Alexi Mostrous, who presented last year’s true crime smash hit Sweet Bobby, a podcast about an astonishingly all-consuming catfish case, is back with another mind-bendingly weird online tale. This one is going to take a little explanation…
Hoaxed concerns a small primary school in Hampstead, north London, the church next door and the parents and children within. It also concerns two children who attended that school, whose mother and father split up. So far, so mundane. But then the children’s mother – Ella Draper – gets together with another man, Abraham Christie, and this relationship, as Mostrous says in the podcast, is like a bomb going off. Christie and Draper persuade Draper’s children to tell police that there’s a satanist cult being run at the school and church – one that not only involves paedophilia, but also killing babies and drinking their blood – and that the children’s birth father is involved, along with many of the teachers and other parents. The police investigate and find nothing. They re-interview the children and discover that Christie and Draper told them to tell lies, and that Christie physically abused them. The children are taken away from Draper and their father is given custody.
The story, while nuts, has common elements with older satanic panics and the QAnon-fuelled Pizzagate
Yes, ugh. But are you still with me? Because this gets a lot weirder. To cut a very strange story short, Draper continues to make her wild accusations; a friend of hers, Sabine McNeill, obtains the personal details of 175 parents, teachers and church workers, and puts them online; internet vigilantes from across the world decide to attack the members of this small, innocent community. Infowars and followers of David Icke are involved. The fallout, in real life and on the internet, is unbelievable – harrowing, appalling, life-wrecking – and is still going on, though this nonsense started way back in 2014. And Draper and Christie have disappeared.
Mostrous’s presentation and telling of this story is, I have to say, astonishing. In the first three episodes, he somehow makes this madly complicated story into gripping listening; and on top of that, he lands interviews with Draper and McNeill, plus some of the online abusers. Plus – plus! – he explains that this story, while nuts, has elements in common with older satanic panics and the QAnon-fuelled Pizzagate disgrace, that there are a few online vigilante types involved in almost every current internet conspiracy frenzy, and that, in the next few episodes, we shall learn that this madness spreads out to involve politicians, including a cabinet minister. Whatever I write doesn’t really do this story justice. Mostrous deserves some sort of medal simply for getting the facts straight, let alone turning the awfulness into a very good podcast. Unmissable.
After you pick your jaw back off the lino, why not try At Your Service as a palate-cleanser? This is Dua Lipa’s interview podcast. Lipa, in case you didn’t know, is a world-beating pop star, with a platinum album and three Grammys on her shelf. Currently the sixth most-streamed artist on Spotify, she somehow found time to launch a successful newsletter, Service95, as well as her At Your Service show at the start of this year, packed with high-profile interviews (Riz Ahmed and Olivier Rousteing are the best). The second series started 10 days ago, with Monica Lewinsky.
Lipa is well prepared and warm, clearly chuffed to be talking to Lewinsky, and Lewinsky is happy to be interviewed, giving riveting details about her life after the Clinton scandal. Lipa isn’t a perfect interviewer – she’s occasionally a bit gushy – but she is head and shoulders above most celebrities, simply because she listens and isn’t trying to push herself forward all the time. Better than some regular radio hosts I can think of; who’d have thought?
Just time to mention a few shows I’ve listened to in an effort to understand the current Kwasi-crash state of the UK. The FT’s snappy News Briefing podcast helped; as did Lewis Goodall on Monday’s The News Agents, and Wednesday’s More or Less. But for me, the clearest indication of where money is not going was on Tuesday’s You and Yours phone-in, about listeners’ experience of the NHS. There was a tale of a birth that was traumatising just to hear, let alone endure, with a woman in Peterborough in active labour calling more than five hospital maternity units to take her in. All full. Eventually she found a place in a hospital in Leicester, more than an hour away; the following day, while she was still in labour, the hospital tried to discharge her back to Peterborough, where there were no beds. Even Winifred Robinson sounded shocked: “It’s more than 20 years since I’ve heard a story as bad as that,” she said. What has this country become?