July 29, 2023

Two years before the Tates moved to Marsh Farm, there was a riot — followed by a rave. It was July 1995: a summer of drought, Tory civil war, and three nights of anarchy on an estate in Luton. After a 13-year-old tearaway was forcefully arrested, 500 people attacked armed police officers with petrol bombs, bottles and bricks. A school was set on fire; shops were looted; a police officer was stabbed. And then the party started.

On Saturday night, as police patrolled and harassed residents, Exodus, a local collective, put out the message that a rave was taking place outside of town, hoping to lure the rioters out of Marsh Farm. “It looked like Vietnam,” one of the organisers tells me, “and we wanted to fix that.” And, by and large, they did. Just before sunrise on Sunday, he received a call to say that Marsh Farm had gone silent, but for the birdsong and the shuffling of riot police on empty streets.


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“It was beautiful,” he says. The ecstasy of the rave had soothed the disorder. Marsh Farm had been saved. But after the party, the comedown.

By the time Andrew Tate moved to Marsh Farm from Chicago aged 11, it was the “worst area of the worst town” in England. He has spoken about his “brokie days” on the estate: about growing up on welfare with his newly divorced mother and two younger siblings; and about defying the odds to become a millionaire kickboxing champion and “the most Googled man on the planet” (he’s eighth). If Andrew Tate has an origin story, it starts here.

Today, the self-styled “King of Toxic Masculinity” is in Romania on house arrest, charged with rape, human trafficking and forming an organised crime group to sexually exploit women. To many, he is the man who said that women should bear responsibility for being raped. To his legions of young, male fans, though, he is a Nietzschean superman whose journey — and success — is the ultimate lesson: understand his self-discipline, drive and ambition, and learn how you, too, can become like him. For them, his biography is gospel.

“English people are the most violent people in the world,” Tate said in a video last year. And Marsh Farm lends itself to violence. Tucked away on the margins of Luton town, the sprawling estate, now home to around 10,000 people, is dominated by three 15-storey tower blocks, their residents watching over a disproportionately deprived and unemployed warren that stretches for almost a mile.

“Crime was just an everyday occurrence,” someone who grew up on Marsh Farm at the same time as Tate tells me. You had no choice but to accept it. “If the other residents thought you were a grass or too nosy, you would be burnt out. Your car would be burnt. Your property would be burnt. You would have paint put on your house saying ‘grass’.” I’m told it was completely normal for petrol to be poured through someone’s letterbox and lit with a match.

Marsh Farm’s Lea Manor High School offered little respite. When Tate arrived there in 1997, the school was in special measures and due to be closed.“It was mayhem,” says one of his former classmates. In one incident, a boy stabbed another with a pair of scissors; during another, pupils set fire to the art department. If their behaviour was brazen, that’s because they knew they could get away with it. “Students would drive to school in stolen cars — and then drive on to the sports fields and start doing handbrake turns during school hours.”

Where was Tate during all this? “Andrew,” the friend explains, “would be a part of the crowd that was the furthest away and closest to the exit.” He was, as he adapted to life on Marsh Farm, a shy, unassured child: “He was quiet”; “he wasn’t like he was now”; “I wouldn’t call Andrew a geek, but he wasn’t in the cool group.” Back then, he found comfort on the fringes, content with playing with his Pokémon cards and keeping away from the chaos for as long as possible, which wasn’t very long.

“He had this American accent,” the friend continues. “And everyone would take the absolute piss out of him all the time. He always used to say ‘Oh my god!’ in a really strong accent and everyone would go for him.” Then, after a few months, a boy started to tease Tate in science class and he flipped. “I remember Andrew giving him a few punches to the face,” the friend tells me. “Everyone was like ‘Fucking hell! Andrew has lost it!’ After that, Andrew started to behave like a different person. He became a rebel and that made a bit of a cred for him.” Another classmate describes how he remembers Tate swearing at a teacher. “He knew that was how you get respected,” he says. “That’s when the change started. If you can talk the talk and walk the walk, that’s when success comes.”

So Tate learned to swagger. He often describes how, when his family moved to England, he became the “man of the house”. Clinging on to the high of that first fight, he decided what kind of “man” he wanted to be: one who gets what he wants. His friends describe how, at around this time, they used to wistfully watch other residents driving through Marsh Farm in Lamborghinis and Ferraris, desperate to join their ranks. “However, as we got older,” one explains, “we found out it was bullshit. It was just people renting the cars for weddings and whatever else.”

Unlike the others, though, Tate clung on to that dream, partying hard but also working hard to drag himself up. He worked on a fish stall; he sold windows and solar panels; he even returned to Lea Manor High, working as an IT technician before being fired after having sex with the Head Girl.

He thrived, meanwhile, in Luton’s kickboxing rings, a sport he’d taken up in 2005. There, he was King Cobra, who within four years was ranked number one in his division in Europe. But success in the ring wasn’t enough — unless it was garlanded with some sort of status symbol, it was meaningless. “I still remember the day when he bought his Aston Martin DB9,” a friend says, after Tate won £10,000 in a fight. “That was when we started to call him ‘Top G’ [“Top Gangster”]. Because here was a Marsh Farm guy who was renting a one-bedroom flat with his brother — and now he was driving an Aston Martin. He was just starting his businesses and he wasn’t doing fantastic, but he wanted that look. And that is exactly what he got.”

For many, this is where Tate’s first chapter ends and the next begins. And if the first was about aspiration, the next was about escape. He launched a lucrative cam-girl business; he became a four-time kickboxing world champion. When he appeared on Big Brother in 2016, his biography said: “Andrew believes that a man should be able to sleep with as many women as he wants to, but that does not apply to women.”

He then moved to Romania, a place where “corruption is far more accessible” and the #MeToo era had not “destroyed the safety of men”. There, in a warehouse outside of Bucharest, he built a palace and filled it with women, supercars and dumbbells — a monument to his belief that, regardless of where you come from, self-belief and conviction can make you a God. Tate founded an online university where he preached his message. “You are either a disciplined individual or undisciplined individual,” as he would say. “You’re a G when you suffer.” That is the gospel, according to TikTok.

But is it true? What about those boys left behind in Luton? Well, many of them suffered but few became Gs. Tate was “one of the lucky ones”, his childhood friend admits when I ask about the rest of their class. He wasn’t drawn into petty crime. He left. And the unlucky ones? Some are unemployed; others sell drugs for a living. Others were snared by the sordid Carson Grimes.

“Everyone knew about that guy,” Tate’s classmate tells me. “He didn’t actually live in Marsh Farm, but he was the man you went to with stolen goods.” Theft was the least of it. What a handful of local boys knew then, and everyone knows now, is that Grimes was also a modern-day Fagin; a serial abuser, groomer and rapist.

The majority of Grimes’s victims were boys aged between 10 and 14, already lured from broken homes into the peripheries of Luton’s underworld. From there, Grimes drew them into his vortex, promising gifts of money, food and a home that was safe. They were given alcohol and cannabis, and then crack and heroin — it was intended to make them weak; to numb them. Like Tate, these boys were trying to escape. Perhaps, for a moment, they thought they had.

“Andrew and I were in year seven or eight, and it was mainly happening with the year 11 lot,” the friend says. Whether they knew it or not, they would have known at least one of Grimes’s victims; one schoolmate at Lea Manor who remembers Tate only recently told his family that he had been abused. Twenty years later, he is an alcoholic and suffers from severe depression.

Grimes was at his most predatory in the early 2000s, yet was only arrested in 2018. He was jailed in 2021, convicted of 36 offences against nine children: “class-based stereotypes and prejudice” had “deprived his survivors of justice for many years”, said a detective on the case. Their murky pasts — addictions, criminal records, spells in prison — made them unreliable. Would a jury believe them? And so the authorities looked at their bruises and looked away. Since Grimes’s conviction, at least 11 more victims have come forward. Few doubt that there will be more.

Today, Grimes still haunts Marsh Farm: in both the lives of his victims and the malign current that crackles through any defiled community. Yet when I ask residents if they remember him and his house of horrors, they often look confused: “Which one was he?” One man starts telling me about the paedophile living a few roads away. Another mentions a man who stares at children on buses.

“Women and children can’t walk through the woods at night because of all the stuff that goes on,” says a mother waiting to pick up her 10-year-old daughter from school. “A woman got attacked by two men near here a couple of months ago.” One of the teachers tells me she is hoping to leave the area: “I don’t want my child growing up around here.”

It’s not just that the estate is unsafe, she says, but that there is no community. “People are no longer organised together,” one resident tells me. Even in the Nineties, another explains, “if a woman was being attacked, every man would beat up that person”. Today, “the first thing someone would do would be to pull out their phone and film it”. And this sense of societal breakdown is now built into Marsh Farm. Five years ago, the only pub on the estate was replaced with more council housing; a small shopping centre and market were also knocked down, while almost every parent I speak to bemoans the absence of a community centre for their children.

Amid such fragmentation, criminal activity on Marsh Farm has become more atomised, too. Gangs still operate, but mainly fight with rivals on other estates. Occasionally, Marsh Farm is targeted: cars are still burnt and gang shootings still take place in broad daylight — the most recent in April this year. Unlike in the Nineties, though, the daily outbursts of violence have been replaced by the anomie of low-level crime; adults offering you drugs; children offering you drugs; someone who has just injected themselves with drugs. Their pain is self-inflicted and aimless. A world of rioting has become one of withdrawal.

On Marsh Farm, this is the comedown that followed the rave. Little has been done to remedy it. In 2011, an old microwave factory on the estate was turned into a police station, but there is no front desk for people to report crime. Residents complain it is just for show, and almost everyone points out the miserly police presence on the streets. One shopkeeper across the road from the station tells me that, after his shop was robbed during the middle of the day, it took three days for the police to arrive. When I visit the terraced house where Tate grew up, and where his mother Eileen still lives, the road is empty, apart from a topless young man speeding a dirt bike up and down the cul-de-sac. “He’s always doing that,” a neighbour grumbles.

I later knock on Eileen’s door, though she doesn’t answer. Instead, her neighbour thrusts her head out of a window and demands that I leave. She tells me that Eileen doesn’t want to speak to journalists who “twist” the truth about her sons, so I post a note with my phone number on it. A few days later, a representative for Tate gets in touch to explain that he doesn’t want to comment.

Should we be surprised? Why challenge the gospel when it’s already been handed down? Andrew Tate escaped Marsh Farm; that’s all you need to know. His story is about how to escape — not those who can’t: those former schoolmates, the victims of a paedophile, or the five lost boys I find skulking around one of the estate’s parks. 

The youngest of them looked 13; at least one was high. When I ask them about Tate, they laugh uncontrollably, almost competitively. “Top Geeeeeee,” croaks one. “He’s just saying it how it is,” says another. “He’s just doing his own thing,” adds the croaker, before trying to sell me some drugs.

What does Tate’s gospel have to teach them? These lads spend their day staggering around Marsh Farm, looking for trouble and occasionally finding it. But that’s about it. Not a single Lamborghini or Ferrari drives past — and if one did? Like most of those boys before, they would gawp and croak, and then go back to doing nothing. There is no ambition. There is no hope. They are would-be rioters turned into zombies.

It is hard to imagine them being radicalised by Tate, let alone following him out of their estate. He is not their Pied Piper and they are not his rats — just boys paralysed by neglect. A lost generation, perhaps, but one that has no interest in being found. If Marsh Farm is where Tate’s gospel started, it is also where it ends.