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Interview with Frank Portinari

Frank Portinari is a complex person and I think he’d agree it fair that I describe him, from the content of his book, as a multifaceted being. To me he is a son, Mrs P’s husband, a father and grandfather but there are layers to Frank—to his past—that ran alongside family life. He ran havoc in the football terraces, supporting his beloved Spurs (he still supports them) and he ran guns during the troubles out in Ireland before the Peace Process. These aspects are not separate parts external to him, but they make up the whole person.

This isn’t Frank’s first time on my Soul2Ink blog, so welcome back, Frank. Let’s begin by sharing that we got to know each other through our writing and by reading each other’s work and that his story is incredibly interesting and a little different to what most would imagine.

For those of you who don’t know Frank or have not, as yet, read his book he became a member of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) at a young age and rose through the ranks quickly. Based in London, where Frank was born and still lives, he’d become frustrated with the IRA  bombings. Wanting to make a difference, he formed an alliance with the UDA and this was something he was willing to take to the extreme. Frank takes all he does in life to the extreme, so let’s get to know him.

One of things I respect Frank for the most is for the love of his family. This is certainly conveyed through the more private side of Frank’s social media where you are privy to evenings out, birthday celebrations and much more.

Frank, what do your family mean to you and how have they supported you?

I met my Wife in August 1972. We were 15 years old. Due to mental health issues, my parents spent time in various mental health institutions. When I was 10, I was placed in a home with my younger Sister. She was only 3. Mental health issues became a normal part of family life. When Lisa became part of my life, she was like my Guardian Angel. That has been a constant for over 50 years. My Daughters have always loved and respected me. Not once have they castigated me for leaving them alone and vulnerable. If they did I think it would destroy me. I'm also fortunate enough to have 3 beautiful Granddaughters. In short, I'm a very lucky man.

Frank, you have lived a life many of us wouldn’t be able to comprehend. How do you transform your life into the motivational messages you convey today?

My life has been full of many varied experiences. Some good, some not so good. Either way I take ownership and accept full responsibility for my actions. At this stage of my life, I feel a responsibility to share some of those experiences. Particularly with educators and people with access to young people. I'm a firm advocate for social forums in educational establishments. Youngsters need to learn the skills of debate and peaceful resolution. Not having confrontation and violence as their first and final option. Ex offenders can, and do, play a vital role in that process.

Evidence shows me, through interactions on social media, that past conflict between opposing team’s football fans is indeed a thing of the past. Do you miss the thrill of a good bust up on the terraces? Or look forward to just enjoying watching your team, Spurs, win (or lose) each match without that extra adrenaline promise?

As a young working class kid football was my first love. I genuinely enjoyed both playing it and watching it. It was certainly the first identifiable culture I became part of. Eventually alongside that I actively embraced the adrenalin rush of football hooliganism. I would attribute it to my understanding and sense of camaraderie and loyalty. It was adventurous, dangerous and character building. And for long periods of my life it became my identity. An identity that was difficult to shrug off. Despite my long-term commitment to it, I do now question my actions. If my previous input has prevented other football supporters from attending matches because of the violence. That doesn't sit particularly well with me.

How important do you believe your story is as a contribution to social history, and why?

I strongly believe that my experiences and subsequent reflection on them, can serve as a helpful conduit to assist young, impressionable and vulnerable people. I currently share some of those experiences with sectors of the security industry. I have various scripts that can be delivered to a variety of audiences. Radicalisation, extremism and rehabilitation come in various guises. I provide an insight into how they can develop and rapidly escalate over time. Scenarios and behaviour patterns that get dangerously overlooked.

Please share with my readers why you are known as Frank the Baptist.  (I know that began with a cup of tea many years before and that is still my favourite part of your book).

During my time in HMP Swaleside, I became an integral part of the supply and demand chain that my fellow inmates relied on. Basically I became the man to go to for a wide variety of goods. Tobacco, bird cages, jewellery (mainly watches), phone cards, trainers and music systems. I also had a decent amount of cash wrapped 'round me. The brewing and distribution of Hooch was also something I invested in. The only commodity I wouldn't deal in was drugs. One night 2 fellas tried to force their way into my cell and rob me. It was a big mistake on their part. I had just been to the hot water urn and filled up my jug. I assumed both of them were tooled up. My gut instinct was to launch the water at them. It wasn't premeditated. Either way it did the trick. The screws just about believed my explanation of events. Basically what I learned was this. Possession of hot water isn't against the rules. Being the aggressor and throwing it over someone is. A situation I exploited whenever I deemed it necessary. I was on the way to church one Sunday morning when an old Black boy turned to me and said. "Frankie, you carry on like this and people will start calling you 'Frank the Baptist'. The name eventually stuck.

I know people from every side of the past troubles in Ireland who can share stories of loss and grief, who blame each side but their own for those emotions. The peace process, on the surface, appears to have successfully halted the bulk of these troubles. In your opinion, and as someone who visits Ireland frequently, do you share this sentiment or feel there is still tensions? I cannot believe a few signatures could possibly solve such a huge, ongoing rage.

Though not ideal for everyone. The peace process was the only thing that had a chance of putting an end to the majority of the bloodshed. People needed time out to reassess the situation. What actions were they prepared to continually accept as being a true reflection of their wishes. How much longer could one community sanction the terrorising of the other community. The younger generation now have the opportunity to discuss the things they have in common. Not the age old things that have previously divided them. Yes it will take time, but the future looks far more cohesive and positive than the past.

On talking with you, there is obvious loyalty remaining that runs through your veins. With age comes other priorities in life. Frank, please share with us how you’ve changed between ‘then’ and ‘now’.

I'm not entirely convinced that I've changed. Circumstances have changed and I'm sincerely glad that they've changed. When you are placed in a position of power and influence over others, it becomes a massive responsibility. Loyalty to those you represent is paramount. Understandably it's a challenge when those dynamics drastically change. However I do acknowledge that I have spent so much time assisting others that I have overlooked my own creativity and productiveness. I know appear to have found an ideal balance.

We’ve had this conversation a couple of times and I seriously respect your answer. Frank, did you consider yourself a soldier? (Anyone who has read Frank’s book should know the answer to this).

No, I would never regard myself as a soldier. Certainly not in the traditional sense. I have the utmost respect for those who serve their country. I viewed myself as a volunteer and combatant who was prepared to defend those I regarded as fellow British citizens. The British Army were sometimes described as fighting an enemy with their hands tied behind their backs. I and many others were not restricted by such measures.

You served time in prison for what you did on behalf of the UDA. How did you spend the bulk of your time and how did you cope?

Initially imprisonment was a major shock to the system. Particularly the time spent as a Category A prisoner and the draconian regime that was implemented. Of course the separation from my family was by far the biggest shock. I had clearly taken my comfortable family life for granted. Throughout my sentence I was determined to leave prison physically unscathed. If it was me or the other bloke who was going to get hurt. I was determined it wasn't going to be me. When given the opportunity, I did enrol in education classes. Eventually I attained NVQs, proficiency certificates and qualified as an Assessor and full member of the British Institute of Cleaning Science. This enabled me to teach fellow inmates. Something I thoroughly enjoyed doing. I also became a 'Listener' and did my best to help others who were going through difficult times. None of this guaranteed me receiving my parole, but it certainly provided me with a favourable chance of it. I did eventually receive it. Ironically there was no attempt to address my offence, or any form of rehabilitation.

I’d like to fast forward several years. What made you write you story?

Personally I had no desire to share my story. It was the insistence of others that made me consider doing it. Basically it was put to me that if I was knocked down by a bus tomorrow, 30 odd years of political and social history would be lost. On that basis I decided to document our experiences. If nothing else it would be an honest and accurate account. Unlike what most of what the media has cynically managed to do.

Frank's book, LEFT RIGHT LOYALIST is available on Amazon by following this link

Amazon Link 


Frank, you now operate a walking tour. A new venture for you. It has been lovely watching you explore and expand this new company through networking and public speaking opportunities. You don’t have to sell it to me, I’ve been along but please take this opportunity to say a few words to my readers who might like to share the experience with you.

Via my company 'Turnkey Tours', I conduct 'The Dark Side Of Camden Walking Tour'. Primarily designed for the tourist market, it has become very popular with corporate audiences. Ideal for team building and entertaining clients. It's probably best described by the following promo.

Frank's poem about Camden and his walking tour - to book follow the link below


Frank, thank you for taking time out to take part in this interview and for your candidness in the answers you've provided. It is always good to chat with you. Love to your family. Hope to see you and Mrs P very soon.

Donna Siggers

Rise Of An Extremist

Frank Portinari is one of life’s gentlemen. A devoted family man who has been with the same lady since the year dot. A father and grandfather, a grafter, and a man passionate about his beliefs. Now a published author, public speaker, and podcaster it is through writing I came to know of Frank and became acquainted with him. We’ve not met, as yet, but Frank when we do, I’m keeping it in mind not to debate with you if you’ve a cuppa in your hand! (For all that have read Frank’s book, that was my favourite part). Wars have been won on the strength of tea when food was scarce, and Frank was heading for war.

I brushed on the importance of social history being recorded in last week’s blog post and Franks story most certainly falls into this bracket. I’ve discussed this with him before, but I believe the political aspect of his life should be used for higher educational study. I don’t say this lightly or to flatter. Instead, as someone who was there and risked their life for someone else’s fight, and who had the gumption to place the facts into a book then not only do they deserve that recognition, but students deserve to have this knowledge available to them.

Reading Frank’s book is a fascinating insight into two aspects of his life. There was one side of him that went to football, firstly in peace and then as the football hooligan era took hold, not—a public show of bravado of men drinking and having a punch up at the weekend.

‘Left-Right Loyalist: From One Extreme To Another’ is the name of the book I have—with a new editor (Shaun Attwood) there’s been a name change and re-launch since. ‘Loyalist Paramilitary Gunrunner: From Extremism to Prison’ might give a little insight into where Frank’s political alliance finally landed after some deliberation, it’s what made sense to him. Its this alliance that’s the main focus of Frank’s book, and the second side of a complex mind. After becoming frustrated with Britain being bombed by the IRA he’d wanted to make a difference and the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) entered his life at the correct time to make this happen for him—it’s an alliance he took to the extreme. Unlike most Frank was prepared to act and as with anything he puts his mind to, his heart doubles that passion. It wasn’t long until he’d gained trust and hierarchy as he became caught up in ‘the troubles’ of Northern Ireland. Frank was running guns over the border.

Frank's book, now called 'Loyalist Parliamentary Gunrunner: From Extremism to Prison
is available via this link


The UDA used a cover name in order that they wouldn’t become outlawed and were better known as the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF) which prevented them becoming a terrorist group. It wasn’t until 1992 this occurred.

Making you feel part of his story as you read, you are spied on, friends are shot, and that circle of friends to be trusted becomes increasingly small. Gunrunning is a dangerous business and Frank is in the midst of it. He makes you feel you are too as his reality seeps into your psyche.

We lived these times through news stories—I have relatives who were in the army who served in Northern Ireland and a friend who lost his father who was shot by the IRA. Frank was there, he lived the experience and I urge you to read his book, without prejudice in order to gain understanding of why and how people got caught up in the troubles.

Frank served time for his participation and is still welcomed in Ireland today.

Currently writing his second book (which I’m looking forward too immensely) I’m very much interested in how, when—and of course why—Frank changed, as the man he is today certainly is reflective of the one he’s written about in his debut book.

There are two more links I'd like to share with you, the first is for 'Frankly Speaking With Frank Portinari' which is, of course, Frank's podcast (I'm honoured to have been a guest so my personal thanks to Frank and Mat The Hat Media). There have been many inspirational guests appearing—
including some featured right here on my Soul2Ink blog—so pop along, press subscribe and have a listen!

Frankly Speaking with Frank Portinari—Frank's all-inspiring podcast
You can subscribe and listen right here


Finally, I'd like to both congratulate and wish Frank and the team involved on the upcoming documentary on his life, which I know is in association with Johnny Kinch. As a first for my blog I'm sharing a funding page but its certainly not a first for me to get behind film making. It will be [quote] "A documentary of social and historical importance."

'From One Extreme To Another With Frank Portinari'
Documentary Funding Link