Exclusive: Outrage as passport office says ‘acting is not a proper job’

Equity president Malcolm Sinclair has written to home secretary Theresa May to complain after a West End performer’s reference for a passport application was rejected because “acting was not a proper job”.

The performer in question – Michael Sheldon – is appearing in the West End production of Three Days in May. He had provided a reference on a passport application for his daughter’s boyfriend. However, the application was turned down at interview by the passport office on two counts – the supplied photograph was unsuitable and there were problems with Sheldon’s reference because an actor was not regarded as an acceptable referee.

Speaking to The Stage, Sheldon said he thought the rejection was “staggering and something I felt I had to challenge”. He added: “Unless we are told otherwise, we must take it that the views of a clerk in the passport office represent those of the government. If it is the government’s opinion that ‘acting is not a proper job’ then I think they should come out with it.”

Sinclair said he had “never heard of anything like this at all” and neither had anyone at Equity, so he had decided to write “an exploratory letter” to May. In the letter, he says the rejection had “caused some [members of Equity] dismay, even outrage”

“For those of us who earn our living as actors, and who pay our taxes and whose contribution to the creative industries make them second only to the financial services as generators of much-needed growth, to be told in no uncertain terms that what we do is ‘not a proper job’ is simply unacceptable.

“This is to ask for confirmation that this view of our profession is not the official view of the passport office, and that this is made clear to your entire staff. If we discover it has become the official view, we will, of course, have to take this matter further.”

The complaint comes at a difficult time for the Home Office. May has had to deal with months of criticism of the Border Agency. Following a review into UK border controls, May took the decision to split the UK Border Agency into two separate organisations last month.

A spokesman for the Identity and Passport Service said: “Our customer’s experience here is worrying and we apologise for any offence caused – we will be investigating and looking at whether further staff training is required.

“We provide a list of occupations solely as a guide to assist customers but are clear the occupation of the countersignatory is not a determining factor in considering a passport application. We will make that clear in advice on the Direct.gov website.”

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The Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond, London. Photo: Noel Foster