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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 May, 2005, 06:35 GMT 07:35 UK
Party leaders seeing double
Feature
By Alison Stenlake
BBC News

Forget Posh and Becks - Tony Blair, Michael Howard and Charles Kennedy are far more popular.

The lookalike Charles Kennedy, Tony Blair and Michael Howard
The lookalike party leaders are currently very busy

Not, perhaps, in the celebrity magazines or tabloid gossip columns, but potential customers of one lookalike agency can't seem to get enough of them.

From even before the real Tony Blair called the general election for 5 May, the phones at Fake Faces in Doncaster have apparently been ringing red hot with requests for the three men of the moment.

But there's a problem - Michael Howard has a full-time day job.

Steve Willis is a librarian who lives near Manchester, and is finding it hard to get time off work to join his fellow fake party leaders to open shops and appear on TV shows.

It's just like the real Tony Blair - his diary's been full since '97 and mine has too
Tom Skehan,
Tony Blair lookalike

He did manage to feature in the opening titles of the BBC's This Week election special programmes, dancing behind presenter Andrew Neil to a custom-recorded version of Tony Christie's cult hit (Is This The Way to) Amarillo.

But he's had to turn down a number of requests, including the opening of a sandwich shop and a race against the pretend Tony Blair and Charles Kennedy on 4 May to publicise an online sports bookmakers.

"The three leaders are at our top spot at the moment," said agency owner Jez Lee. "We've had more calls for the three of them together than we've had for anything else."

Good innings

Tony Blair - aka Tom Skehan - is the most experienced lookalike of the three. He's been pretending to be the prime minister since the real prime minister came to office eight years ago, and now only works part-time in his original job as a registrar.

Lookalike Dave Mounfield, as Charles Kennedy
Dave Mounfield is not often mistaken for Charles Kennedy

Mr Skehan, 40, who also does stand-up comedy, says he gets "treated like a king" on jobs as diverse to speaking to an audience of Czech businessmen in Prague and publicising a casino from a Windsor balcony during the recent wedding of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles.

"It's just like the real Tony Blair - his diary's been full since '97, and mine has too," he said.

"I really enjoy this job, I've been to some fabulous places all round Europe."

But he admits being a political lookalike is a "precarious job - the same as being a politician".

He says he is jealous of lookalikes with real longevity - such as those employed to impersonate the aforementioned Prince Charles - but concedes he's already had a good innings.

"The day after the last election, the William Hague lookalike I'd worked with rang me up to officially resign," he added.

'Passing resemblance'

Dave Mounfield is also a relatively old hand at the lookalike game - he first impersonated Charles Kennedy in 2001.

However he seems rather surprised to be still getting work this time around, as he admits he's not exactly the spitting image of the Lib Dem leader - a fact agency boss Mr Lee is also upfront about.

"It started by accident," said Mr Mounfield, 35, an actor and comedian from Brighton.

The real Michael Howard, left, next to lookalike Steve Willis
Michael Howard: Which one's the real thing?

His agent got him a job doing a sketch of Mr Kennedy on a daytime TV show, and he then fell into lookalike work as "no one else was doing Charles Kennedy".

"I don't really look very much like him, although I do bear a passing resemblance with a wig on.

"I'm really his lookalike by default - at first I thought people were going to complain."

Mr Willis is the newcomer to the lookalike business - he only joined Fake Faces about six weeks ago after his son Tom pointed out similarities between his dad and the Tory leader in a photograph he'd taken.

Since then, he's spent his weekends and the odd day off work as his alter ego.

"My kids have been teasing me for a year or two that I look like Howard. All I've got to do is change my glasses to rimless ones like Howard wears, and put on a dark suit."

Our John Major is still getting work... we never kill anyone off
Jez Lee,
Fake Faces

The 51-year-old said being a lookalike for a man 12 years older than him was "a bit depressing", but he was having a "huge amount of fun" in his new role.

"Since Howard became party leader and his profile went up, I have had people shouting out his name to me in the street.

"The other day, I was buying my train ticket to go to work at my local station, and I was asked if I was off out campaigning."

Job security

But what will happen after 5 May? After all, in the real election battle there's only one top job, and once someone's snagged that, there are inevitably some casualties.

None of the lookalikes confess to being desperately bothered about their respective characters' political futures.

The fake Tony Blair, who lives in Birmingham, did say he would miss his role when demand for his services dropped. He admitted he would be voting Labour - although he insisted his decision had nothing to do with job security.

So will any of the lookalikes be getting the chop?

Apparently not. "There's always some PR company that will dream something up," said Mr Lee.

"Our John Major is still getting work - he appeared in a spoof programme having dinner with Edwina Currie. We never kill anyone off."





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