On Christmas Eve of 1966, Paddy Roy Bates, a retired British army major, drove a small boat with an outboard motor seven miles off the coast of England into the North Sea. He had sneaked out of his house in the middle of the night, inspired with a nutty idea for a perfect gift for his wife, Joan.
Using a grappling hook and rope, he clambered onto an abandoned anti-aircraft platform and declared it conquered. Now the platform is known as Sealand, the world’s smallest self-proclaimed micronation, with just 0.0015 square miles of land.
But this was not always the case, the platform was raised in 1942 and was named HM Fort Roughs. Until the end of the Second World War.
For BBC journalist Mike MacEacheran it all seemed like a fictional movie story until with the permission of Paddy’s son, Michael who is now the proclaimed prince, was invited to Sealand.
“I was only 14 when I first traveled there during my summer school break to help my father, and I thought it would only be a six-week adventure,” he says from his main home, a bungalow on the Essex coast.
As a general rule, most micronations adhere to the Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States, which in 1933 was signed by international leaders, including the then-president of the United States, Franklin D Roosevelt.
This is why Sealand has survived, also thanks to the fact that during the 1960s in the UK they thought it was more economical to let things play out than to take legal action, taking more time and money.
In its prime, the place welcomed more than 500 people, but eventually, this type of life was depleting the population as it rose as a “nation” that fights against the authority of the British kingdom.
During these years they developed different mechanisms to obtain electricity and drinking water through mills, thanks to the strong winds in the area it has been possible. On the platform, they even have a soccer team, a flag, and an anthem.
“If you do not know that you are in the sea in some cases or notice it, we live like any other person on the continent,” says Prince Michael.
In Bates’ life, one thing has remained reassuringly constant: Sealand still stands tall, watching silently over the North Sea. For the rest of us, it is a curious place so near to the UK and yet so far – an elsewhere of this world so extraordinary and different that it almost feels impossible.