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'There is nothing in celebrity that I want'
Cult writer and Northampton’s most famous resident Alan Moore talks about his enduring passion for his home-town, why he’s never left and why he casts aside fame
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By Sarah Ward
“We are this nation’s best kept secret. Both of the internal wars ended here, the Crusades started here, the industrial revolution happened here and free market capitalism began here at the corner of Gas Street and Tanner Street and we barely get a mention on the local and regional weather maps.”
Alan Moore, hailed as one of the best comic book writers to ever put pen to paper and the creator of iconic works such as Watchmen and Batman: The Killing Joke, is talking about his hometown, the place where he still lives and creates.
No fancy Californian pad, meals at Nobu or celebrity trappings for Moore, instead he lives a modest and relatively quiet life in the place where he can chart back his family for generations.
He has just set his first ever film The Show, released earlier this month, in Northampton, partly in a bid to bring the town to the attention of a wider audience. Because Moore thinks the place he loves has been overlooked for centuries and he has a historical theory as to why:
“I think that it is something to do with what Robert Graves said once, ‘things that have once been sacred to a culture become despised’.
“I think that Northampton was declared first amongst the shires by Alfred the Great - that would have been after we had been apparently singled out by God who sent a pilgrim directly by angels from Jerusalem to the centre of your land, which turned out to be in Northampton where this pilgrim was bringing an old stone cross. It was placed in the wall of St Gregory’s church and it was a point of pilgrimage.
He continues: “I think that probably Northampton was the centre of Saxon England - it was where King Offa (ruler of Mercia from 757 to 796) had built his thorpe, out at Kingsthorpe.
“So we emerged from the dark ages as already quite a prosperous little town and I think it is the Norman invasion (that led to Northampton being overlooked in history) and I don’t think we have ever been forgiven for Hereward the Wake.
“You have to remember we never recovered from the Norman invasion. Our current aristocracy - that’s the Norman’s.
“Hereward the Wake was basically an anti-Norman terrorist. He had his base at Isle of Ely in Peterborough (which was then part of Northamptonshire) and he was leading raids against the Normans. He led this mythical campaign against the Normans - with his band of not so merry men he would ride into Norman encampments, set them on fire and with cries of Awake, Awake he would then ride off into the night.
“I think Hereward has been written out of English folklore and if Hereward had been our last great troublemaker they might have forgiven us by now, but Hereward was only the start of a fine tradition, such as the gunpowder plot, these things have been written out of Northampton history and Northampton has been pretty much written out of British history even though the civil war, the War of the Roses, they both ended here and the third crusade with Richard the Lionheart started here. Most of English history passed through here or happened here.”
The reason why the adored Moore, he regularly has fans from across the world make a pilgrimage to his front door, has chosen to stay in his hometown when he could have been living the high life in more salubrious surroundings, has puzzled many, but he tells us part of the reason why he has remained, when many in his circumstances would have upped sticks.
“I have got a theory,” he says “that if you travel the world and go to lots of different countries you will get to know the world broadly. However, I think you will probably have a tourist experience of all of it and it will probably be a fairly shallow experience.
“By staying in one place you get to know the world deeply, you get to know how all of the stories turned out; you get to know how people grew up and what happened to them and their children; you get to see the texture of a human town as it works its way out over decades, you get to soak up its atmosphere and I would say if you get to know one human place deeply enough you will probably have a head start on understanding all of them because, humans are not that different.”
At the age of 67 he says he considers that he knows Northampton as well as anybody, and as someone who is known for his unconventional beliefs, his personal thought is that he is the human form of the town.
“You have to understand,” he says “that I have a probably psychotic belief that I am the town of Northampton. This has been ever since I noticed that Richard the Lionheart granted the town its charter on November 18, my birthday. So I am the town of Northampton, its living embodiment.”
He wants Northampton to have a wider prominence:
“I am not happy with Northampton as it is. I love Northampton and I refuse to accept the lot that has apparently been handed out to it. This town is remarkable, it is right at the centre of the country, it is like a blackhole. It is very difficult to get out of Northampton. I know many people who have come here for the weekend and never gone away again. There is a pull to it and the amount of talent that we have.
“But there is never going to be a Nenebeat explosion. We are never going to be like London, or Liverpool to Manchester because it is almost impossible to get any kind of attention, It seemingly doesn't matter what we do. We are hidden from the public gaze.
“We are the biggest town in Europe but most people are seemingly unaware that we are here.”
For the past decade there has been much debate and angst about the decline of the town’s centre - as it has followed the national trend and spiralled into decline as big name retailers departed. The market area is a focus for regeneration, but asked if he could rebuild or reshape Northampton in any way he chose, Moore turns his attention not to the neglected architecture but his childhood neighbourhood Spring Boroughs.
“I would change nothing about what has been done to the town, because that is part of the town’s history. What I would change is the way that the town treats its people. Particularly the way it treats its poorer people. That is a disgrace. The boroughs has gone, we won't bring them back, but if we could just do something to put right the way places like the boroughs and the people who live in them are treated, then that would perhaps satisfy me.”
Moore takes an interest in local politics and became a vocal opponent of the local authority’s decision to downgrade the county’s library provision.
“Perhaps in Northampton we can sort out where we live, so it is not so grossly unfair. So that it doesn't have all of these homeless people.
“When we had got this huge number of homeless the council were just working out different ways to add them up so it didn’t look like we’d got so many. This is the stuff we need to fix. I will probably continue until my final breath to be making complaint about these things but I think at the end of the day complaining is not going to do it. I think we seriously need a radical new system.
“I am personally an anarchist. I’m not sure about leaders - I’m not sure we need them.
We need to start thinking differently. I think all we need is a decent functioning administration and we could sort out all political issues by direct democracy. “I believe in democracy but I don’t think that’s what we’ve got.”
Northampton’s most lauded resident, is not interested in any of the hero worship that comes his way.
“I really don’t like being famous,” he says. “I’m glad I can bring some attention to Northampton and I can do the work that I do, I just wish that celebrity wasn't a part of that, because there is nothing in celebrity that I want and there’s quite a lot of things in celebrity that I really don't want.
“If there is a power gradient in any communication then it's not going to be a real communication. If people put you on a pedestal and look up to you, then you can't communicate with them. They can only worship and I’m not interested in being worshipped. You’d have to be ill wouldn't you.”
If Like Alan Moore you’re fascinated by the history of Northampton, read this wonderful piece we published earlier this month from historian Mike Ingram.
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