Micronational book club: King Nicholas and the Copeman Empire – Book review and interview with the former king
Article by Evren Filgert, Duchess of Dumnonia – originally at Porthbokon News
Part micronational memoir and part ballsy fictionalised tale, ‘King Nicholas and the Copeman Empire’ is a story of a man with a Hyacinth Bucket-esque talent for self delusion with a wit that makes all the ludicrous events described excusable. Most of the facts about the author’s life are completely made up, but it’s told with such a straight face that you can’t help but play along – something that fits with the subject matter of the yarn itself.
Peppered with documentation of the Copeman Empire’s rise (something I was very thankful for, since any actual micronational information seemed to have disappeared from the web) and obsessively detailed accounts of local fast food establishments, this book works as both an entertaining, dryly humorous tale and a micronational account, like an explorer’s journal. As someone who immediately put his micronation into the ‘real world’, so to speak, going about town in micronational dress, becoming the gossip of his town and issuing royal warrants, Copeman gets quite a bit further than many of his micronational readers have before.
With a national religion based on the ‘Order of the Zinger’, a KFC burger, headed by the ‘Archbishop of Fantaberry’, a royal signet ring made out of a cannibalised pound coin and a Throne Room which is actually a caravan’s bathroom, it reminds one of the Kingdom of Lovely documentary quite a lot, and it’s just as entertaining and hard to put down.
I read it obsessively at work, during snatched breaks, because it was so engaging, and it gave a micronational zeal that’s sadly hard to regain sometimes when reading an endless barrage of internet micronationalism. Though the story is about a man’s dramatic, flourishing failure at life, in terms of micronationalism – and having a good time – Nicholas gets things done, whether it be outfitting a static caravan into a lushly kitsch palace or gatecrashing a regional society ball in his kingly persona.
I contacted the former King (now just plain Nick Copeman), who was polite and accommodating when speaking about the former micronation, despite it having been defunct for nearly a decade. He put up an archived version of the Copeman Empire’s site, a very well-designed and funny example of a micronational web presence, complete with custom headers featuring the king and his inspirational quotes and a parodical citizenship qualification list:
- 1. Get hold of a copy of King Nicholas and the Copeman Empire
- 2. Read it
- 3. Give it to a friend/enemy/stranger
- 4. Tell them to read it
- 5. Buy a Zinger Tower burger from KFC
- 6. Eat it, while listening to Zadoc the Priest on your iPod
- 7. Buy a Zinger Tower Burger for a friend/enemy/stranger
- 8. Watch them eat it while they listen to Zadoc the Priest on their iPod
- 9. Get a £1 coin and bore the middle out
- 10. Stick it on your finger
- 11. Change your name by Deed Poll to something snazzy-sounding
- 12. Eat a 10p bag of spicy Transform-a-Snacks
- 13. Email me
Which gives you a clue as to the nature of the micronation (I’m at no. 4, planning to complete 5-8 this weekend!).
Nick also agreed to an interview about the book, his life, and his former micronation, but unfortunately some of it might not make sense to those who haven’t read it. All the more reason to buy a copy! They’re a couple of quid on Amazon.
Evren: The book is told with this very straight-faced dry wit as if Adrian Mole were the heir to Grand Fenwick, but a lot of the events described seem very fantastical. Are any of the people or events in the book exaggerated or did everything really play out like that?
Nick: Yes, everything is distorted and screwed up. All the characters are 100% real but some had their names changed so they wouldn’t beat me up, and certain episodes are slightly Walter Mitty.
I think there is a term for it .. something along the lines of “unreliable author”, where one isn’t clear whether the narrator is telling the truth, deluded, outright lying, or a mixture of all three.
But one thing is totally true: I became King Nicholas. I walked this earth for some time — not as a mere mortal — but as God’s anointed one.
The ending to the whole tale, on the other hand, is quite sobering, a sharp turn away from stuff like having lobster on a bed of pot noodles and riding around town on a horse. Did everything work out all right in the end?
I can’t stand happy endings. They just don’t happen. Life is bitter-sweet. The problem is that consumerist society wants you to believe that if you buy a certain fragrance, then you’ll attract an aspirational partner, get a free upgrade to business class, whitened teeth, and generally live the dream.
Becoming “King” was escapism and wanting to feel good about doing badly in life, but it was a doomed dynasty from the start. That was the whole point really. To be an epic failure, rather than just a meek, downtrodden and apologetic failure
Coming from a small seaside town myself, I know how much people like to gossip. It seems like the whole endeavour had a big effect on the residents of Sheringham. If you still live there, do people still talk about it? Is the Copeman Empire alive in the hearts of Norfolk (or, some of Norfolk’s hearts)?
One interesting thing about living on the coast is that there is one less direction to run in if some yobos happen to be chasing you, and also your community is much denser, simply because it can’t dissipate out in one direction — everyone’s crowded around the waterfront.
So yes, people did gossip about me and my empire: most people were just perplexed by it, some thought I was acting above my station and a minority was outright hostile.
But some people loved it. The sort of can-do people I admire.
I still reminisce about the Empire with Roy Boy occasionally (the owner of the truckstop cafe who had my Royal Warrant proudly displayed on the side of his trailer).
In fact, I’d take Roy as a prime example. Since the book came out he made the move from the layby into the town, opened a cafe, and later extended it — the guy is an absolute legend, fully deserving of an MBE in addition to the MCE I awarded him.
And my official barber has since opened a newer and bigger shop, yet he still comes out to cut my elderly dad’s hair at home as a favour. All the people who were positive and self-motivated at the time of my empire were the people who supported me then and they’re all still going strong now.
Leading on from that, do you regret anything about the whole business, or was it just a strange chapter in your life?
I don’t regret any of it all! It made perfect sense at the time and it still makes perfect sense now.
For example, I stopped wearing my one pound coin ring when I abdicated. But I came across it in a box of trinkets the other day. I’d had a few months of people turning down my current project and I just decided to try it on again, like it was “The Precious” off the Lord of the Rings or something. And as soon as I put it on, I suddenly felt all my regal powers coming back — not in a cocky way, just I felt the legacy was alive again. I’m wearing it as I type.
The book is really interesting to me and other younger micronationalists, because it resonates with a lot of us now but actually happened in this time where the internet was a totally different, younger, place, and things like BT broadband installation and floppy disks. What do you think would happened if you’d had the idea in 2014? Would you have been too busy watching Countdown on iPlayer or would you have gotten really into it, like micronations such as the Federal Republic of St.Charlie or Molossia?
I think if I’d had the idea now, not much would have changed. I’m not on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and all that. I still believe that meaningful interactions are what count. Face-to-face, ideally.
You had to do a fair bit of digging around to get hold of me. Not that that makes me special or anything. But I think doing a bit of legwork means you care about the interaction, rather than just liking someone on Facebook to boost your network of so-called friends.
Thanks for answering all my questions! Last one: what’s so bad about drinking pink gin in the navy? [at a Naval officer interview, Nick orders a pink gin, a traditional naval drink, and instead of camaraderie is met with coughs and muttered ‘w***er’s.]
Pink Gin was a popular naval drink, in the nineteenth century I believe, up until the days of David Niven or thereabouts (1940s-ish). I think angostura bitters were added to gin in the Caribbean or there abouts as some kind of health thing, perhaps to do with sea sickness or warding off tropical illnesses.
It was still a popular drink when my uncle was a naval officer, hence him teaching me how to make it.
But fast-forward to my appearance at the Admiralty Interview Board, and no one drank cocktails anymore. Most of them now drink bloody lager!
So when I ordered a Pink Gin (thinking myself the pinnacle of sophistication), they assumed I was taking the p*ss.
Incidentally, I currently favour a Gin ‘n’ Mixed Vermouth on occasion.
Take a Martini glass and fill with five shots of gin (Plymouth/Tanqueray/Beefeater) followed by 1 shot of Extra Dry Martini and 1 shot of Rosso Martini and garnished with a maraschino cherry on a cocktail stick.
So, there you have it. Hopefully this has inspired you to read the book, given a new lease to your real-world micronationalism or at least, inspiration for any new gin-based cocktails. I think I’ll mix myself one in honour of the Copeman Empire.