Irish Protestants go to polls with rock star candidate

The times are changing in Belfast, Northern Ireland
The times are changing in Belfast, Northern Ireland Associated Press

DUBLIN, IRELAND — Politics and popular culture often make for uncomfortable partners, but the Ulster Unionists — whose politics and penchant for the color orange are not exactly popular in much of Ireland on St. Patrick's Day — are reaching out for a little rock-and-roll glitter to improve their chances at the polls in Northern Ireland.

It's hard to imagine a political movement in the Western world more conservative and staid than Ulster unionism. Mention unionists, the pro-British forces in Northern Ireland, and it conjures images of bowler-hatted Orangemen and stern Protestant preachers.

After all, hard-line members of the Free Presbyterian Church led by Ian Paisley disapproved so much of homosexuality that they created a campaign group called "Save Ulster from Sodomy."

It makes it all the more strange then, that in its bid to regain the majority of unionist vote from bitter rivals, the Ulster Unionist Party is running a rock singer as a candidate in the forthcoming United Kingdom general election.

Not just any rock singer. The UUP candidate is Harry Hamilton, better-known by his stage name Flash Harry.

"A lawyer may not represent the experience of a small business owner," he said. "Politics has become a toxic subject among ordinary people . . . . Having people who speak in a more accessible language than that of lawyers and barristers is beneficial."

Taking "Flash" from the camp science-fiction film Flash Gordon, best known for its soundtrack performed by legendary British rock group Queen, Flash Harry is a Freddie Mercury impersonator.

Mercury, who died in 1991, was one of the first openly gay musicians in the hard-rock scene, and arguably the highest-profile openly gay pop star in the world.

It wasn't just his sexuality that set Mercury apart, though.

Born in Zanzibar, his real name was Farrokh Bulsarah, and he is now often referred to as a pioneering British-Asian rock star. On his death, Mercury had a traditional Zoroastrian funeral.

All of this adds up to a very strange man for unionists. It could be a sign that times are indeed changing in Northern Ireland.

Whether it's well-meaning campaigns like Rock the Vote, Ted Nugent at the tea parties, or the sight of musicians of near-retirement age attempting to educate youths about global issues (step forward, Sting and Bono), rock-and-roll and politics just never quite seem to gel.

Perhaps it's rock's anti-authoritarian aesthetic of eternal teenage rebellion. Or maybe it's just that the last thing we want from lawmakers is "excitement" in the form of sex, drugs and rock-and-roll.

Having a man whose job is impersonating a foreign-born, Zoroastrian, and gay rock singer within the wider unionist family cannot be entirely without significance.

Flash Harry Hamilton has been a member of the Ulster Unionists for more than a decade, though, and as such, his unionist bona fides are well established. What remains to be seen is if the star power of the leader of a tribute group is enough to entice voters to tick the box for Flash.