LONDON – When a balloon depicting President Donald Trump in a diaper took flight over London in July, it was the start of a day of protests in which tens of thousands of people clogged the city’s streets to rally against Trump’s visit to Britain.
When a balloon depicting London Mayor Sadiq Khan lying on his side and clad in a yellow bikini was launched in Parliament Square on Saturday, the response was more muted.
“Bikini Khan,” as organizers called the 29-foot inflatable, was floated in response to the “Trump Baby” balloon.
Yanny Bruere, 28, the brain behind the Khan blimp, told the Washington Post that it was done “in retaliation” for the London mayor approving the Trump balloon, which Bruere didn’t think was a “very fitting” thing to do to the leader of a great ally of Britain. He said he wanted to “test that free-speech angle” and so filed an application to fly the Khan balloon – to “see if Sadiq Khan would be willing to submit himself to the same mockery as he’s willing to impose on the leader of the free world.”
On Saturday, a small crowd of supporters and amused onlookers gathered in Parliament Square to watch the launch of “Bikini Khan.” The choice of the bikini was a reference to Khan’s 2016 removal of advertisements featuring a woman in a bikini from the subway and the transit system for promoting “unhealthy or unrealistic” body images.
At the launch of the Khan blimp, organizers wore T-shirts that read “Make London Safe Again,” a reference to London’s crime rates under Khan’s watch and Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan. Some wore Khan face masks. One woman had an inflatable pig with a Khan mask on.
When the balloon launched, a handful of people shouted, “Higher, higher.”
Meanwhile, Bruere has come under scrutiny over a deleted Twitter account. Bellingcat, a group of online investigators, said it found deleted tweets by him that some have said were anti-Semitic and promoted conspiracy theories.
Bruere told Sky News that the old tweets are being taken out of context. “This Twitter account was deleted over eight months ago. These tweets were taken out of context. They were part of a wider thread,” he said. He later added, “I’m called far-right for doing this. However, when the Trump team did it, they were widely applauded.”
Organizers of both balloon efforts said they were overwhelmed by the response and plan to take the blimps on tour. The organizers of the Bikini Khan balloon raised more than 59,000 pounds, equal to about $77,000, through crowdfunding; the Trump Baby balloon crowdfunding effort raised more than 34,000 pounds, or about $44,000.
Trump suggested that the Trump Baby balloon was one of the reasons he spent little time in London during his visit.
“I guess when they put out blimps to make me feel unwelcome, no reason for me to go to London,” Trump told the Sun newspaper in July.
Khan appeared laid-back, even amused, about the whole thing. “If people want to spend their Saturday looking at me in a yellow bikini, they’re welcome to do so. I don’t really think yellow’s my color, though,” he said.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter