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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 1 October, 2002, 05:27 GMT 06:27 UK
Inside the world of the Redondans
King Leo, aka retired schoolteacher William Leonard Gates
King Leo unveils the new Redondan flag
It is scarcely a mile long and a third of a mile wide, and is best described as an uninhabitable volcanic rock covered in seagull droppings.

But the Antiguan island of Redonda boasts a nobility that includes Diana Dors, Dirk Bogarde and Dylan Thomas - and a king who lives in Norfolk.

By virtue of a "historical anomaly", the symbolic titles have been handed down since 1865 among friends - and none of the holders nowadays have ever visited their nominal realm.

The Inside Out programme, broadcast on BBC East on Monday night, visited King Leo - or retired schoolteacher William Leonard Gates - for a glimpse into the world of the Redondans.

The real Redonda
King Leo has never visited the real Redonda

King Leo, the fifth monarch, told the programme: "We don't claim the island - that has been run by Antigua for many, many years - but the title remains valid."

It stems from 1865 when Irish trader Matthew Dowdy Shiell landed on the island with some friends and claimed it as his own kingdom.

It was quickly annexed by the British government before coming under Antiguan control, but the title of monarch persisted.

Matthew Shiell handed it to his son, also Matthew, who pronounced himself King Felipe.

'Valid entitlement'

He retired to Sussex and nominated his friend, the poet John Gawsworth, to become King Juan after his death.

In the 1950s, King Juan developed an Intellectual Aristocracy of the Realm, bestowing honours on friends and celebrities alike.

But while some dukedoms were said to have been given away for the price of a drink, King Leo explained there is a legal basis to his title, which he was given in 1989.

"The title of King of Redonda is a valid legal entitlement which is known in law as Incorporeal Property - property without substance, just the same as the title of Lordship of the Manor.

Baroness Marshall de Redonda
Baroness Marshall: A purely Redondan world

"We do have members who have their passports and their bankbooks using their title, which I feel to be a personal compliment to the realm of Redonda, not to me."

Inside Out was invited to a royal garden party awash with peers, including one Crown Prince and a Viscount Windjammer.

One, Baroness Marshall de Redonda, explained why the eccentric tradition has persisted.

"I think what's wonderful about it is that it is one of those historical international anomalies.

"It is a real thing and it is nice to perpetuate that, even though perhaps none of us have actually visited the small volcano in the middle of the ocean.

"But it is nice to know it exists, and we do create a world that is purely Redondan."


Click here to go to Norfolk

More on Inside Out, the BBC One programme with stories from around England Inside Out
Surprising stories from around England
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27 Jul 02 | Country profiles
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