English wife, Julia, whom he met while at university in Manchester and managed to persuade to move to Gibraltar in 2000.

He dearly loves his kids, but they won’t be getting his credit card any time soon.
Gibraltarian born and raised, Feetham’s primary objective is to prevent austerity.

“I want the good times to last forever,” he says. “And that takes proper planning.”

One of his main gripes with the current government, led by fellow lawyer Picardo, is the ‘huge issue’ of transparency.

Many questions have been asked of the government company Credit Finance, which has been used to fund various projects.

Says Feetham: “We were tipped off that Credit Finance even funded the Sunborn Yacht hotel by around £30 million, but it’s not just about the boat.

“It’s about operating in an open way.”

Meanwhile, the travel and entertainment expenses of the chief minister’s office have risen from £400,000 to £1.3 million, he claims.

“I think there are too many people going on trips, such as last month’s Gibraltar Day in London,” he says bluntly. “The photo opportunity has become paramount, and value for money for the taxpayer has become irrelevant.”

Feetham may be making valid points, but he is already beginning to sound like a perennial moaner. Does he realise how many people see him as negativity personified?

The answer is yes.

“Nobody wants to ask the difficult questions, and I have been vilified for doing it at times; I have been attacked for not being patriotic and doing Gibraltar down.

“But in any democracy everyone should be keeping the government accountable, and at times I have felt like we are carrying that responsibility alone.”

It is a fair point, so tell us something positive… what are your three positive plans the GSD will introduce on the Rock?

A tunnel under the airport runway, a diesel power station at Lathbury barracks with back-up connections to Morocco’s main grid and a sewage plant (which would cost £30 million).

These are the three ‘vital’ things he wants to achieve. And fast.

There is also the necessary independent verification of economic growth and debt is also high on his agenda, as are tightening of departmental budgets and planning for a financially secure future, of course.

But there is more to Feetham than the pedantic politician.

This is a man who grew up in first-hand evidence of Gibraltar’s housing crisis and who later came within centimetres of death.

This is a man who will support Manchester United through any crisis, right up until his death.

“I was born and raised here in Varyl Begg estate. My father was a taxi driver and my mother was a cleaner,” he reminisces.

“We lived five of us in two bedrooms, which means I can immediately empathise with anyone who has a housing problem.

“To be honest, I have always been left-leaning due to my upbringing.”

But that’s not to suggest he didn’t love his time on the Rock as a kid. In fact, Feetham admits he had an ‘incredibly happy childhood’.

He would wake up at five every morning, in the days when Varyl Begg was still surrounded by water, and go spear fishing for sea bass, octopus and anything else he could find.

A natural swimmer, his first job as a 17-year-old was inevitably as a lifeguard.

His first prolonged period of time away from Gibraltar was at the University of Reading, where he studied history and enjoyed some of the best years of his life in the late 1980s.

Then came a masters degree in law at Manchester, squeezed into the spare time between Manchester United home games.

Feetham points to where he was stabbed
Feetham points to where he was stabbed four years ago

And, not missing a chance to have a dig at his rival – a supposed Liverpool fan – he insists Picardo once described them as ‘Liverpool United’.

But Manchester also brought him one of the scariest moments of his life.

“I was asked to fill in for my professor at Manchester mercantile court for a small case which I was told was just a formality.

“But when I got there, who do I see standing on the other side but the legendary barrister George Carmen. I was petrified, but I think I managed to avoid making a complete fool of myself in front of him.”

Over the next few years, Feetham married his Nottingham fiancée and returned to the Rock so his children could enjoy their childhood as much as he did.

They have a house in Sotogrande too, although he has stopped going there since the border problems became bad, even though his parents still make use of it.

The big turning point in his life however, came, without a doubt, in the run up to the last general election four years ago.

Walking through town with two of his children as well as his best friend’s four-year-old, he was set upon by a madman and stabbed in the back and chest, coming within an inch of his life.

He recalls: “I fell down and saw a man jump on top of me, aiming a knife at my chest.
“I grabbed the blade with my hands and just had the strength to push it away as he slashed across my chest.”

The knife went 3cm away from his aorta and certain death. He still lost 75% of his blood but he survived and was back at work some four weeks later.

The attacker, it transpired, was a mentally ill man who has aggrieved at the justice system and out to attack a judge. When he saw the minister for justice – Feetham’s role at the time – he went for him instead.

“If I did not have my strength from lifting weights, he would have killed me,” says Feetham.

And he is now pumping more iron than ever, sweating out the day’s political headaches with 45-minute gym sessions. He currently bench presses 120kg, and 400kg with his legs.

Most of the time this is done to the sound of the Script, the Irish band who headlined 2014’s Gibraltar Music Festival.

“I love the Script, but my problem is that I listen to songs I like so relentlessly until I get sick to death of them.

“And while I enjoyed the festival, I do wonder if it breaks even. And if it doesn’t, that is something we would have to change.”

He then adds that he also loves reggae, especially Bob Marley, meaning I now have to ask the classic ‘have you smoked a bit of sweet Mary Jane in your time’ question?

“I haven’t actually, and I’m not joking,” he retorts. “I was put off smoking for life after I tried a normal cigarette at a party as a kid right after eating a huge burger. Needless to say I threw up everywhere!”

Finally, back to the real issue here – and no that isn’t ‘getting his satellite working’ before the next Man U game – it’s the election.

“We have a very clear, responsible plan for safeguarding Gibraltar’s future and we want people to understand we should not be taking a gamble,” he says with a smile before standing up and shaking hands with half the cafe.

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