Stories from the Rainbow Warrior: Jailhouse Rockstar

by Brian Fitzgerald

November 14, 2011

He infiltrated the Greenpeace ship Esperanza masquerading as an assistant cook. Nobody knew, nor were they supposed to know, his true identity. 

Spy? Provocateur? Nope. In this case, it was a rock star. 

When Paul Simonon, former bassist for The Clash, told Frank Heweston, action coordinator for Greenpeace UK, that he wanted to join a Greenpeace ship’s crew and make a stand against Arctic oil drilling, Frank told him that if he wanted the real experience, he couldn’t join the ship as a rock star passenger. 

He’d need to become a member of the crew, and earn his acceptance. He’d need to take a lowly job — assistant cook would do nicely, and not tell anyone who he was. He’d need to scrub toilets and swab decks. 

The strategy was so effective that some of his fellow activists, who spent two weeks in prison with him, are only just now learning who “Paul, the assistant cook” was.

“He was a quiet, humble and funny guy who just fit in. He worked really hard, cooking even on Sundays, which is usually the cook’s day off.” said Martti, who was then third mate aboard the Arctic Sunrise and shared a cell with Paul. 

At one point an impromptu jam session broke out in the ship’s lounge, and Paul was asked if he played. He grabbed a guitar and Martin Bowley, one of the crew who played with him, remembers with deep chagrin telling the professional bass player he was “not bad” and ought to pursue music.  

When asked by the cook what music he preferred, Paul had to pretend not to care for anything he’d recorded, keeping the Clash, Havana 3am and Gorillaz off the galley playlists to avoid the distraction of his professional ear tuning in to his performances while peeling potatoes. 


Left to right: Wouter Jetten, Iris Cheng, Paul Simonon, Martin Bowley prepare to board Cairn oil rig in the Arctic. Photo: Greenpeace/Morgan

Paul joined the action in the Arctic to demand Cairn oil produce their oil spill response plan, which they had refused to make public. On June 3, he braved firehoses and a gruelling climb to board the Leiv Eriksson oil rig with 17 other activists. In the frigid arctic waters, an oil spill even a fraction of the size of the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico would be devastating, and far harder to contain. 

Cairn refused to make their disaster plan public. 

The activists refused to budge until it was provided.   

It was then that the Greenland police arrested Paul and the other activists and tossed them into jail.

“The food was so bad, we finally got the guards to agree to let Paul cook,” said Marrti. He’d get an armed escort out to the supermarket to get supplies, and at one point one of the guards noticed an uncanny resemblance to the bassist whose face wasn’t visible in one of the most iconic images of the punk era.  The guard gamely agreed to keep the secret, and Paul managed to parlay his stardom into a special favour: a trip to an art store to get charcoal.

Paul’s second career since The Clash was as a visual artist, and he was desperate to draw. In the long hours in jail, he covered one wall in the work you see below.


Paul Simonon artwork, photo by Dave Roberts

If anyone was still in the dark about Paul being a musician, the cat was out of the bag on Thursday when he joined Damon Albarn, Simon Tong and Tony Allen as The Good the Bad & the Queen in a performance aboard the Rainbow Warrior near Tower Bridge, followed by a benefit gig at the Coronet. 

The first Rainbow Warrior sailed past Tower Bridge on her maiden voyage decades ago, and it seemed fitting that the new Rainbow Warrior’s first gig was here on the Thames, in what Damon Albarn called “her spiritual home.”  He appealed to “anyone who wants to make a difference to join Greenpeace.”  


Paul Simonon and Martti Leinonen


This is Part 1 of a two part series about Paul’s experience. Subscribe on Facebook or YouTube to be alerted when we publish more about his time on board as “Mister Nobody,” and his adventures with “Big Mouth Frank.”

Keep up to date on the Maiden voyage by “Liking” the New Hands on Deck Facebook page.Catch our web video series “Stories from the Rainbow Warrior” and see the maiden voyage through the eyes of our newest activists, the New Hands on Deck follow their updates on Facebook and Twitter and Flickr.

We Need Your Voice. Join Us!

Want to learn more about tax-deductible giving, donating stock and estate planning?

Visit Greenpeace Fund, a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) charitable entity created to increase public awareness and understanding of environmental issues through research, the media and educational programs.