LONDON — After months of scheming, plotting and crowdfunding, Leo Murray cranked his head skyward and watched what might be the world’s most famous helium-filled balloon climb into the sky.
Never has an inflatable gotten such international media attention. And truth is, the blimpette isn’t all that large. We’ve seen bigger bouncy castles.
But the 20-foot-tall blimp depicting an orange, angry, diaper-wearing President Trump as a baby has become the symbol of the large-scale protests that have met the U.S. president during his visit to Britain.
“It’s hilarious, and that’s good — it’s good to put a smile on people’s faces in these troubling times,” said Murray, the brains behind the blimp protest.
Not everyone was smiling, however.
In an interview with the Sun newspaper, conducted earlier in the week, Trump acknowledged the balloon, saying that protests such as this one in the British capital made him feel unwelcome.
“I guess when they put out blimps to make me feel unwelcome, no reason for me to go to London,” he told the paper. “I used to love London as a city. I haven’t been there in a long time. But when they make you feel unwelcome, why would I stay there?”
Some of Trump’s supporters have gone further, calling it insulting and demeaning.
“This is the biggest insult to a sitting US President ever,” tweeted Nigel Farage, the former leader of the U.K. Independence Party and a friend of Trump’s.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan, a Twitter foe of Trump, defended his decision to allow the balloon to fly near Parliament. He told the BBC on Friday that as long as protests were safe and peaceful, it wasn’t his job to decide what’s in good or bad taste.
For Murray, Trump’s comments were seen as a victory.
“It’s worked spectacularly well. We’ve basically run him out of London. He’s got the message: He’s not welcome here,” he said. “If people are mocking you for being a big angry baby, possibly the best retort is not to throw your toys out of the pram,” he added.
The idea for a Trump baby blimp came to Murray last December. He said it just struck him “like a thunderbolt. I thought, wait, what if we have a giant balloon made and made him a baby?”
“We had this idea, got some sketches, thought this is funny and called our friend Matt, a graphic designer. And we found it funnier every step of the way. Every time we looked at the picture we were laughing, so we could sense we were onto something,” he said.
The image features an angry, orange likeness of a Trump-looking baby wearing a diaper. The figure is also clutching a cellphone that has the Twitter app open.
“We thought it would be funny, and seems like everyone agrees. Literally we wanted to put a smile on everyone’s faces,” he said. But he said they also chose this form of protest because “this would be an effective form of protest against Donald Trump because he’s famously vulnerable to personal insults.”
They had hoped to launch the blimp in February, when many thought Trump would visit Britain to open the new U.S. Embassy. But Trump canceled the visit, saying that the embassy was the result of a “bad deal” and was in an “off location.”
“We had the thing made, and then it sat in a warehouse in Midlands for several months,” Murray said.
In April, when Trump’s first official visit to Britain was announced, Murray started planning. After crowdfunding and an online petition, he and his mates finally got approval for the blimp to fly.
Murray runs a climate change charity, and his crew are slick campaigners. On Friday, Murray and others were wearing red overalls with “Trump Babysitter” written on the back.
Murray was also one of the people behind the “Bridges Not Walls” campaign at the beginning of 2017, when campaigners unfurled banners over hundreds of bridges to protest Trump’s inauguration.
Despite his previous campaigns, he said he has never seen this level of attention.
Indeed, the group crowdfunded more than 30,000 pounds ($39,600), much more than they needed to buy the inflatable and get it in the air. Murray said the excess money will go toward the shipping and helium costs of sending “Trump Baby” on a “world tour,” following the president on diplomatic trips around the world.
“We have had thousands of letters of support, a great many are saying, ‘Can Trump baby come here?’ It’s an open secret that Trump Baby is going to Australia in November because Trump is going there,” he said.
But the next stop is Scotland. Murray, his mates and the blimp are taking a sleeper train to Scotland on Friday night so the blimp can be flying there Saturday during Trump’s visit.
“We’ve had hundreds and hundreds of messages saying, ‘Please come.’ I think there’s a sense that Trump Baby is able to ward off evil, so they’ve asked us to bring him up there to see if we can run [Trump] out of Scotland as well.”
“That’s just going to be the first leg on an upcoming world tour,” he added.