One of the charms of St Pancras, the London station where the Eurostar arrives, is the piano donated by Elton John. Those who arrived early for the train could play it for a while, but since Tuesday this popular instrument has been tied to a ribbon. There are two guards there. A few days ago, the piano was the scene of a bizarre collision between a YouTube pianist and a group of Chinese people.
Last Friday, pianist Brendan Kavanagh sat behind Elton John’s piano to entertain passersby with his music. As usual, his “performance” was filmed for his YouTube channel, which has 2.25 million subscribers. He was playing well when a Chinese lady came up to him. She complimented Kavanagh on his music but asked him to stop filming. She was standing a little further away with a few of her compatriots who did not want to be seen in the photo.
What followed was a debate between the pianist and the Chinese about image rights, communism, and photography in public places. The discussion, captured on camera, became increasingly heated. When Kavanagh touched one of the women’s Chinese flag, things threatened to get out of hand. Ten minutes later, two police officers arrived. One of the officers asked Kavanagh to stop filming, but he refused under the pretext of freedom to film in public places. He said the officer acted like a Chinese security guard.
The Chinese eventually disappeared, threatening legal action, and the Irish pianist was then able to continue playing. The riots did not end there. Images of the discussion quickly spread across social media, and later through traditional media. Kavanagh, known as Dr K, has appeared on television programs in recent days explaining that the row “raised questions about stupid rules and authoritarian behaviour, as well as our British culture”. In his experience, this was a confrontation between East and West on a small scale.
Ironically, the Chinese who did not want to appear in the picture achieved the opposite. They said they were at the station to celebrate Chinese New Year. More is now known about their identity. At the time of the piano dispute, one of them said he worked for Chinese state television, and another turned out to be an education consultant based in London. When Kavanagh returned to the piano, it seemed to have been turned off. According to the station, this was necessary due to “maintenance work in the shopping arcade.”