The NS Interview: Bella Freud, designer and campaigner

“People would rather blame the victim than the bully”

Why did you start Hoping, your charity for Palestinian refugees? And why Palestine?
I’ve always been interested in justice. I think what is happening to the Palestinians represents the ultimate injustice. I also hate bullies and the effect of them, the way people side with them out of fear. The Israelis are the schoolyard bullies, with England and the United States siding with them.

You see Israel and Palestine in those terms?
Yes. Israel is the bully and what is awful is that people would rather blame the victim than the bully. It is less hassle – but what a stain on your conscience.

Has anyone told you that you’re betraying your Jewish heritage in supporting Palestine?
No one has ever said that to me. I can only imagine that’s the kind of thing someone’s family might misguidedly come out with. None of my family were Zionists. My father’s family are Jewish and I like everything that’s good about being Jewish. But I don’t do this because I’m Jewish, but because the policies and behaviour of the Israeli government against the Palestinians are abhorrent to my values.

Were your family ever practising Jews?
No, they were atheists. My mother’s family were practising Catholics, though she wasn’t.

But did your father [Lucian Freud] identify as being Jewish?
Yes, but he didn’t go in for that being his only identity. He knew, he was acutely aware of, what [had] happened, and to his own family, of course.

Did you have any family who were lost in the Holocaust?
Yes, my father’s great-aunts, Sigmund Freud’s four sisters, were killed in concentration camps. Sigmund Freud managed to get out thanks to his friendship with Princess Marie Bonaparte, who made the funds available and helped him escape. When he was still in Austria the Nazis came and emptied his safe. He had to sign something saying that nobody had treated him badly. Apparently he added, “I suppose you would like me to recommend you to some of my friends.” His black humour.

Do you identify as Jewish?
When I was 22 I was making this coat for Keith Richards. I was living in Rome and he came to visit: he was a friend of my then boyfriend and I was at fashion school. I showed him some drawings and he said, “Maybe you could get that coat together.” I went off to Paris, where he was making a record with the Stones. I would go to the recording studio with him at about 11pm and watch them rehearsing. Then around three or 4am he’ d go, “OK,” and I’d do a fitting. Once we were talking about our backgrounds and I said, “Sometimes I forget I’m Jewish,” and he said, “Don’t worry, darling, nobody else will.” I thought that was very good.

Was it ever awkward sitting for your father nude?
I was 16 when I first started sitting for him. I sat for two paintings wearing the same dress. I knew that he liked to paint nudes and I thought, “OK, I’ll try it.” I found that once the clothes were gone the self-consciousness was gone, too. The thing about him was that he didn’t change once I was naked – he was exactly the same. He would never have wanted me to do what I didn’t want to do, though.

Who was your biggest fashion influence?
My earliest influences were Coco Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent. But Vivienne Westwood was my teacher. I remember her talking about
a design and thinking: “I just can’t see how that could work.” And then, when the sample was made, being ashamed that I could have doubted her, when the results were so ingenious.

Who is your biggest inspiration, generally speaking?
Karma Nabulsi, the co-founder of Hoping. She is the person who inspired me to do something about Palestine. She has an extraordinary know­ledge of what is going on in the Middle East. She is so clearly well informed and objective – a brilliant exponent of the solution rather than the conflict. And she loves clothes!

Is there anything you’d like to forget?
I’d rather like to remember a few more things.

Do you vote?
I always have, but now it’s hard to summon any enthusiasm. I used to vote for the Liberal Democrats, partly because of their position on Palestine, but since Nick Clegg joined the coalition he uses that ambivalent language about Israel that always ends with “Well, they have to protect themselves” after they have committed some new outrageous act of aggression against the Palestinians. He used to speak out in an admirable way against Israel’s expansion of the settlements and the siege of Gaza. I’m sure he still believes that, but the point is he doesn’t say it any more. How can I vote for him now?

Are we all doomed?
No way.

Defining moments

1961 Born in London
1977 Leaves school at 16 to work as shop assistant for Vivienne Westwood, London. Later studies fashion at Accademia di Costume e di Moda and tailoring at Istituto Mariotti, both in Rome
1980 Personal assistant to Westwood
1990 Launches own womenswear label
2000 Employed by Jaeger to revamp brand
2003 Launches Hoping Foundation
2006 Appointed head designer at Biba

Jemima Khan is associate editor of the New Statesman

This article first appeared in the 28 May 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Who speaks for British Jews?

Photo: Getty Images/AFP
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Why is the government charging more women for selling sex but turning a blind eye to buyers?

Since 2013, the number of women charged for selling sex gone up while the number of men charged for buying it has gone down.

It’s no surprise that prostitution policy is an area rarely visited by our legislators. It’s politically charged - a place where the need to prevent exploitation seemingly clashes head on with notions of liberal freedom; where there are few simple answers, a disputed evidence base, and no votes.

There’s also little evidence to suggest that MPs are different from the rest of the population - where one-in-ten men have purchased sex. It is little wonder therefore that our report on how the law should change, published in 2014, was the first major cross-party intervention on the subject in twenty years.

Some take the view that by removing all legal constraints, it will make the inherently exploitative trade of prostitution, safer. It’s not just me that questions this approach, though I accept that - equally - there’s no consensus that my preferred measure of criminalising the purchase of sex, while decriminalising the sale, would fundamentally change the scale of the problem.

Where all sides come together, however, is in the desire to see women diverted from the law courts. It is still possible for women (and it still is women; prostitution remains highly genderised) to go to prison for offences related to prostitution. Today, in 2015.

The total number of prosecutions for all prostitution offences in England and Wales has been decreasing since 2010, but not in a uniform fashion. This does not reflect a reduction in the size of the trade, or the violent nature of it.

There were once consistently more prosecutions for kerb crawling, profiting, and control of prostitution. But since 2013, there have been more prosecutions for soliciting or loitering than for profit from prostitution and kerb crawling each year.

In simple terms, offences committed by men with choice, freedom and money in their pocket are having a blind eye turned to them, while women are being targeted - and this trend is accelerating. In the law courts, and in prosecutions, it is the most vulnerable party in the transaction, who is taking the burden of criminality.

Take on-street sex buying as an example. In 2013-14 just 237 prosecutions were brought for kerb crawling, but there were 553 - more than twice as many - for loitering and soliciting.

There is a similar pattern in the 2014/15 figures: 227 charges for kerb crawling reached court, while 456 prosecutions were initiated against those who were selling sex. Just 83 prosecutions for control of prostitution, or ‘pimping’, were brought in that same year.

These are men and women on the same street. It takes a high level of liberal delusion to be convinced that prostitution is caused by a surge of women wishing to sell sex, rather than men who wish to buy it. And yet women who sell sex are the ones being targeted in our law courts, not the men that create the demand in the first place.

This situation even goes against the Crown Prosecution Service’s (CPS) own guidance. They say:

“Prostitution is addressed as sexual exploitation within the overall CPS Violence Against Women strategy because of its gendered nature… At the same time, those who abuse and exploit those involved in prostitution should be rigorously investigated and prosecuted, and enforcement activity focused on those who create the demand for on-street sex, such as kerb crawlers.”

Why then, is this happening? For the same reason it always does - in our criminal justice system stigmatised, poor women are valued less than moneyed, professional men.

My debate in Parliament today raises these issues directly with the government ministers responsible. But to be honest, the prosecution-bias against women in the courts isn’t the problem; merely a symptom of it. This bias will only be tackled when the law reflects the inherent harm of the trade to women, rather than sending the mixed signals of today.

That’s why I welcome the work of the End Demand Alliance, composed of over 40 organisations working to end the demand that fuels sex trafficking and prostitution, advocating the adoption of the Sex Buyer Law throughout the UK.

This would criminalise paying for sex, while decriminalising its sale and providing support and exiting services for those exploited by prostitution. Regardless of these big changes in the law, I don’t see how anyone can support the current state of affairs where there are more prosecutions brought against women than men involved in prostitution.

The authorities are targeting women because they're easier to arrest and prosecute. It goes against their own guidance, common sense and natural justice.
And it needs to stop.

Gavin Shuker is MP for Luton South and chair of the All Party Group on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade.