If you want some, he’ll give it you. The Wealdstone Raider is a viral star whose response to the goading of a rival supporter at a non-League football match has been shared around the world. He’s also an unassuming 55-year-old maintenance man called Gordon Hill, who didn’t ask for any of this to happen.
That brief, 33-second clip turned Hill’s life upside down. The original video, uploaded to YouTube in March 2013, has been viewed over 20 million times, thrusting an absurd degree of unwelcome fame upon him. It made Hill into an inadvertent celebrity, more of a living meme than a real person.
At first he wanted to hide away from it all. But the further the video spread, the harder that became. Hill couldn’t go anywhere without being asked for photos and greeted by shouts of “You’ve got no fans.” From nowhere, his face started appearing on t-shirts, mugs and posters. Although most people were friendly, some could be cruel.
Eventually, Hill sought to take control of the intrigue that surrounded him. With a bit of help and encouragement, he decided to confront the issue head on and turn it to his advantage, earning a bit of extra money for himself and raising loads more for charity.
VICE: Hi Gordon. So, what’s it like to be an internet sensation?
Gordon Hill: I don’t really think I am. I know I am, but it doesn’t really affect me. I still go to work Monday to Friday. I’m not one of these people who think ‘I’ve had a couple of million hits on the internet so I’m a superstar.’ I’m just a normal, everyday person who happened to be in the right place at the right time, or the wrong place at the wrong time, however you want to see it.
Where does your love of Wealdstone FC come from?
When I was a kid we didn’t have a lot of money. I was an Arsenal supporter and my dad was a Tottenham supporter. He wouldn’t take me to Arsenal. I wouldn’t go to Tottenham. We lived in Wealdstone and my local team were playing one day. I was about 13 or 14 and I just fell in love with it.
Why do you care about the club so much?
Most of the people there are my friends. They’ve been my friends for over forty years. I like promoting the football club that I love. Every football fan would love to be in my position. It’s not only me, there are a lot of people who do a lot of hard work. I’m the most high-profile but it’s a family affair. We all get on.
Has being Wealdstone’s most famous supporter changed how other fans treat you at all?
No, I still get the mickey taken out of me. When I go to Wealdstone, I’m just Gordon. I’m not the Wealdstone Raider. Away fans will ask for photos, but that lot will just take the mickey out of me. They find it amusing.
Can you talk me through the original incident that led you to becoming famous?
My mate phoned me on the Saturday morning and asked me if I fancied going to Brighton to watch Wealdstone away at Whitehawk. It was a beautiful sunny day. I thought, ‘Yeah, why not?’ We got on the train, had a few beers. You know what it’s like. You have to have a few beers to watch the football, especially Wealdstone. We met up with some others in the pub. We went to the football. I’ve gone to the bar to get me and my mate a beer. This bloke sort of pushed past me and knocked half my beer over. I went, ‘That’s a bit rude.’ I went back and got another pint. There were now three people following me about. I had loads of earache off them. Everybody’s got a breaking point. After twenty minutes, half an hour, of being abused, I just lost the plot. I still remember the incident like it was yesterday. Next thing I know, the bloke’s got a camera in front of me, filming me. The rest is history.
When did you become aware that the video was starting to take off?
A week later, a mate of mine phoned me up and said, ‘Do you know you’re on YouTube?’ I looked it up and I was so embarrassed. At the time, it had about a thousand views. I thought, ‘Oh well, that ain’t too bad. Not many people have seen it.’ I kept looking at it every couple of weeks and it stopped at about five or ten thousand. I didn’t bother checking it anymore. All of a sudden, these memes started coming up on Facebook. It was just building up and building up. That’s when I knew, this isn’t something I’m going to get away with.
This clearly isn’t something you asked for or wanted. What’s it like to become unintentionally famous?
Bloody scary. First of all, it was petrifying. I couldn’t go anywhere. It was complete and utter carnage. I couldn’t even go round the shop. Everywhere I went, I was being asked for photos. You imagine, one day you’re just a normal, everyday person. Next thing you know, you’re all over the place. You’re in the papers, you’re on social media, you’re in every news feed. It was terrifying.
What are the worst things you’ve been through because of that video?
I had to deal with death threats. Someone put my phone number on Twitter. It was constant hate. Trolls and death threats. I had to change my phone number. I think it affected my brother and my family more than it affected me. It was horrible. They were insulting my family. There are some horrible people out there. I’ve been assaulted. I got knocked out and put in a coma. I had a bleed on the brain. It’s not all champagne and red carpets.
That’s horrible. When did that happen?
That was a couple of months after it all kicked off. I was knocked out running for a bus. Some bloke decided to punch me in the head. I was within 12 hours of having a brain operation. Another time, I went to the darts at the Alexandra Palace. I was meant to have a minder with me, but he was worse than useless. It wasn’t intentional, but the crowd almost pushed me over a barrier. It was a 20-, 30-foot drop. It got to a stage where I didn’t want to go out. I don’t mind being asked for pictures, but when you’re out with friends you can’t have a conversation. This isn’t a moan, but people don’t know that you have a private life. I was seeing a girl when it first started, and she just couldn’t handle it. It was too much for her.
Did it ever get too much for you?
Oh yeah, on a few occasions. I came close to having a nervous breakdown. Once the song was done, I was doing nightclub appearances for a nasty man who stole a lot of money off the charities. I don’t want to mention his name because I don’t want to go down that road. He milked me as much as he could. He basically destroyed me. On average, I was doing two nightclubs a night. I didn’t see my place for about three or four weeks. It nearly killed me. I was living out of a suitcase and not eating or sleeping properly because I was going from one place to another. It was just complete and utter chaos. It drained me.
Why do you think the video became as popular as it did?
I think because of how I look, and I have a speech impediment, because I’m older, and I protected myself, people think ‘Fair play to him. He’s sticking up for himself. He ain’t going to let himself get bullied.’ The thing about the British public is, they love the underdog. I think, and hope, that’s what it is. They might even have felt sorry for me because they could see I was being bullied.
It wasn’t just limited to the UK either. When did you notice that other countries were picking up on it too?
I’m known in Australia and America. A friend of mine visited New Zealand a few years ago. He was on one of the islands just off the coast. He said there were loads of youngsters playing football, saying ‘Do you want some?’ So I did them a little video and sent it to him. That night, he didn’t have to buy a beer in the pub. I was in Thailand with my mate last January and even people there knew who I was. When you think about it, for a little video like that, it’s phenomenal isn’t it?
You’ve been involved in lots of different projects since the video first appeared. How did that side of things develop?
The president of Wealdstone, Paul Rumens – a very good friend of mine – got in contact. My first worry was about tarnishing Wealdstone’s name and getting barred from the football. They knew the situation and said there was no problem. Paul asked me to do a couple of things and I said to just let it die down. But then it started going really mad and we decided that if everybody else is making money off me, I wanted to promote Wealdstone and make as much money as possible for charity. That’s how it all took off.
You released a charity single, which reached number five in the charts, in December 2014. How did that come about?
It was funny. Me and Paul were sitting in an office and this DJ, Majestic, phoned and we started speaking. It was a one-in-a-million chance. I got a taxi over to the Kiss FM studio and within a couple of hours we’d done the song. Majestic’s one of the nicest people I’ve met. I know I was the face of that single, but 90 percent of it was done by him. We went into London to do the video and we had an amazing time. It was me, Majestic, and a comedian called Paul Chowdhry. We had a laugh doing the video. That night it was done. It was like a whirlwind.
How do you feel about being referred to as the Wealdstone Raider?
More people are getting to know my real name through social media, but 90 percent of people will know me as the Raider. It’s like TV stars, people from EastEnders and Coronation Street. They play a role and they’re known for that. I’m known as the Wealdstone Raider. It’s just people’s perception. At one time, I thought about changing my name to the bloody Wealdstone Raider.
What do you think people’s perception of you is?
At first, I think they just thought I was a drunken hooligan. But now because of my charity work, they get to know that I’m not that bad. I love my charity work. I’m a patron for the Life for a Kid Foundation. If people ask me to do a personalised video, I ask them to donate. Being the Raider has actually given me a vehicle to earn money for charity, so that’s good.
What’s been the most surreal thing you’ve experienced as a result of being the Wealdstone Raider?
Meeting Tyson Fury and being friends with him. I met Ant and Dec and they knew who I was. Someone took me to Barcelona on a stag do. They paid for my fare and drinks and everything, and they donated some money to charity. I’m still mates with them, and we meet up every now and then. I told a journalist I know from the Daily Mirror and he did a story about it. It snowballed from there and now people get in touch with me or Paul. I was in Bournemouth for a stag do on the weekend.
How does the level of attention you receive nowadays compare to say five years ago?
It’s died down a lot. But, saying that, I thought it had until I went to Bournemouth. Every two minutes – photos, photos, photos. Even though I’m not so much in the public eye, I’m instantly recognisable because of the way I look and the way I speak. But it’s all good. If I’m out, and someone asks for a photo, I ask them to put some money in a local charity box. They don’t have to, but I’d say seven out of ten people stick a couple of pounds in.
If you could erase that video from your life, and everything that’s happened because of it – both good and bad – would you do it?
There have been a lot of times where I’ve thought, ‘I wish that bloody video never happened.’ But I love what I’ve achieved with my charity work. I sit back and I think, ‘I wouldn’t be able to do that if it wasn’t for that video.’ Out of every situation, there are positives and negatives. I’d say 95 percent of it is good. But it’s the same as anything in life, there’s always an idiot out there. That Captain Tom made over £33million and people were still slagging him off. You can’t please everyone. Everyone in the public eye has haters. But I think, mostly, the positives outweigh the negatives, so I’m glad I was in that video. If I’d have thought about it, I’d have come up with a better catchphrase, but I love the charity stuff it’s helped me to do, and I think it’s made me a better person.