Inside the Head of a G8 Leader
Our intern gets up close and personal with the G8 leaders.
I was in Huntsville for the G8 summit and the closest I got to any of the leaders was on Highway 11. The weather had cleared after a rainy morning and I was in a van with six Oxfam members. We were heading southbound to our hotel in Orillia when someone pointed out a motorcade passing us in the other direction. As we drove by I turned my head to just catch a glimpse of the trailing black sedans. But that line of cars just didn’t compare to seeing the G8 leaders naked in a bathroom later that day.
Okay, I wasn’t in a bathroom with the G8 leaders. I was, however, in a bathroom with six people who volunteered to act as the G8 leaders for Oxfam International’s “Big Head” media stunt. And to be fair, we weren’t actually naked—but we were wearing nude suits.
Oxfam is infamous for lampooning world leaders at the G8/G20 summits; its goal is to draw attention to the shortcomings of the summit agenda. This year their focus was on maternal mortality (hence the pregnant bellies) and food insecurity, in addition to pointing out foreign aid targets had not been met.
So on the damp morning of June 25 we drove to Huntsville to unveil our faux-pregnant, naked bodies to the media and hopefully catch the attention of the G8 delegates. At the very least we caught the attention of the police, OPP, and RCMP officers situated along peaceful Main St., Huntsville. By my count there were about three police officers for every civilian I saw.
Admittedly, the number of security personnel, reporters, and especially photographers present to witness the stunt unnerved me. Once I donned my giant fiberglass head however, I was less self-conscious about being pregnant and naked. For some reason not being able to see through the tiny breathing holes piercing the head of French President Nicolas Sarkozy helped as well. I felt a strange comfort of anonymity whenever I wore the head—it’s unsettling how invincible one feels when they’re hidden behind a mask.
After the stunt, back in modest clothing, we had a few hours of free time before meeting with actor Bill Nighy, best known for his role as aging rocker Billy Mack in Love, Actually. Nighy is also a prominent vocal ambassador for Oxfam. Later that afternoon, we joined at his bed and breakfast for a photo and video shoot featuring our Big Heads.
In the meantime, another Oxfam member—whom I’ll call Chancellor Merkel—and I wanted to get some work done, so we found a seat on the dock with a great view of the Muskoka River. We happened to see the Council of Canadians launch their so-called canoe flotilla led by Maude Barlow. Merkel told me that they were planning to paddle to Deerhurst, where the leaders were meeting. I read later that they wanted to deliver a message about the illegitimacy of the summit but were met and halted by an OPP boat, whose officers promised they would deliver the message on their behalf
This made me think about political activism and the importance of sending a creative, impactful, and clear message. The stunts we performed that weekend ended up appearing in print and television across Canada and around the world. I believe Oxfam’s stunts receive wide media coverage because their message is humourous. Following the tradition of political cartooning, sometimes the best way to influence the prevailing social consciousness is through ridiculing those in power.
The next morning we returned to the dock along the river to set up our second stunt: “The Lost Tourists.” Huddled around a sign that pointed towards “Invest in the Future” in one direction and “One Billion People Hungry” in the other, we were supposed to act indecisive and confused about which way to go. With those heads on, none of us felt sure-footed enough to take a step either way.