He is perhaps the most famous, or infamous, artist alive. To some a genius, to others a vandal. Always controversial, he inspires admiration and provokes outrage in equal measure. Since Banksy made his name with his trademark stencil-style ‘guerrilla’ art in public spaces – on walls in London, Brighton, Bristol and even on the West Bank barrier separating Israelis and Palestinians – his works have sold for hundreds of thousands of pounds.
He has dozens of celebrity collectors including Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and Christina Aguilera. Banksy is reportedly a former butcher. That his parents don’t know what he does, believing him to be an unusually successful painter and decorator.
Then there’s the suggestion that Banksy is actually a collective of artists and doesn’t exist at all.
Such is the curiosity about Banksy that when the great man threw a pizza box into a bin in Los Angeles, the box resurfaced on auction site eBay, with the seller suggesting that the few anchovies left inside might yield traces of his DNA.
He is the Scarlet Pimpernel of modern art, so adept at leaving false trails that even his own agent has claimed that he is not certain of his identity. Indeed, trying to establish just who the elusive Banksy is has proved as difficult as predicting the location of his next work.
But now, after an exhaustive year-long investigation in which we have spoken to dozens of friends, former colleagues, enemies, flatmates and members of Banksy’s close family, The Mail on Sunday has come as close as anyone possibly can to revealing his identity.
And far from being a radical tearaway from an inner-city council estate, the man we have identified as Banksy is, perhaps all too predictably, a former public schoolboy brought up in middle-class suburbia.