Post link 04 June 2015, 6:31
by Helen Russel tuesday 2 june 2015

John Erik Wagner, 51, has attracted global attention with his giant election posters featuring himself wearing nothing but a Stetson, a gun holster and a smile

John Erik Wagner with his Chinese crested powderpuff dog Dolly. He said: ‘I’ve been trying to get elected for 10 years now, and this is my third election, so I thought I’d try something different.’ Photograph: PR image

Conversations tail off mid-sentence; students stop to take selfies and parents shield young children’s eyes. The cause of their embarrassment: giant posters of a man wearing nothing but a cowboy hat, a gun holster and a knowing smile. This is John Erik Wagner, and he wants to be Denmark’s next prime minister.

It may not be a conventional political billboard but, in this time of frenetic campaigning before the Danish general election this month, every available tree or lamppost is plastered with images of politicians and wannabes, and a relatively unknown candidate needs to work hard to make an impression.

For Wagner, a 51-year-old Copenhagener, the way to do that was to bare all.

“I’ve been trying to get elected for 10 years now, and this is my third election, so I thought I’d try something different,” he says. “Other candidates’ posters are boring – just like passport photos – so I wanted mine to surprise people.”

He adds: “It helps to look good if you want to be in government and people say I have a nice body, so I thought, ‘This is me, here I am.’ I wanted to get my name out there.”

But it’s not just his name that’s out there. Wagner’s so-called “penis posters” are attracting attention from all over the world. “I’ve had interest from China, Italy and Spain so far as well as a lot of people in Denmark. People seem to like them – and most Danes are okay with nudity,” he says.

On 18 June, when voters decide the makeup of the country’s 179-strong parliament, prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt of the “red block” centre-left Social Democrats will go head to head with former premier and opposition leader Lars Løkke Rasmussen of the “blue block” centre-right party, Venstre. The resulting government is likely to be a coalition, with the anti-immigration Danish People’s party forecast to gain more seats than in previous elections.

John Erik Wagner’s election poster in Copenhagen. Photograph: PR image

But what does Wagner stand for, other than Stetsons and unabashed nudity? Key policies include making trips to the dentist free (Danes currently pay around 300 DKK – about £30 per visit) and scrapping unemployment benefit by introducing a basic income and making everyone work six months on and six months off. “I know what it is like to be out of work,” he says, “I’m a clothes designer by trade but I don’t have any work right now. So I want a job. I want to go into government to get work. And help other people who don’t have work.”

Anyone interested in finding out more about Wagner’s policies can visit his Facebook page (“I don’t have time for a website”) to read his manifesto and catch a glimpse of the man behind the oiled torso. Recent posts include Grace Jones’s Slave to the Rhythm video; pictures of Wagner, clad in double denim, petting a horse, as well as selfies with his Chinese crested powderpuff, Dolly. “She’s my dog, named after Dolly Parton,” he says.

“I really like country music and westerns – I’m inspired by the Burt Reynolds/Clint Eastwood cowboy look, like in my poster. It’s my style. And I have many women – and some men – getting in touch saying they like it, and me!”

Wagner is confident about his chances in the election. “I think it’s going to be a more successful year for me,” he says. But if he doesn’t get elected this year, he’s got a plan B: “I’ll do one more run, but that will be my last. I’ve worked as a municipal garbage man before. So if it doesn’t work out, I might consider going back to that.”

• This article was amended on 3 June 2015 to remove a reference to a red block and blue block coalition.

You Lie Because You Are Scared