Monday, November 17, 2008

Angel of the Thames Hoax & The Brockley Connection

We have mentioned here before the 'phenomenon' of the 'Angel of the Thames' - the supposed sightings of an Angel on the river, particularly from the South Bank. In our earlier post and subsequent comments we cast doubt on the story, but were unclear about the balance between credulity, confusion and deliberate hoaxing.

It now seems pretty clear that the whole thing was a planned hoax, part of an attempted 'viral marketing' campaign for a charity event last year. In fact the basic story was largely debunked on a sceptical forum in November 2006, which demonstrated that:
- an alleged Slovakian TV interview with TV presenter David Grant about a supposed angel sighting was false - the STV logo was incorrect, the reporter had a made up name and the title picture was actually of St. Basils in Moscow, not a site in Slovakia.

- every website associated with this was registered in the second half of 2006, with no prior references existing outside of these 5 or 6 new sites to previous sightings (and from my perspective as a local historian with an interest in folklore, I would be very surprized that neither I nor other people I know researching this kind of stuff had ever heard of the so-called Thames Angel before).

- the Angel of the Thames site gives prominence to an 1865 etching of the construction of the Thames Embankment apparently showing a sighting of an Angel by construction workers. This picture is clearly and crudely faked - the same picture without the photoshop angel is on the Thames Embankment page at Wikipedia:


So who was behind this hoax? A comment to our earlier post has pointed us in the direction of a children's charity called 'Global Angels' - the suggestion seems to be that the idea was part of a marketing exercise for a music event the charity planned last year at the London Eye - close to the supposed sightings - called '360 degree revolution in Kindness'. I am not sure whether this ever actually took place - I can't find any reference to it other than as a planned event (e.g, in this article from 2006).

If you go into the Angel of the Thames website and view the source code (in Internet Explorer go to 'view' and then select 'source') you will be able to see the following in the keywords section: 'globalangels, 360, apparition, spooky, sightings, sighting, london eye, revolution in kindness, angel on the thames'. David Grant, who supposedly saw something while filming, is a sponsor of the charity, hosting its launch at the private bank Coutts & Co.

So, case closed? I think so, but it's not necessarily the end of the story. Thanks to some uncritical reports in the press, the story of the Thames Angel is now out there, perhaps being passed on as folklore by people unaware of its dubious provenance. Perhaps too, the tale will shape people's perceptions so that they interpret unusual experiences/hallucinations by the Thames as sightings of an Angel. So don't be surprized if future sightings crop up and the story develops a life of its own.

What about the ethics? The charity appears to be raising money for some worthy causes and I guess a prank is relatively harmless. On the other hand putting deliberate lies into the public sphere should not be taken lightly - I think when people do stunts like this the least they should do is hold up their hands and publicly acknowledge what they have done to prevent these lies becoming a matter of record. So come on Global Angels, come clean!

Oh yes and the Brockley connection... Global Angels was founded in 2003 by Molly Bedingfield, with her offspring Daniel and Natasha Bedingfield on the board. The family used to live in Manor Avenue, Brockley, indeed it was here that Daniel recorded his best selling debut album. More intriguingly the Bedingfields seem to have been members of the Pentecostalist Hillside Church - perhaps not averse to encouraging a literal belief in the tangible existence of Angels!


max said...

Despite my agnosticism and skepticism, as the husband of a Christian woman I must from time to time attend Church, a think that I take gracefully as it allows me to see the other side. Anyway, I saw the Bedingfields many times at Micah Christian Ministries which on Sundays uses the Hall of Aberdasher's in Jerningham Road, this was a few yers ago, before their success. By the way, faith issues aside, the music there is eccellent, as it is also in many other black churches in Lewisham.

Anonymous said...

Almost a candidate for where the almost believable becomes unbelievable

CarolineLD said...

Brilliant piece of research - it will be fascinating to see if the 'Thames Angel' story does indeed take on a life of its own.

Anonymous said...

I see Southwark Tories painted over half of the Peckham Rye Blakes's Dream

Howvere pressure has ensured will be re painted

Anonymous said...

Am guessing this is probably a hoax of some kind.
Carrie and David Grant are Christians, so if he did see an Angel I doubt he'd get angry and be scared like that.
They also happen to be patrons of global angels charity. was probably some weird promo work.