[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 December, 2003, 14:25 GMT
Casting a spell on politics
By Jackie Storer
BBC News Online political staff

She's a witch, an ex-page 3 girl and posed for Playboy.

But Marina Pepper is now much more likely to be found sharing a cuppa and digestive with the genteel pensioners of East Saltdean than peeling off her clothes.

Marina Pepper
"Can ex-page 3 girls be MPs?"
Since May this year, the mother-of-two has become a pillar of respectability - a Liberal Democrat town and district councillor, eager to sort out her electors problems, and above all encourage them to recycle their waste.

The quirky ex-journalist and author of four books, including Spells for Teenage Witches, represents the coastal communities of East Saltdean and Telscombe Cliffs, just five miles east of the cosmopolitan hub of Brighton.

'Hippy existence'

While she has made no secret of her pagan upbringing - her mother Margaret Ayrton is a witch - she quips that the topic "never came up" in the candidates' selection process.

But it is her family's hippie existence and her formative years living on a travellers' site that have influenced her politics, her lifestyle and her ambitions.

If you are a certain height with a certain look and a certain pneumatic silhouette - sooner or later in that sort of company it's a bit inevitable really
Marina Pepper
On becoming a page 3 model

Originally from Taplow, near Slough, the then Marina Baker and her older brother Martin "moved around a lot" until they reached Norfolk.

"We thought we were getting a new build home, but it wasn't ready, and my mother, being as practical as ever, said: 'well we are homeless, so we are travellers until we are housed'," Marina recalls, in between puffs on a roll-up cigarette.

"I remember trees, bushes and grass and a toilet in a shed.

"There was this enormous chrome caravan with those sort of lacy doily things in the window, and my birthday party in a tent, playing pass the parcel in the pouring rain.

"Rain is still my favourite weather."

Leadership ambitions

As a child, Marina's teacher mother was always making "concoctions and medicines" out of pummelled herbs.

"You would never dare admit you were ill in our house because my Mum would give you something disgusting," she smiled ruefully.

"It was the 1970s, wholefood, self sufficiency, pagan revival thing," said Marina, trying to explain her mother's attraction to Wicca.

It really suited me knocking on doors going 'ello! How are you? How are things for you? Is your MP helpful?
Marina Pepper
Canvassing for Sir Clement Freud

She says it brought her up to respect the seasons and where food comes from.

The young Marina harboured dreams to be both a dancer and prime minister, because she "liked the idea of being in charge".

But would she like a career in Parliament now? "I'm not sure page three girls can become MPs," she muses.

"I also hate the way politicians' private lives are picked over by the media - not that mine would bear any more scrutiny than anyone else's," she adds.

"Put another MP in first [locally] and then maybe. I'll help put someone in. I will use my journalist skills, my people skills, all the things that go towards me being a local councillor and representing the people here and their needs."

Body confident

She trained as a dancer at Bush Davies ballet school and left with six O-levels, but later abandoned A-levels in drama, English and history at Norwich City Tech, for the bright lights of London.

It was in the capital she met and dated PR boss Matthew Freud, son of the ex-Liberal MP Clement Freud, and the politics bug bit.

During the 1987 election, she helped distribute leaflets for Sir Clement in his North East Cambridgeshire constituency.

As an ex-page three girl, I could have the choice of the tabloids
Marina Pepper
On her journalistic career

"It really suited me knocking on doors going 'ello! How are you? How are things for you? Is your MP helpful? What could be better round here? Oh, I see what you mean ... Terrible state of the roads."

To finance herself she waitressed and embarked on a modelling career.

Initially coy about who she worked for, Marina finally conceded: "The Sun newspaper and Playboy.

"I really didn't have any problems about my body. It wasn't ever an ambition. It was just one of those things - if you are a certain height with a certain look and a certain pneumatic silhouette - sooner or later in that sort of company it's a bit inevitable really.

Samantha Fox
Sam Fox was a contemporary
"The weird thing is these days, that would be rather smashing. When I did it, it was the Samantha Fox, Linda Lusardi generation. Of course I was never as well known as them, I was just one of the extras.

"You got paid your money and you went.

"I suppose being brought up by hippies as parents, I had absolutely no problem being naked. The problems I had were actually wrestling with the whole sort of feminist thing.

"I tried to justify it to myself that there were loads of jobs that I thought were equally demeaning because they had such a low wage.

"When I waitressed, my take home pay was what I could earn in two hours modelling."

Travelling bug

During our interview, Marina, who has a youthful, pretty face which belies her 36 years, wears many more clothes than in her modelling days.

Covering her shape is an oversize long woolly jumper, luminous yellow trousers over cords, boots and a black hat pulled down over wavy brown hair.

I think it bothers some Christians because for centuries they have organised witch hunts
Marina Pepper
On being a witch

She travelled well as a teenager spending three years visiting Corsica, Italy, France, Greece, Switzerland, before ending up on Cape Clear island off the coast of Ireland "because there was a ferry leaving to go there".

She got involved in fighting chemical factories, ran a campsite with a cafe, worked on a goat farm, looked after a child and ran a community theatre.

Back home, she completed a journalism degree at the London College of Printing and Distributive Trades (LCP) and ended up doing work experience at the News of the World, before joining the London Evening Standard.

"It's contacts isn't it? As an ex-page three girl, I could have the choice of the tabloids," Marina laughs.


She met music producer Lee Pepper while living in London and the pair married on Cape Clear in 1997.

The couple moved to Saltdean, and with two children, Charlie, six and Boudicca, four, the Lib Dems beckoned once more.

"I always knew I had to get more involved in politics at some point," said Marina.

"My little girl doesn't play mummies and daddies, she plays being a councillor. I said: 'What do you do?' and she said: 'I'm arranging meetings'. I thought, yep, that's politics."

She contacted the local Lib Dems and began to help with their canvassing and writing the leaflets they posted thorough doors.

"We started working together and people would start ringing up saying you really should stand for council," she said.

"I didn't think I'd be mature enough or old enough and I didn't think anyone would vote for me!" she chuckles.


Amid controversy over asylum seekers and her involvement in anti-war demos, Marina secured a seat on Telscombe Town Council and Lewes District Council, where she is chair of the recycling scrutiny committee.

She is now trying to encourage people to have fortnightly waste collections for waste and other rubbish.

Sitting on a rug covered armchair in a lounge full of knick-knacks, books, Christmas cards, which "freak" her out, and even a paper tree stretched out on the carpet, Marina tells how it is "sinful" to put something in the bin.

She waves her hand round the room smiling: "Hence the clutter."

It is important that we all live within the means of the earth, "which is why we have a vegetable box system, run community recycling with the local pre-school, encourage people to walk and use the bus - little things", she says.

Open house

But surprisingly, Marina says, she is not the first witch on Lewes District Council. There's another one, who is female, but Marina refuses to say any more.

"We 'Merry Meet' each other, say hello, hail, that sort of thing."

Marina plays down her use of spells, which help her with crises from the computer crashing, to protecting herself from other people's thoughts.

But does she think being a witch puts off the punters?

"I think it bothers some Christians because for centuries they have organised witch hunts," she says.

While Marina will not be celebrating the festival herself - with the exception of presents for her children - she will be opening her house, in a very Christian way, to locals who would otherwise be spending Christmas alone.

Witch wins government grant
22 Oct 03  |  Business
Spells cast to lure monster
13 Jun 03  |  Southern Counties


News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific