Concert star describes 7-hour ‘Orwellian’ ordeal in UK Immigration

Concert star describes 7-hour ‘Orwellian’ ordeal in UK Immigration


norman lebrecht

March 19, 2014

Cameron Carpenter returned to Britain this morning in time for tonight’s organ recital in Birmingham. In his first attempt to enter, he was subjected to all-night, sleep-deprivation treatment by the private sub-contractors who dictate the right to enter this country. He was then forcibly deported. Here is Cameron’s account of his experience.

If you are British, send it to your MP, with a copy to namesake David Cameron:


cameron carpenter

After flying Berlin-Munich-Birmingham, I was detained by HM Immigration at Birmingham Airport where I would remain for about the next 7 hours (with periods of questioning and FINGERPRINTING thrown in) in the detention of HM Border Force – or rather Tascor, the creepy, vague, Orwellian detention subcontractor they use to keep people awake in brightly lit rooms filled with tearstained children’s toys and assorted religious texts. I arrived around 10:30PM. At 7:05am I was escorted onto the first flight to Berlin by armed police. I then flew Birmingham-Munich-Tegel, consulting all the way with some of the best management the world has to offer. (What would become of artists not so fortunate as I am to have such representation, I fearfully wonder).

HM Immigration in Birmingham were totally unaware of the laws governing Permitted Paid Engagement – the three words artists entering the UK really need to know (in addition to Only Go Heathrow). Knowing my rights (thanks to Konzertdirektion Schmid and Atholl Swainston-Harrison at the International Artist Managers’ AssociationĀ ) I landed in Berlin, took a shower and flew to Heathrow.

I was detained AGAIN, but much more briefly – where finally the supervisor realized that I had the right to enter. Which I did, and I’m here in Birmingham, about 26 hours later. I’ve missed 66% of my practice time, which isn’t fair to the audience, but I will appear and NOT CANCEL OR POSTPONE TOMORROW. I got your majesty’s service right here, pal.

cameron carpenter immigration


  • Ziggy says:

    This is disgraceful. It seems we let in just about any East European, irrespective of their track record – but a talented artiste? Carpenter is an extremely talented musician – I was lucky enough to catch his astounding Prom last year – shame on the wooden-tops employed by Tascor.

    Interestingly – and revealingly – if you search on their website for ‘what it takes to work for Tascor’, there’s nothing there. Allegedly the staff in this division are “highly skilled, qualified, and accredited” (according to the website). I don’t think so

    • Oscar says:

      Well, Ziggy, just don’t tar every “East European” with the same brush: East Europe was and still is the cradle of world’s intelligence and just because “you” were lucky enough geographically to have an access to the sea, which enabled invasions to nearly every possible land in the ocean, where people were weak enough/less armed and couldn’t defend themselves and were consequently robbed of everything, sometimes enslaved (this process is known under the noble name of “collonialism”) doesn’t entitle you to judge such matters.

      The people you are talking about are probably factory workers or others, who do jobs considered as “unsuitable” by the British. Without them, your economy would probably partially collapse. Most of the people in the “West” don’t very often even know where “East” is on the map. But I mean no harm šŸ™‚ Best regards.

  • Tim Benjamin says:

    Cue the xenophobes! If you come from (most countries in) eastern Europe you can work in the UK without any problem because of the EU. This (freedom of movement of labour) is a good thing. Sadly freedom of movement of labour doesn’t extend to visitors from the USA and you have to fill your forms in correctly.

    I find it surprising, to say the least, that if his documents were in order (as claimed) that he would have been detained twice, but our border force’s competence has certainly been questioned in the past. On the other hand, plenty of artists from all over the world manage to get in without a hitch.

    He had my sympathy until the photo sticking 2 fingers up at Her Majesty services (or are they pointed at his album, handily being plugged there?) I don’t suppose a British organist (or even an unfortunate American ney flute player) would receive much sympathy doing the same at the holy stars and stripes would they?

    I think he should point his fingers somewhere else, perhaps at his “best management the world has to offer”.

    Anyway, speaking of *British* organists, wasn’t last night’s gala concert for the re-opening of the Southbank Centre organ magnificent? Available now on iplayer!

  • PWT says:

    This story is not so unusual. Once, at Heathrow, I was asked the purpose of my visit — a holiday — and my profession. When I answered musician, I was told that the answer to the next question was very important. That question was “do you consider yourself an entertainer?” I answered that I was a classical musician so that “entertainer’ was not a correct description. The immigration officer then said, “good, you can go ahead, but if you had answered “entertainer” then I would have had to hold you for further questioning.”

    • Halldor says:

      Simon Armitage records how, when he quit his job as a Probation Officer and became a full-time poet, his insurance premiums went up due to the increased personal risk in his new profession…

  • Gary says:

    Isn’t this more Kafkaesque than Orwellian?

  • Janet says:

    I work in artist management and just don’t take the risk of the Permitted Paid Engagement route – I cannot imagine the majority of UK border people knowing about this. The list of documents required was more complicated that obtaining a Certificate of Sponsorship – which costs just GBP14 (though has to be done via the artists agency if registered or via IAMA) – and the artists get through the UK border smoothly in my experience. I cannot risk them being detained and treated like a criminal. This is disgusting and I’m so sorry Mr Carpenter had to go through this. And what a trooper for returning – we are all better of for his wonderful performances.

  • Jonathan says:

    Friends of mine have used the PPE route since its first introduction and it worked fine. In fact one of them was one of the first to arrive at Heathrow with this visa and caused something of a sensation as most of the shift gathered to view this method of entry hitherto unknown to them – but this only created a slight delay. There was no issue because the officials were able to identify an official UK visa in a valid passport and therefore no need to know the procedures for obtaining it.

    So before the world holds up its hands to condemn those who follow the rules, I have to say that as I see it this story does not wholly add up. Whilst its easy to believe that this person may have qualified for this kind of visa, the text conveniently overlooks the need to specify that he actually arrived with it in his passport. The PPE factor alters the price of the visa at point of supply and obviates the need for sponsorship but a UK visa is still required and getting a visa means an application (and fingerprinting, hence obviating the need to do this at the airport on arrival) before travel – the details are at

    Assuming that he had a valid passport with the right visa, it is a trifle hard to believe that immigration authorities anywhere in the UK would be unprepared to accept an official UK visa provided in accordance with rules published on a government web page. If they did there would be no need for outrage because I should imagine a lawsuit for compensation would be a walkover. In this case it is a great deal easier to believe that this story is an attempt to generate positive PR from a situation where actually the artist arrived without the correct entry documentation. Great that the intervention from IAMA (who also once got me out of a pickle concerning an invited artist who had failed to do the right things in time) solved it but looks to me like in fact the “brilliant” management should have advised the procedures prior to the trip – or, if they did, he should have followed them. Perhaps he did but in that case why is it never mentioned.

    So before anyone writes to their MP I would suggest it be wise to establish whether or not he arrived at Birmingham with the correct visa in his passport. Perhaps my trust in those guarding our borders it too great, but I find it extremely hard to believe that he could have been deported if he had.

    • Shaun McNelly says:

      Jonathan, I do not think he needed a visa in his passport as he is citizen of a non-visa country:

      • Jonathan says:

        Shaun, point taken. This muddies the waters somewhat and the data is not clear. The link you put states “if you cannot show that you meet the requirements for a visitor undertaking a permitted paid engagement, the officers at the UK border may refuse to let you enter the UK..” It puts a link to state the documents required for doing this but that link goes to a clearly wrong place so clearly there is something of a mess. But presumably the proofs required would be the same as when applying for a visa.

        Given that at the bottom of the page it states very definitely “You may not be allowed to enter the UK if you do not have a visa.” then it would certainly seem that those inviting artists and wanting to use the PPE scheme should just apply for a visa, whether strictly necessary or not, since otherwise its at the discretion of the border officials on arrival and there is always going to be a risk of them being dissatisfied with documentation.

        • Shaun McNelly says:

          Well, that’s true, however I am not sure whether I would apply for a visa if a .gov-website tells me I do not have to. So what one could have done and what formally is sufficient are two seperate things – but as long as “can” or “may” can be found in visa application instructions it is somewhat almost impossible to say.

          • Shuann Chai says:

            I can tell you that many people employed by the UK border patrol do NOT know ANYTHING about PPE… I am also a citizen of a non-visa country and had all the required documentation with me, but was detained at Bristol airport after the officer looking over my papers looked over at her colleagues and asked, ‘Do any of you know what on earth a PPE is?’ After waiting about an hour I was told that I would be sent back to the Netherlands (from where I had flown) despite having the documentation expressly requested by the Home Office website, because the inviting party “didn’t count”– “this is for an organisation such as the BBC, or the Olympics”, I was told (yes thanks, the next time I perform a piano recital for the Olympics I’ll be sure to come in on a PPE…). But at the end I was simply cleared to come in- I was the last passenger of the day at the border control and I had the feeling they simply didn’t know what else to do with me that evening!

  • timwalton3 says:

    Just arrived home from Symphony Hall Birmingham where Cameron gave a marvellous recital even if there were a programme changes due to lack of rehearsal time.

    He mentioned the problems he had had but said nothing nasty & got a wonderful reception.

    He also took time to sign autographs afterwards.

    His programme included Bach’s, G major Trio Sonata, Dupre’s, Variations sur un Noel & his own transcription of Scriabin’s 4th Piano Sonata. There were then numerous improvisations & an encore of a movement from a Bach Cello suite for pedals only!!!

    He’s going back to Germany before returning next week for his concert at the RFH.

    I hope he doesn’t have all these problems again.

  • Edgar Brenn says:

    Outsourced security by private sub-contractors means you are bound to be harassed by morons. There are no longer citizens of free and democratic countries. We are all potential terrorists. Welcome to the present. Cameron’s experience would have been a common one at the border of communist East Germany. Having visited friends in East Germany often during the 1980s, I have applied my knowledge gained through experience from those visits to my approach to any immigration officer, UK, US, wherever. A disturbing way of proceeding, but it has done the trick thus far. It is not going to be better, but worse. Like it or not, we have to put up with it as security is valued more than freedom…

  • Constantine says:

    I have had the pleasure of working with this wonderful and thoughtful artist and can’t imagine that especially given his intellect and attention to detail that any of this could have been his fault. I wish him safe and speedy travels in the future.

    • Anon says:

      Constantine, in my experience, even artists with the highest of intellects will still hand over the detail of these sorts of arrangements to their management when travelling on work, and there’s nothing wrong with that. He own level of attention to detail is just as likely not to be relevant at all.

  • Big Roly says:

    Could I be forgiven for thinking that UKBA (or whatever it calls itself nowadays) is but UKIP in a hi-viz jacket?

  • not sure says:

    Why would anyone fly Berlin-Munich-Birmingham, over doubling the journey time? Plenty of 90min direct flights.