It’s not every day you need a passport to enter an apartment in west London.
But then it’s not every day you meet a dangerous international fugitive from justice ... or a fearless freedom fighter battling the global security state (depending on your perspective.)
Last summer, I was part of a news team granted an audience with Julian Assange at the Ecuadoran embassy in London. As well as the usual press cards and cameras, we were told to pack a passport: our interviewee was in London, but technically not in Britain.
From the outside, Julian’s new home looks pretty comfortable. The embassy is an ordinary house in Kensington, one of the more comfortable districts in town. It is in a neighborhood normally associated with Saudi princes and their overpriced sports cars, exiled Russian oligarchs and their mistresses and the odd elderly English aristocrat.
Just a street away is Harrods, an excellent place to visit if you have oil money in the bank and the desire to purchase a new chandelier before lunch.
Inside however, things are a little different. As you cross the threshold into Ecuadoran territory, there is no hiding the fact that this is also a strange kind of jail cell. Julian is not here by choice, and there is something humiliating and unavoidably infantilizing about that fact.
Remember back in school, how it feels going round to a schoolfriends’ house, and asking a reluctant parent if your friend is free to come out and play?
Strip away the passports and the armed police, and that is what a visit to Julian Assange is like.
When an Ecuadoran diplomat took our coats and paged our interviewee, (‘‘Julian! Some visitors for you…"), I half expected the founder of Wikileaks to appear at the top of the stairs with a baseball mitt on one hand. And I could imagine hearing, "You can use the front room, just don’t be too loud and just make sure you tidy up after, okay?"
However strange the circumstances, one thing from that interview stood out — Julian went into great detail explaining his belief that the security services were listening to everything and everyone, and that when this was understood, there would be a huge public backlash.
At the time, I thought this sounded a little far-fetched, a little convenient. A few months later, Edward Snowden gave his first interviews in a hotel room in Hong Kong.