Having a coffee with Pippa Bartolotti is nothing short of a lesson in personal inadequacy. As she swept through the door swathed in a vivid emerald-green coat (handmade of course), with her silver hair swept back in an elegant chignon, offset with the dainty peace symbols dangling from her lobes, I was confronted with the epitome of sartorial sophistication. And I haven’t mentioned her CV yet. Fashion designer, CEO & entrepreneur, politician and human rights campaigner, you name it – she’s done it. As the current leader of The Green Party in Wales, Pippa is also a speaker for Amnesty International, and graced me with a couple of hours to tell me about how she got to where she is.
The afternoon began with an energetic hunt around the motorway service station we were based in, in the avid search for a coffee provider that was not Starbucks. “I have never had a Starbucks in my life” Pippa ranted. Feeling rather embarrassed that I’d have to force the leader of the Green Party in Wales to succumb to the commercial pressures of a “bloodsucking unethical TNC”, I was mercifully redeemed by a small and rather cheerful coffee counter, subserviently blinking in the shadow of its colossal neighbour. Ethical snacks supplied, we settled down on chipped plastic chairs and Pippa told me her story.
Growing up in a small Cornish fishing village, Pippa explained how she was destined to be a primary school teacher, or if she was lucky a secretary at Plymouth dockyards.
‘Because I was a girl from a tiny community, and university wasn’t even in the vernacular of my family dialogue, and yet I always knew I didn’t fit in any of those things, but I didn’t think I’d be on public platforms speaking about politics. Someone who has only come into politics at the age of 56 seems to be a late starter!’
Self-deprecation aside, Pippa has done a lot with her life before her mature advent into politics.Upon graduating and moving to London, Pippa enjoyed success at the heady heights of fashion, securing commissions from the likes of Harvey Nichols.
‘Probably the greatest moment of my life was walking down Oxford Street, and to see one of my creations in every window. Even now, when I can be creative I get a buzz, a real adrenaline fix, whereas other people are sometimes powered by something quite fiscal’.
While Pippa was driven by her love of fabrics in the 80’s, the 90’s witnessed entrepreneurial success and a move to Cuba. However, upon returning to the Isles, the millennium ushered in a decade where social justice became Pippa’s champion.
After driving a convoy to Gaza in 2011, Pippa broke into Ben Gurion airport in her determination to visit a refugee camp for homeless Palestinians. Anger at Israeli injustice infused her dialogue; ‘I have seen first-hand the terrible way the Palestinians are treated, to say second class citizens would be putting a gloss on it’. Her passion rewarded her with a week in Israeli prison and, once the mask of flippancy slipped, Pippa admitted, ‘I was probably lucky to get off as lightly as I did’.
When describing her attempt to cross the border, Pippa credited her companions: “Most of them were retired, so imagine our surprise when we find the airport is reviewing security in light of a wave of international protestors, who were an ‘existential threat’ to Israel…there was me, Joyce – 71, spinal arthritis – and some bloke with a cane…motley crew!”
Upon her arrest Pippa was subject to interrogation for a week, before the consulate secured her release. “They go through your bags, crack jokes in Hebrew, and push you around. They take out your underwear and play with it; it’s unnecessary and done to demoralise you. I had a little cry when I knew there was no actual way out, but I pulled myself together, puffed out my chest and marched into prison.”
Pippa is an inspiration of heroism, and I raise my proverbial glass to 60-year old Amazon who, while fighting to make the world a better place, self-admittedly lives in her own ‘green haired Mohican world’.