John Smeaton: Scottish Hero

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John Smeaton as superhero.

When it became apparent that last month's car bomb attack on Glasgow airport had failed to wreak its intended carnage, people in Scotland felt able to relax, to relish even some of the slapstick quality of the attack's spectacular failure.

In true Scottish fashion, the country's own city, Glasgow, bore the brunt of most of the widely circulated jokes. One email card featured a heavily bandaged suspect, lying in a hospital bed complaining: "But I was promised 72 virgins." The nurse replies: "Then why...did you come to Glasgow?"

So when videos of John Smeaton, a Glaswegian baggage handler, began appearing on the web, it was clear that the public had found its hero. Smeaton, on a cigarette break at the time of the attack, tackled one of the men who exited the fiery Jeep and helped wrestle him into police control. Smeaton's post-attack interviews with TV journalists have become wildly popular on YouTube, appreciation societies have sprung up on Facebook, and there is even a website set up by an IT project manager in Glasgow:, which has raked in a million views and over $9000 for a "beer fund" for Smeaton.

If Smeaton's deeds made him an action hero; his words have made him a comic one. His interviews are delivered in such a distinct Scottish idiom and accent that one Australian network provided subtitles. His most oft-quoted statements include this account of his tussle with the terrorist: "Me and other folk were just tryin' tae get the boot in and some other guy banjoed [punched] him." And this warning to future terrorists: "You're nae hitting the polis [police], mate, there's nae chance... Glasgow doesnae accept this; if you come tae Glasgow, we'll set about ye."

But it's the high-seriousness with which Smeaton fielded reporters' earnest questions on June 30, the day of the attack, that has truly elevated him to comic status. With the faux-authority of his orange worker's vest, he gives an account full of dramatic pauses and the inflated diction of a policeman giving evidence: "I saw a man egress the vehicle," he explained to one reporter. In the event's aftermath, Smeaton's unblinking gravitas has become pure British satire — the David Brent of airport security.

Sure, there were others who came to the aid of police officers in the attack, but no one has caught the public's imagination like Smeaton. Bloggers post peans to his bravery, and have great fun playing with his assonance-friendly name: "Smeaton meets al-qaeda" one post suggested; another referred to "his smeatness," one more to "the smeatonator"; there were even calls for a national museum: the Smeatsonian.

What does the great man himself think about all this? From his home in Erskine outside Glasgow, where Smeaton, 31, lives with his parents, the man known as Scotland's new braveheart had turned from warrior to philosopher. He told TIME: "I find the whole thing quite strange, the way people have responded and the stuff on all the websites. I'm just going to ride with it, that's all you can do.

He explained: "I'm just an ordinary guy — I like my Xbox 360, trout fishing — and all I did was what anyone else would do. An airport worker has an obligation to the public. It wasn't really a choice. I don't understand some of these responses. As far as I'm concerned a human being is just a human being."

Smeaton added that he has pledged to give half of the money raised for him to a charity in Glasgow that cares for injured military veterans. On the web, his legend continues to grow, with doctored pictures of Smeaton as superman recently posted. But Smeaton said such claims of superpowers were overblown. "I'm actually exhausted," he said. "And have had to take time off sick from the airport to recover." Which proves that, despite the tributes and spotlight, it's not easy being Smeaton.