The Current

Sealand is the world's 'smallest independent state.' For a small fee, Prince Liam will make you a royal

Wondering what to get that friend who has everything this Christmas? Why not make them a lord or lady of Sealand? Prince Liam of Sealand tells us about the history of his principality — created when his grandfather wanted to start a pirate radio station — and how you too can join its noble ranks.

Prince Liam of Sealand's grandfather seized former WWII defence platform in 1967

Sealand is a former defence platform off the coast of Britain, which was seized and proclaimed an independent nation by Englishman Roy Bates in 1967. (The Associated Press)

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Struggling to find a Christmas gift for that friend who has everything? Well, for about $50 you could make them a lord or lady of Sealand — described by supporters as the smallest independent state in the world.

Sealand is actually a former defence platform off the coast of Britain, consisting of a large steel deck sitting atop two concrete towers.

It was seized and proclaimed a nation by a pirate broadcaster named Roy Bates in 1967.

His grandson Liam Bates currently holds the title of Prince of Sealand.

He spoke with The Current's Laura Lynch about its history, and how you too can join its noble ranks. Here is part of their conversation.

Should I call you your highness?

Liam is fine. 

All right. Tell me, Liam, how can I become a lady of Sealand?

A good few years back now, we started this initiative of offering Sealand titles of nobility to our supporters, and it's all done through our official government website.

What do I get with that?

You basically get your registration deed, which will tell you that you're officially a lady of Sealand, and you'll get a big information pack with all sorts of details about Sealand, where it is, what we've been doing over the last 50 years — things like that.

Let's talk about Sealand itself then. What is it?

Sealand is a fortress located seven miles off of the east coast of the U.K. Dating back, as I say, to the Second World War, that's the structure. But Sealand in itself is the smallest independent state.

The Principality of Sealand issued their first postage stamps in 1969. (C. Leech/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

But when you when you say fortress, I actually think of something like a castle with battlements built on an island.

Many years ago — they've all been removed now — there were very large anti-aircraft gun emplacements on Sealand, to shoot down German bombers. But nowadays it's a lot more friendly looking and homely.

We have a kitchen, we have a lounge, we have toilets, bedrooms, a chapel, a gym. We even have a jail, actually, as well.

Do people live there permanently?

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Ever since 1967 there's been a manned presence on Sealand, like continuously, 24-hour.

So it's a platform, which means what? How do you get up to it?

There's only two ways up to Sealand. The most regular way is by boat. It takes approximately 20 to 25 minutes. And then we lower kind of swing-seat down, like a bosun's chair. The other way on, of course, is by helicopter. But that's a lot less frequent.

I'm out there at least once a month.

British pirate radio broadcaster Roy Bates and his wife Joan in 1966. He seized control of Sealand the following year. (Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Let's talk about the history of this place. How did your family come to rule Sealand?

My grandfather, Roy Bates, he was involved in pirate radio in the U.K. back in the '60s. He actually set up on an identical fortress in a different location, not too many miles away. But that one was actually within U.K. territorial waters.

The U.K. brought in some laws to shut these pirates, as they call them, down. My grandfather thought, well, what's next? 

He was researching some more and he found that the structure that is now Sealand was actually outside of the U.K. jurisdiction. So he went out there with a view to set up his pirate radio station. And when he got there, he thought, well, if this is no man's land, nobody owns this, it's outside of territorial limits — why don't I just declare my own country? It seemed like quite a normal idea to him, I think.

A boat full of royal marines were sent out to recapture it at one point.- Liam Bates, prince of Sealand

But what reaction did he get from the U.K. government after he declared independence?

There's many, many stories of ways that the U.K. government has tried to take back the fortress. I mean, a boat full of royal marines were sent out to recapture it at one point. And there's since been government papers that [have] been declassified where they considered having the Royal Navy run a ship into it in the night, to knock it down. Things like that.

So do any governments or the UN officially recognise Sealand?

Not officially, but we do fulfil all of the criteria of the Montevideo Convention, which actually states that if you fulfil these criteria, you will be recognized as a country.

Why is keeping Sealand so important to you and your family? You touched on it a bit earlier in terms of your elders, but why [is it] so important to you and your family now?

It's part of who I am. It's been in the family for generations now. I sincerely hope that the generations that succeed me will keep Sealand going.

Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Julie Crysler. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.


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