"Who is Banksy?" is a question you probably ask yourself whenever Facebook reminds you he exists and should be on £20 notes or the name of a Bristol airport or whatever, to which the answer is this: Banksy is the guy who bought my family home and my pet sheep. While it's not the greatest story ever told, it's definitely the most interesting thing about me, and if Banksy had bought your house and your sheep, don't tell me you wouldn't mine the shit out it, too.
Your first thought is probably this: you are mega-rich, because Banksy is mega-rich and why would Banksy buy a poor person's house? It's a fair assumption to make. But, to paraphrase Steven Segal in Under Siege 2, "assumptions are the mother of all fuck ups" and that is probably why no one knows who he is or where he is except for me. Because Banksy isn't an idiot. He doesn't live in ostentatious penthouses or on rolling estates. He doesn't sit on a yacht in Cannes tossing chips aux mouettes. No. He moves around, laying low in affordable little cottages, cottages like mine, cottages where he can finally, thankfully, remove the paint-spattered bandana from his mouth and rinse it in the Bosch dishwasher we left behind in the sale, leaving him free to count his piles of cash out loud so he doesn't lose track.
Banksy first came to our house over a decade ago. Our thatched cottage was in a small village in a small county somewhere in England. It was also completely hidden from the road and had no neighbours. While this made the long, dark, winter nights especially un-relaxing, it was the ideal location for a world-famous, anonymous creative mastermind.
It was June, I think. We'd just put the house on the market and that weekend were conducting an agent-free open weekend because we were bohemian like that. We'd set everything up to attract the right sort of buyer: the floors were cleaned, we'd put flowers everywhere, the chickens were out roaming free range all over the lawn, the rats were in the chicken run, rolling eggs out of the hen house with their little ratty hands, and the sheep were leaning deadpan against the gate, presumably waiting for lunch or some sort of absolution.
Loads of people turned up to view the house. One nice woman even turned up in a wheelchair but couldn't get into the second room so had to leave. After lunch, a Very Ordinary couple turned up in a Very Ordinary car and came over to the house. The man, who was Mr Banksy, wasn't remarkable except that he was tall and wearing so much black it made your eyes yawn. He also had a baseball cap pulled down low over his face. That should have rung all sorts of alarm bells, because it clearly demonstrates a well-cultivated, BND-level of social espionage, but hey, we missed it.
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More people who live in the countryside – exploring Jamel: Germany's "Nazi village"
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Everyone stood in the kitchen for a short while making smalltalk. Being British, it was typically stilted, but every time my mum asked him a question he would shrug and grunt and look at his wife, Mrs Banksy, who answered on his behalf. She was very nice and chatty and charming. Mr Banksy shuffled around a lot saying stuff like "um" and "no", when Mum offered him a cup of tea. To be honest, his whole vibe was pretty unhinged, until his wife explained that he was "creative", an artist who – wait for it – made the giant gold Bafta heads for the awards. That was why they wanted the house, because it had a little barn at the back that was ideal for building gold heads. You have to admit, it was a pretty solid smokescreen.
It didn't occur to anyone that he was lying, so my mum listened to what transpired to be a bullshit description about laying gold leaf as they asked us questions about the boiler and the tiles and whether they could buy the curtains. See, that was the only weird thing about the afternoon – they said they wanted to buy everything and were willing to pay. The curtains, the white goods, the furniture, even the four pet chickens and 16 multigenerational pet sheep we had in the field. Like, everything. Because you should know that about Banksy: the man is into a particular lifestyle. And bar a questionable "stencilling phase" in the 1990s, my mum had spent her life building that same lifestyle.
Banksy's 'Sirens of the Lambs' artwork, which fits pretty nicely with the sheep talk
After an hour they left, my mum did some maths and decided they were a safe bet. She agreed to leave the animals but not the sofa, which either suggests that Banksy likes animals or my mum's ethical compass is faulty.
We sold up, moved house, to a different county, but kept up a fairly comprehensive correspondence with Mr and Mrs Banksy. They would inform us about the animals, when a sheep died (some popped their clogs weirdly quickly), send us postcards, stuff like that. And every year, when we watched the Baftas on telly, we would incorrectly tell our friends that the guy who made the heads bought our house. It was fairly uneventful until one day, a bailiff turned up at their door because of some unpaid fine after my mum accidentally drove down a bus lane – they used to forward our post but we missed the DVLA letter, and now the guy at their door wanted some money.
Suffice to say the Banksy fur flew and he rang up my mum who, at the time, was living in a caravan in the garden of her new house, a call which capped off an especially bleak period in her life. Later, we made a joke that maybe he should have just given him some gold leaf and sent him away. How we laughed! Fucking tools. But, we managed to sort things out amicably enough and carried on living our ignorant little lives.
Sometimes we used to drive past the house, just for nostalgic reasons, and one time actually saw them pulling out in their Volvo. When we saw their car, we pulled over and jumped out to say hi. Now, to us, it was obvious we were just being friendly, but to say they pranged out is a gross understatement. Within seconds, Mrs Banksy had gone full Costner on us, physically shielding her husband in the car. Then she realised who it was and quickly calmed down, and we stood for a moment sheepishly chatting about the sheep. Mrs Banksy did actually ask us in for tea when we met outside the gate. But in a fantastically idiotic move – because my sister needed a wee – we said no.
Mr Banksy wasn't remarkable, except that he was tall and wearing so much black it made your eyes yawn. He also had a baseball cap pulled down low over his face.
That was the last time we saw the Banksys.
About four years later, my mum got a phonecall from a man at a Sunday newspaper. Unsurprisingly, said paper has a crack team of reporters whose job it is to unmask the guy, which is merely proof, if proof were needed, that NCTJs are bullshit. The guy quizzed my mum on the phone for about 20 minutes, patronising the hell out of her, asking her to "pop on Google" and "have a peep at the picture of [------]" before explaining that the facts had led him to believe the man was Banksy, which he backed up pretty effectively with a series of un-quashable facts.
Luckily, what my mum lacks in animal welfare she makes up for in nous and she told him very little. Instead, she put the phone down and wrote a letter to Mrs Banksy who was, as she wrote back, pretty grateful. Then my mum rang the farmer up the road who used to help with the sheep, and occasionally slaughter a lamb when things were tight at Casa del B, who said they knew all along who he was. Because he, like four out of five people in the local area, had an inexplicable urge to protect the guy. The next thing we knew, Mr and Mrs Banksy had vanished. I say the last bit like I was privy to it, but the truth is, my mum didn't tell me for months because I was a journalist and there is evidently no trust like that betwixt a mother and her youngest child.
It is, of course, very unfortunate for the Banksys that they supposedly bought the house of a woman whose daughter was a journalist. But because I didn't work for a right-wing organisation, it's only now, years later, with the Banksys long gone, that I've written about it. Imagine sitting on that secret! Not that I did, mind – that shit's social dynamite. Still, now that he's safely ensconced in a new place, I'm selling him out, mainly because I wish we hadn't left the sheep