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The First Post
7 October 2005

Paramilitary chic: balaclavas and bling

Ruth Dudley Edwards on the sartorial sense of Belfast’s warring tribes

WITHIN MINUTES of the murder on Tuesday night of Jim "Doris Day" Gray, a joke was circulating around Belfast: "For sale: one BMW, one pink jumper. One careful owner."

Until recently, Gray was the east Belfast brigadier of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), the largest loyalist paramilitary group in Northern Ireland. On bail for charges that included money laundering, he was almost certainly killed because of tensions within the notoriously quarrelsome UDA. Certainly, UDA members were fed up with his tactlessness when publicly and glitzily flaunting the proceeds of his criminal activities.
Jim Gray

There is a celebrity cult among loyalist paramilitaries and Gray - with his signature pink jumper, pastel shirts, bling, dyed blonde bouffant hairdo, and permatan - was one of the most flamboyant. When he was shot in the face three years ago by the Loyalist Volunteer Force, a nurse at the hospital confirmed to a journalist that fake tan covered every part of his anatomy. As befitted a modern celeb, Gray's drug of choice was cocaine.

Johnnie "Mad Dog" Adair, another ex-brigadier celeb in trouble with UDA ex-colleagues, is currently in exile in Bolton. He favours a more macho look: his bling is balanced by jeans, a baseball cap and plenty of tattoos. But he still likes designer labels - when he recently left jail he was wearing Replay, a style for the "hip and relaxed".

The republican paramilitary leadership frowns on conspicuous consumption and allows no such individuality. Haircuts are expensive but unobtrusive, men's suits are Armani and women's middle-range power dressing includes tasteful costume jewellery.

It is one of the ironies of Northern Irish politics that republicans, who present themselves as the underclass, dress like smart middle-class Conservatives - while loyalists, who used to think themselves superior, revel in British underclass chic.

Their taste in balaclavas, however, is identical.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards