Prince Roy Bates has died – now the name probably doesn’t mean a lot to most people, it didn’t to me, but I remembered his exploits from a very young age. I have no time whatsoever for titles but if you’re going to have one then make it as worthless and wonderful as this one.
Prince Roy was the would-be pirate radio founder who originally set up Radio Essex offshore in the sixties and was subsequently closed down in that most pernicious of moves by the British government – much as Tony Benn has much to recommend himself this was certainly not his finest hour as Postmaster General. So, setting out to find a base further afield in international waters Roy came upon an abandoned second world war fort some seven miles off the coast of Suffolk. You can only assume that he fell in love with the hulking concrete beast set in the middle of the
North Sea or maybe
had watched Passport to Pimlico one too many times, because he abandoned his
plans for more broadcasting and instead proclaimed it the principality of
Sealand. The UK Government of course took him to court. They lost. Roy declared himself Prince and his wife Princess and with their son they set about making the relic a home.
In 1975 a German, backed by Austrian and Dutch mercenaries in, amazingly, a helicopter and speedboats, tried to invade and take over. Initially they took Roy hostage but were overwhelmed by the superior Sealand Special Forces and in turn they were taken hostage by the Bates family - in a rather wonderful move they persuaded the German to take out a Sealand passport and then retrospectively charged him with treason ! An incident which ended up with representatives of the German government travelling to Sealand to negotiate.
|Prisoners of the Prince - looking like extras from a seventies low budget action film|
Plenty big enough to live on the place had no electricity so they restored the old generators, they kept watch day and night for invaders, they looked for and found their own beautifully warped freedom in an ever more conformist world. Roy designed the country's flag, currency, stamps and passports. Few recognised it as a country in it’s own right but who cared?
Latterly they kept themselves afloat (sic) by selling more wonderfully worthless aristocratic titles to the principality – mind you, they are at least honest about it unlike most of the titles handed out back on the mainland. You can get one here
should you be so inclined.
It was such a good idea that even organised crime got in on the act – in the eighties a Spanish ex Guardia Civil was arrested for running a scam selling fake Sealand passports, diplomatic plates and so on – how crazy is that, selling fakes of what were presumably worthless documents in the first place? Anyway, he seemed to do OK out of it – at one point he was thought to have sold 4000 Sealand passports to citizens of the then Brit colony of
Kong…at £1000 each ! To top it all he ran the whole operation out
of a bingo hall in ….
He had, I should stress, no connection to the true and rightful prince of
The principality was often talked about when I was at school – the idea that someone with enough imagination could do this, the practicalities of doing it and the spark that it set that one day we might try to do the same. We might have been born too late for the heyday of the pirates but we knew a brilliantly crazy idea when we saw it. Something of a legend and one worth passing on. Roy once said 'I might die young or I might die old, but I'll never die of boredom' - would that we could all say the same !
Here's Art Brut's take on the micronation.