In January 2011, as a lone security guard sat idly watching television in a small portakabin, a group of urban explorers known as the ‘London Consolidation Crew’ quietly slipped, undetected, into what was generally considered to be one of the most secure sites in the capital: The Shard.
Although still under construction at the time, the imposing structure still towered 72 storeys into the London sky. And so, having circumvented the site’s only uniformed deterrent, the fearless adventurers of the LCC began their ascent, working their way up through the building’s many levels, amid bare concrete floors, exposed girders, and the clutter of construction paraphernalia, until the brisk winter air swirled and gusted against their clammy faces as they reached the top floor.
As a reward for their efforts, the crew were able to take some amazing night-time aerial shots of London, which they later posted on their Placehacking blog. But curiously, not until 14 months after the event.
At the time, I read a fantastically detailed photography blog about the group’s Shard exploits, which forensically examined the images and accompanying story. When exactly did the trespass happen? Is the Shard site really only protected by one ineffectual guard? How did they pull off those pin-sharp long exposures in such blustery conditions? And most importantly, why had the group sat on such a great story for so long?
As it all seemed a little too good to be true, with a few niggling inconsistencies, the group’s exploits simply had to be examined more closely. Did it all check out, or were we being hoodwinked? It was a case of “Great story! But I have some questions…”
I thought about this – the importance of questioning everything – the other day, when Otto English tweeted a photo of some ‘March to Leave’ campaigners, asking: “Who are these people who seem to be a Mitford sisters tribute act? They keep popping up.”
I was immediately intrigued as to who the women were and why they had seemingly become the faces of the Leave campaign. So I went into Bellingcat-lite mode and spent a week wading through what I could find online to see if I could discover a bit more about them. I had questions….lots of questions.
Alice Grant (@missalicegrant)
Alice’s Twitter account was activated in August 2013, yet her first tweets didn’t appear till 10 April 2016, which consisted of a “selfie with Pickle” (her cat) and a photo of the Trevi Fountain in Rome. She then didn’t tweet a single thing for over 11 months; nothing about the EU referendum or its outcome – nothing.
Following this almost immediate hiatus, she popped up again in early 2017 to post just two tweets: a photo of Pink Floyd from 1967 and a photo of Syd Barret. She then disappeared again for another 11 months.
Between February and September 2018, she mainly retweeted nothing but cats and The Beatles (with Pingu and a video of some flamingos thrown in for good measure). Her account wasn’t the slightest bit political. Then, quite suddenly, on 20 November 2018, she retweeted a video of Jacob Rees-Mogg talking about how the government was aiming to frustrate Brexit – and the floodgates just opened. Actually, “floodgate” is too kind. Imagine someone blowing a hole in the side of a 4,500 litre septic tank.
Since that time, she’s retweeted the likes of Nigel Farage, Gerard Batten, Julia Hartley-Brewer, Guido Fawkes (talking about “the remainstream media”), the DUP’s Sammy “go to the chippy” Wilson, and everyone’s favourite working class breaker of electoral law: Darren Grimes.
It’s a bizarre 0-100mph transformation from infrequent, inconsequential tweeter to hardcore pro-Leave mouthpiece. And what’s perhaps more surprising, given the bot-like nature of her Twitter account, is that she’s actual flesh and blood. She attended the Leave Means Leave rally at London’s Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre on 14 December 2018 with her mum, Lydia Grant, and 15-year-old sister Beatrice, where she had her photo taken with Nigel Farage (and was also featured prominently in a Mail Online article about the event). And since January, she’s also been regularly protesting outside Parliament.
The family were mentioned in a La Croix article in January, which quoted their father, Matthew Grant, as saying: “The country will probably suffer during the first years after Brexit” – but we will adapt and “everything will be fine”. (For some, maybe.)
On 8 January 2018, Sherelle Jacobs (Assistant Comment Editor at the Daily Telegraph) posted a photo of Alice and her mum holding up their placards – plucked from the protests completely at random, I’m sure – where she noted that Alice is a “17-year-old from London who is studying A-level politics”. Of course, this makes the distinct lack of political content on her Twitter account pre-November 2018 even more curious. Also, judging by her pro-Leave tweets, it’s entirely possible that she’s being taught A-Level politics by Roger Daltrey.
On 14 January, she was interviewed in a Deutsche Welle News report about the Remain/Leave protests outside of Parliament, in which she affirmed: “We can definitely survive a no deal.” When the journalist reminded her that almost every economic model showed that the UK’s GDP would go down, and asked if that was a price worth paying, she provided a typically woolly response: “Yeah! We’re the British people. I think we can do it…and Britain’s a strong country…and I think we can definitely survive.”
As her stirring rallying cry fizzled out into a desperately uncomfortable rictus smile, the camera then panned to her mum, who, with a Govian distrust of experts, added: “Economists are usually wrong, you know. They’re not always right. They always say things which are not right, and maybe this time they’re wrong as well.”
So, to recap: we can survive a no deal Brexit because “we’re the British people” (immune, as we are, to economic shock and potential food and medicine shortages), and “economists are usually wrong”. So, hey! Let’s turn our frowns into big fucking smiles!
Generally, the pro-Leave content that Alice posts almost always features photos and videos of her and her family protesting outside Parliament with the likes of Belinda de Lucy McKeeve (more on her later) and Alison Sheridan (‘Leave Means Leave’ campaigner and UKIP chairman for Exeter).
They pop up absolutely everywhere. Three seconds into a BBC news report with Tory MP Owen Paterson claiming that the threat of ‘no deal’ has been overplayed – THERE THEY ARE! A cutaway of Alice and her mum holding “Believe in Britain” and “No Deal? No Problem!” placards. Three seconds into another BBC News clip – THERE THEY ARE AGAIN!! Alice and Beatrice standing shoulder to shoulder with Harry Todd, Leave Means Leave’s national ground campaign co-ordinator, as they join him in a less than rousing chant of “Leave Means Leave!”.
On 4 February Alice tweeted: “It is indeed SHAMEFUL that the BBC broadcasted the speech by the extremist and EU supra-nationalist Verhofstadt, and not of our Nigel, who valiantly stood up for our country against those EU fanatics.” Sick-inducing reference to “our Nigel” aside, referring to Verhofstadt as an “extremist” and his EU colleagues as “fanatics” when she follows the likes of Gerard Batten, Marine Le Pen and a ‘Tommy Robinson for PM’ Twitter account is quite something. In fact, she quote-tweeted Marine Le Pen in February, saying “Spot on!”.
On 12 March, Alice tweeted that we should start “deselecting the anti-democratic traitors who insult the British people by placing the EU organisation above our country’s future of freedom and prosperity”. The distance travelled between Pickle the cat and her furious talk of traitors is incalculable.
On 13 March, Alice tweeted two photos of herself posing in a short skirt, holding a Union Flag in one hand and a “Let’s Go WTO!” placard in the other. Using the #MarchToLeave hashtag, she said that she would see everyone in Sunderland on Saturday 16 March. Her photos (a smiley, carefree, head tilt shot and a ‘looking over the shoulder, hand on hip’ arse shot) had a whiff of Instagram influencer about them. Instead of the placard, she could just as easily been holding a pack of limited edition Choco Leibniz, or a new brand of filter coffee, or a Charlie Dimmock-endorsed multi-purpose garden rake. But it was ‘no deal’ Brexit that was being sold instead.
Following the first leg of the March to Leave – full of soggy smiles and rain-sodden snaps with Catherine Blaiklock (shortly before she resigned as leader of the Brexit party) – Alice and Beatrice were subsequently featured in lead photos in The Times, The Sunday Telegraph and The Mail Online. (The Telegraph has used Alice as the lead photo on several Brexit-related articles – here, here and here. They can’t get enough of her!) The girls even made it into Peter Hitchens’ column. In a piece entitled ‘The mystery of the glamorous Brexiteers’, Hitchens bemoaned “the almost total absence of glamorous young women” at protest events over the years. Until, that is, he came across a picture of the Grant sisters; two “unusually attractive females” demonstrating in favour of leaving the EU. Alice tweeted her thanks to Hitchens, who, in response, snidely enquired: “Do you do a lot of demonstrating?”
AT WHATEVER COST!!
Writing in The Spectator about the March to Leave – as the dreary column of cunts trudged towards London – Nigel Farage name-checked the Grant sisters and curiously blew a large proportion of his word count addressing accusations that they’re hired help.
‘Pints and pretty girls: my week with the March to Leave’, Nigel Farage in The Spectator (30 March 2019)
A week into the event, as we walked from Mansfield, I was delighted to chat to the Grant sisters, Bea and Alice. They are first-time voters and committed Brexiteers. To the horror of many, they also happen to be bright, pretty girls. Yes, intelligent young women do support Brexit. The Remain side don’t have complete ownership of Britain’s youth. Journalists have been trying to find out more about their identity. There have been claims made that these girls are hired Russian models, that they’re ringers, only turning up at Leave events because someone is paying them. Though flattering, the truth is far more prosaic. They are just ordinary young women excited by the prospect of a free UK. They are an inspiration to me; it’s their future that I’m working for.
It’s true to say, of course, that Alice and Beatrice certainly will be first-time voters…when they’re old enough to vote. But it was interesting to note Farage’s keenness to stress that the Leave campaign isn’t just puce old men (and Mark Francois) dribbling on about the war – they have young people, too! Also, framing his meeting with the sisters as a chance encounter on the Mansfield leg of the march belies the fact that he met Alice at a Leave Means Leave rally as far back as December 2018. The sisters were also among several young people used as set dressing at another Leave Means Leave rally in January 2019.
Most recently, Alice tweeted that the People’s Vote March in London was “a sick display of hatred & bigotry towards the 17.4m people who voted to be an independent, self-governing, democratic nation”. She also claimed that the 52%/48% referendum victory for the Leave campaign was “the largest democratic mandate in our history”. Even our Nigel said that a result with that kind of narrow winning margin would be “unfinished business”!
On the same day she was chatting shit about the People’s March, she was also being pursued on Twitter by a freelance journalist who wanted to get her on Stephen Nolan’s BBC Radio 5 live show to talk about Brexit. The fact that Alice has gone from complete anonymity to becoming a media starlet in just a few months is as baffling as it is suspicious.
Beatrice Grant (@BeatriceGrant_)
Beatrice fired up her Twitter account in January 2019, claiming to be a “proud leave supporter campaigning for democracy and freedom”. She was front and centre in Esther McVey’s excruciating Ladies for Leave video, which included a slightly awkward moment when McVey turned towards Beatrice when reaffirming that they all knew what they’d voted for (she’s too young to vote). Of course, that didn’t stop Beatrice and her mum doing individual pieces to camera, stating the reasons why Britain should leave the EU.
Perhaps the weirdest thing to happen during her short time on Twitter was when journalist Peter Jukes tweeted a photo of Alice and Beatrice in The Times and accused them of being paid models to bump up numbers on Farage’s sparsely attended March to Leave. In response, perma-tanned slug Andy Wigmore claimed: “Actually, it’s the daughter of one of our leaders.“
The following day Beatrice publicly refuted Wigmore’s claim, saying: “Who are you Andy? I’m not related to any leader of the Leave Means Leave campaign. I’m so disappointed by your lies.” He neither deleted the tweet nor retracted the claim – it was a most bizarre interaction.
Alexander Feltham (@AlexFeltham_)
Like Beatrice, Alexander Feltham’s Twitter account didn’t pop up till January 2019. He’s a Wykehamist and a friend of Alice and Beatrice, who acts like a sort of praetorian guard, tackling any detractors who accuse the sisters of being on the Leave Means Leave payroll. Interesting factoid: he follows the Wurzels’ official Twitter account.
Belinda de Lucy McKeeve (@BrexitBetrayal)
In June 2016, a little under two weeks before the EU Referendum, Belinda de Lucy McKeeve was attending the Cartier Queen’s Cup at the Guard’s Polo Club with Lady Kitty Spencer. Just over a week ago, she was hanging out with rank and file Brexiteers at Worksop Royal Legion. She used to run the Brexit Betrayal Twitter account (until she recently deleted it when she became a Brexit Party candidate for the South East) and believes there’s a globalist plot to stop Brexit. It’s quite a turnaround. But like Alice and Beatrice, she’s another one of the pro-Leave cabal who’s swiftly risen to prominence within the Leave Means Leave campaign. But something doesn’t quite add up about her story either.
She’s married to Raymond McKeeve, a “leading private equity specialist” and corporate finance partner at Jones Day, and is a trustee for Give Them Time, a charity founded by the disgraced former defence secretary and arch Brexiteer, Dr Liam Fox. However, Belinda’s wealthy background and high-profile connections are often eschewed in favour of the simple “mum of four” label whenever she’s on Leave Means Leave duty. And sometimes she uses a different name entirely.
On 15 January she was interviewed on Spiegel TV and also featured in an Evening Standard article about the Brexit protests at Westminster, where she went by the name Belinda Camborne. In fairness, it’s not like she was operating under the moniker Sophronia Fakename – and public records show her full name to be Belinda Claire De Camborne Lucy – but it feels like she made a conscious decision to drop elements of her name that made her sound overtly posh and unrelatable. Of course, it may have been a quite innocent Trumpian effort to save time and words.
On 12 February, she was invited onto Jeremy Vine’s BBC2 radio show to talk about the Westminster protests, along with Polly Ernest from the Stand of Defiance European Movement (SODEM). According to Vine, they were chosen as guests because they were both grassroots activists in their mid-40s and had children. But I find it odd that Belinda and the Grant sisters have been getting so much media exposure. Why them? Why now? They’re all clearly wealthy people who will undoubtedly be insulated from the fallout of a no deal Brexit, so the question is: how will they benefit and prosper from it?
Don’t get me wrong, wealthy people can be passionate about
making a fortune campaigning for important causes just like the rest of us. But the cynic in me simply doesn’t believe that there’s a benevolent reason for their sudden interest in heavily promoting a no deal Brexit.
Incidentally, my favourite photo of the Grant family shows their mum holding a “No Deal? No Problem!” sign in one hand and a Fortnum & Mason bag in the other. We’re all in this together, right?
Well, that’s what they would have us believe.
Oh, and the ‘London Consolidation Crew’ sat on their Shard story for over a year because they wanted to return to the site a few more times and knew that going public too early with their story would see security arrangements significantly beefed up. Their story checked out. Not too sure about this bunch, though.