QAnon in Cornwall

A hotel in Tintagel has been flying the QAnon flag. What on earth is going on at the Camelot Castle?

Some of the strangest TripAdvisor reviews ever written are of a hotel dramatically sited on a rugged headland at Tintagel on Cornwall’s north coast, the Camelot Castle Hotel.

Among the oddest of these are from visitors to the castellated, pseudo-Arthurian pile who give it five stars. One Jacek M (“from Leatherhead”) writes:

“The owners are a fine example of Britishness. Not like most who earn money in the UK, they will be decorated by the Queen and flee to Monaco to die with their fortune. John, Irina Mappin and Ted Stourton are heroes of our time. They save the historic hotel building and begin to restore its splendour. Very elegant service, Great food, for desserts I recommend the Russian honey cake. Human soul Ted paints wonderful pictures that universally rejuvenate you spiritually. Ted has time for you to help you choose one or two images. To leave there without any painting would be a pity for ourselves. At the moment this is the best place we visit in the UK.”

Another, known only as Charlie, enthuses:

“The owners have nailed the ambiance of the British articocracy [sic] with a touch of Russian class to achieve something of a divine experience; the gandeur [sic] decor with emotional art using the most memorising of colours which fills the entire place with even more light. when you come down the stairs from your room if you don’t choose the lift, and get few steps before the bottom it feels like being the ship with a 120 view of the ocean and west facing sunset in the of the most hisoritacl [sic] places of fascination on the entire planet is the an experience of anyone.”

Click on some of the 321 one-star reviews, however, and you will read some very different, and rather more coherently written, accounts.

Michael G from Brighton, who visited the Camelot Castle earlier this month, reports: “Just awful. Dangerous as no face coverings being worn by any staff and most guests. Rude manager when asked for refund. The ensuite is a plastic box in the corner with loo, shower too small to use, disgusting. Menu is a bad transport cafe style. Be prepared for con men to approach you to buy crap artwork in the basement. Should be closed down.”

Gary from Cheltenham warns: “Go camping on the cliff edge rather than stay here,” while NervousflierDorset comments: “More Addams Family less Downton!”

The Addams Family is referenced by more than one reviewer, as is Fawlty Towers, but Tripadvisor reviewer Zara F feels the Camelot Castle is more reminiscent of the hotel in Stanley Kubrick’s horror masterpiece, The Shining:

“This is the worst hotel i have ever stayed in. My one piece of advice is don’t go… You will hate it. it’s filthy, damp patches on the walls 6 feet across, it smells of damp, the en-suites are plastic ferry toilet pods that need stepping into. This isn’t funny and the owners should be reported to trading standards, which i have done, as well as environmental health.”

Vee R from London, an NHS worker worn out by the pandemic who had picked on the hotel for a restful break, was sorely disappointed: “I was left feeling demoralised, dirty and, to be honest, intimidated.”

Like many other guests, Vee is struck by the ostentatious display of status symbols by the hotel’s proprietor, a stark contrast to the conditions endured by her and other guests:

“The owner’s Rolls-Royce parked directly in front of the entrance and the many photos of him with ‘celebrities’ (i.e. a shrine to his ego) left us with the impression that the owners were lowering themselves to let us in (for £175 a night). We left quickly the next morning.”

George Tait’s stay at the hotel was certainly memorable, as he reports on Twitter:

So who are the people behind this establishment that generates such extraordinary reviews? Some clues emerge from Vee R’s account on TripAdvisor:

“It turns out that the ‘hotel’ is owned by a member of QAnon. Hotels.com did not provide this information or we would have never stayed here. By the time we realised this (evident only by the flag above the building when you get there), it was too late. I brought this up with the staff who told me that ‘in Cornwall, they like to save the children’.”

And indeed this is so. John Mappin, the hotel’s 54 year-old Scientologist proprietor, is one of the UK’s most prolific spreaders of the toxic conspiracy theories known as QAnon, and for the past year or so has regularly flown a ‘Q’ flag above the Camelot Castle Hotel in honour of the shadowy – and almost certainly entirely fictitious – figure, ‘Q,’, from whom QAnon’s cult-like followers derive their warped world-view.

The “save the children” comment reported by Vee R refers to the central tenet of QAnon, which is that tens of thousands of children have been abducted by a global network of Satanic paedophiles including (needless to say) leading Democrat politicians in the US as well as many other members of the “global elite”. These, they earnestly believe, are being secretly held in underground tunnels in cities around the world, where their only chance of rescue is if Donald Trump manages to defeat their captors and the “deep state” in a bloody final battle that they refer to as “the Storm”.

Mappin is, naturally, a staunch admirer of Donald Trump. Indeed, in February 2016 he organised a bizarre ceremony at the hotel in which Trump (who had just announced his presidential candidacy) was conferred with “an historic and noble award – an honorary Camelot Castle knighthood”.

Speaking from what resembled a Fox TV studio decorated by a set designer on acid, Mappin intoned: “From this day forth Donald Trump shall be known at Camelot Castle as Sir Donald Trump of Camelot”.

His wife Irina announced: “Today is a victory not just for the United States but for the rest of the planet. As an owner of Russian-speaking newspapers, I would like to pass congratulations from all of our readers to Mr Trump, his family and all of America.” She went on to enthuse about how “men respect him for his skills, for his success, for his power, and women see a softer part of him and kindness. Really, he is a family man, he has really wonderful children he has a beautiful family, he has very strong family values.”

Sadly, their idol could not be in Cornwall to accept this unusual honour in person – but in 2016 Mappin reportedly made more than £110,000 by betting on Trump to win the U.S election and in 2017 he became only the third Briton to meet the US president after his inauguration, as a Republican fund-raising event in Washington.

Trump’s ‘knighthood’ was not the first time the Camelot Castle Hotel had been used for bizarre ceremonies in honour of dubious foreign politicians. In 2010 the Mappins decided to hold a birthday celebration in honour of Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev at the Camelot Castle, to “express our tremendous appreciation for what the President of Kazakhstan has done for our family” (exactly what this had been was not revealed). Bizarrely, the local Salvation Army were somehow recruited to sing Happy Birthday to the notoriously corrupt autocrat.

Mappin lives at the hotel with his Russian-speaking Kazakh wife Irina and their long-time friend and business partner Ted Stourton – the “artist” whose queasy daubs decorate its walls and who was reportedly converted to Scientology after Mappin used its “healing powers” to bring Stourton’s brother out of a coma. He appears to derive his wealth in part from his family connection to the Mappin and Webb jewellery firm, though he also claims on his website – in characteristically grandiose style – to be “something of a media mogul” who “owns a newspaper group in London”. He discovered Scientology while trying unsuccessfully to become a Hollywood star in the 1990s (the only part he succeeded in landing was in a softcore porn movie, alongside the unfortunately named Julie Strain).

Mappin’s failure to achieve movie stardom does not seem to have dented his appetite for fame, however – his website even provides a link to the “John Mappin Fan Site”. His promotion of lurid conspiracy theories can perhaps be understood as part of this impulse. It has helped him notch up 155,000 followers on Twitter, a platform he uses to deliver disinformation about vaccination and lengthy rants claiming that the pandemic has been faked as part of a conspiracy to suppress freedom, along with a colourful selection of other such QAnon garbage.

In April, for instance, he informed his excited followers: “I began this first day of April sobbing like a baby for over an hour, after having the news confirmed at 2am by two independent first-hand sources, that the underground kids were coming to the surface in Manhattan and elsewhere. Some of them will be seeing daylight for the first time in their lives. They have been bred, butchered, raped and had their life-force inverted and stolen. Theirs is the story of the atomseed of evil within our civilisational wheel.”

This momentous development seems to have escaped the attention of the world’s media outlets – but for followers of QAnon the media are, of course, very much part of the grand conspiracy.

All of this might well be dismissed as the ridiculous antics of unhinged fantasists and publicity-seekers with more money than sense. This was how the anti-fascist organisation Hope Not Hate viewed John Mappin after he organised the London launch of Turning Point, the far-right US youth organisation that has – shockingly – been endorsed by Conservative politicians including Priti Patel and Jacob Rees-Mogg, as well as the Brexit Party’s Nigel Farage. Hope Not Hate described Mappin as being “within a longstanding tradition of British right-wing eccentricity”.

A couple of minutes on Mappin’s website or Twitter feed would be enough for most reasonable people to conclude that “eccentricity” is a very considerable understatement. But – as I wrote recently for West Country Bylines – conspiracy theories are no longer confined to the more fetid corners of the internet or the meetings of neo-Nazi fanatics. They now affect the thinking of very large numbers of people not just in the US – where QAnon’s followers eagerly await apocalyptic violence to be wreaked by Donald Trump on his enemies – but also in the UK, as recent demonstrations by anti-maskers in London have brought home.

And in the ever-expanding land of the seriously deranged, at least, the proprietor of Camelot Castle has successfully installed himself as some kind of king.