Joan Bates dead: Founder and 'princess' of Sealand dies aged 86

She and her husband cocked a snook at Britain by turning an anti-aircraft installation into a micro-nation in 1968

As a young woman, Joan Bates was a carnival queen. But it was only after declaring a Second World War fort in the North Sea as the world’s smallest kingdom that she acquired more formal royalty as “Princess Joan of Sealand”.

She and her husband, Major Roy Bates, cocked a snook at Britain by turning an anti-aircraft installation off the Essex coast into a micro-nation in 1968. Her death was announced on Monday. She was 86.

Their son, Michael, who has controlled Sealand since the death of his father in 2012, paid tribute to his mother and an eventful life in which the family’s 10,000 sq ft principality was the subject of several bids by the British government to shut it down. In a statement, Mr Bates said: “My parents will always be remembered for shaking up the Establishment with pirate radio, declaring Sealand’s independence and confronting the Royal Navy and other foreign governments.”

Roy met Joan at a dance while he was recuperating from serious facial burns he suffered in the Second World War, and they married within three months.

In 1965, the couple spotted an opportunity in the shape of one of four steel-and-concrete forts anchored to sandbars in the North Sea. They established Radio Essex, claiming it as Britain’s first 24-hour pop pirate radio station.

It was shut down by the Labour government but, undeterred, the couple bought a second installation – HM Fort Roughs – which was situated just outside British territorial waters. After taking legal advice, they declared independence and named their statelet Sealand.

In a statement on the Sealand website, the couple’s grandson, James, said: “Joan was a natural beauty who lovingly devoted her life to her husband. Roy declared the independence of Sealand on Joan’s birthday, and with it her title of princess.”

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