The otherwise obscure son of respectable middle-class parents in Berkshire, Hooper was said to be a bright and promising boy at school. He shot to fame in 1996 when a new bypass was being constructed to carry the A34 around Newbury, his home town.
Joining the anti-road protest movement which was gathering in popularity at the time, he dug himself into tunnels at Fairmile in Devon and was the last to be evicted. Aged 22, he faced the press, and instantly became nationally famous.
Hooper became an icon of 1990s environmentalism and the direct non-violent action movement, a form of protesting that took physical action against roadbuilding without violence. Protestors chained themselves to trees or construction plant, took to living in treehouses or tunnels and generally made it as difficult as possible for construction to take place. In the process they won widespread media coverage and added substantially to the cost of road schemes; the total security and policing operation for the Newbury Bypass, for example, has been estimated at nearly £4m. The accidental public face of this movement was 'Swampy'.
As a man of action and few words, coupled with a middle-class politeness, Hooper was acceptable enough to speak to the papers and rebelious enough to make a point. His celebrity status rapidly grew, taking him to the BBC panel show Have I Got News For You in 1997. Loved by the press, the Mirror went crazy in March 1997 when Conservative Minister, John Watts, publicly declared that he would quite like to see 'Swampy' buried in concrete because of the damage he was doing to the party's transport policy.
Hooper continued his protests - mostly in tunnels - for the A30 between Exeter and Honiton, the second runway at Manchester Airport and elsewhere. He has vanished in recent years - some reports claiming he is living in a squat somewhere in Yorkshire - and wants nothing more to do with the media. One of the few recent sightings placed him at an anti-GM crop protest in eastern England.
In Summer 2006, the Manchester Evening News reported that Hooper was now living in a woodland commune with a wife and children, wanting nothing more to do with protests.
In 2021, Swampy unexpectedly resurfaced as Dan Hooper, returning to public view having spent a month in a makeshift tunnel under Euston Square Gardens in Central London. He and several other activists were protesting against the HS2 high speed railway.
- Hooper made the environmental 'eco-warrior' movement more visible and, in many ways, more acceptable to the public. However, it should be noted that he also singularly failed to stop any of the schemes he protested at - for all of them it was much too late: the inquiries had passed and the bulldozers were on site.
- He, and the environmental movement in general, caused environmental concerns to be taken much more seriously in road construction. The Newbury Bypass incorporates a wide variety of mitigating features that would have been unthinkable on a road scheme even ten years previously, for example.
What Hooper left behind when he departed the limelight was his nickname. The word 'Swampy' has become a byword for environmental activists and activism. It is commonly used in a derogatory sense, in describing protestors as a 'bunch of Swampies' or the t-shirt slogan 'Sod Off Swampy'. However, Hooper also remains an icon and figurehead for the environmental movement.
- Photo above is © 1997 BBC.
With thanks to Nicholas Lawley for information on this page.