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Paddy Roy Bates: Adventurer founded country

| Monday, Oct. 15, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

A born swashbuckler, Paddy Roy Bates fought in the Spanish Civil War as a teenager, faced a Greek firing squad in World War II and had a German stick bomb explode in his face.

But the sturdy Briton recovered from his injuries, married a beauty queen and prospered in business — all before embarking on the greatest adventure of his life.

He started a country.

In 1967, he founded the Principality of Sealand on an abandoned North Sea military platform six miles off the British coast. He issued passports, stamps and coins, commissioned a national anthem and installed himself as its sovereign ruler.

In short order, the self-styled Prince Roy clashed with British authorities, who hauled him into court only to see the emboldened royal return to his 5,000-square-foot nautical kingdom. Later, he was overthrown in a coup but took back his republic in a helicopter raid led by a stunt pilot for James Bond movies.

Bates, who ruled his mini-nation for 45 years, died on Tuesday in Essex, England. He was 91 and had Alzheimer's disease, according to an announcement on the Sealand website.

“My husband should have been born 300 years ago,” his wife, Joan Bates, once told the Los Angeles Times. “He's an adventurer, an entrepreneur. The challenge is what it's all about.”

Born in a London suburb on Aug. 29, 1921, Bates was the son of a meat market salesman and his wife. Lying about his age, he joined the International Brigade at 15 to fight in the Spanish Civil War. During World War II, he was a major in the British infantry who saw action across Europe and Africa.

After the war, he went into the meat business in Ireland, imported latex from Malaysia, ran a chain of butcher shops and established a fleet of fishing boats on the Essex coast.

In the mid-1960s, he developed a fascination with pirate radio, joining a slew of unlicensed broadcasters eager to break the British Broadcasting Corp.'s monopoly through offshore operations. Eager to feed a growing market for pop music, some of the pirates broadcast from ships in international waters. Others took over old World War II sea forts.

Bates knew about the forts from his fishing excursions. In 1965, the handsome man with sea-green eyes and frothy white brows led a crew to an old Royal Navy gun platform, ousted its occupants and claimed it as the base for his 24-hour Radio Essex. When the British government clamped down on him, he moved a few miles to Fort Roughs, a rusting steel-and-concrete artillery platform unused since the 1950s.

Bates' broadcasts favored crooners like Frank Sinatra, but as the father of teenagers caught up in rock music, he considered more raucous options.

One of them was an unknown band calling itself the Rolling Stones, who came by one day to play a tape of their music for Bates.

His reaction, Bates' son Michael recalled in the London Independent in 2004, was less than charitable.

“What a load of bloody crap,” Bates muttered before ordering the future rock stars out.

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