Fringe-Bound Comedian Is Nearly Turned Back At Airport

Fringe-Bound Comedian Is Nearly Turned Back At Airport

Comedian Jane Watt has revealed that she nearly didn't make it to the Edinburgh Fringe, almost being turned back by immigration officials at Heathrow Airport for not having the correct paperwork.

Watt, who appears with fellow Aussie Ange Lavoipierre (pictured being held by Watt) in Jazz Or A Bucket Of Blood at the Underbelly takes up the story. 

"For the past week I’ve been in transit from Australia to the UK to perform at Edinburgh Fringe while also helping my sister and her husband ship their two babies across the globe. Gordon, my sister’s husband, is from Edinburgh. They had been planning a trip to visit the grandparents in the UK so jumped at the opportunity of their trip coinciding with another set of adult helping hands to make the journey less of a complete shit show. 

We finally arrived at Heathrow, jet lagged but relieved and wreaking heavily of baby sick.

When the kind young border official asked, “what was the intention of our visit”, my sister and Gordon naturally said holiday and I naturally said “I was there to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe”. 

I showed him my “Letter of welcome”, a standard document provided by the Fringe to every international artist entering the country, outlining their permission to enter the country as a paid artist supported by the festival. 

The official showed the letter to one of his superiors. I couldn’t hear what was being said but there was a certain amount of headshaking and visible “nope”s. So naturally my heart started to drop down into my spleen. After sour glances thrown my way the older gent turned to me and essentially said my letter wasn’t a valid document for entry and employment in the UK. I tried to explain that that’s what I had been provided by the Fringe festival.

To which he snapped something along the lines of it not being the festival’s terms to make. He insisted I should have applied for a work visa through the consulate. I tried once again to explain that the last time I had entered for Fringe I had only required this same document to which he quipped “well that was then and this is now!”. At that moment I understood that there was nothing to gain fighting with this person if I was going to be able to negotiate my way out of this. 

At this stage, after 17 hours of transit and little sleep, I started to cry and began messaging my fellow performers. It was 6am and not many people were awake but I needed to know if I had indeed messed up. Had a fucking missed something? As I sat there, the shaken looking customs official from earlier came over to me with a can of water uttering in a half-choked voice, “you’ll get through. You’ll get through”. yes, I cried a little again. 

Then the nice young official came back over and started asking about when I was leaving and how long I was performing. I told him I was performing for a month and was hoping to leave the UK on the 2nd. He shuffled off again. Then he shuffled back and indicated I follow him to a desk. He said something like, “bad news, my superiors have advised that the document you have provided isn’t sufficient to guarantee your entry”.

I asked if they had read the bit about the festival being permit free and that it had a link that outlined the terms blah blah and he said yes, my superior has read it and it’s not sufficient. 

At this stage I was given the very generous offer of exactly one month in the UK where I would have to leave on the 27th, exactly one month after I arrived. I told him that I had my final show of the festival on the 27th which he considered and once again took to his superiors. He returned saying all we can permit you is the month. You’ll have to fly out of the country after your final show. 

This seemed like the best possible outcome given the circumstances. I laughed, he smiled and I thanked him for his help. 

All in all it sucked. And I’m not playing the victim here. I’m so fully aware that I’m a a middle class, cis-gendered, white woman from Australia where English is my first language and I’m travelling over for a bloody arts festival! I wasn’t showing up with my worldly possession in a garbage bag. But the blatant refusal to try and understand, or back down or even do the slightest due diligence to at least google the bloody thing was a nasty indictment on those border officials that morning. A simple decision from someone who was having a bad morning could’ve seen me packing back home.

A “safe border” shouldn’t feel like that. It made me very sad to think of all the endless number of people in far worse positions than I, copping the same but probably far worse treatment. It also made me grateful for the nice people who tried to help because they were in equal numbers but just didn’t hold the pen. 

Anyway, Fringe have been prompt in chasing up the incident to ensure this doesn’t happen to any other international acts. Here’s to a lovely festival and the good people who show up when they can."

Read an interview with Jane Watt here.

Jazz Or A Bucket Of Blood at the Underbelly, August 2 - 27. Tickets here.


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