Barren isle makes money selling barons

I may now refer to myself as Baron Alex Ritman of Sealand, and intend to do so at every opportunity.

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While DVDs, chocolates and socks ("executive" socks, mind) were all welcomed warmly out of the festive pillow case this Christmas, one of the stand out gifts wasn't watchable, edible or even wearable (in an "executive" style).

It's not often one receives a gift that enables names to be extended or a further line added to an email signature, but a simple piece of paper changed all that. Complete with royal signature and headed with a colourful coat of arms, this flimsy A4 sheet proudly informed me that as of that moment I was in possession of a noble title. A baron, no less. I may now refer to myself as Baron Alex Ritman of Sealand, and intend to do so at every opportunity.

Sealand is a naval fort built during the Second World War, 10km off the east coast of England. After the Royal Navy abandoned it, a chap called Roy Bates began using it as a base for his pirate radio station in 1967.

Then, with the fort - real name HM Fort Roughs - in international waters, Bates went further, and declared it an independent sovereign state, the Principality of Sealand, with himself its royal incumbent (Prince Roy).

Sadly, the world isn't all silliness and while Sealand has been described as the world's smallest nation, it remains unrecognised officially as a sovereign state by every other spoilsport sovereign state. However, it did receive a German diplomat in the late 1970s, a move Bates has since argued makes his little metal island de facto recognised by Germany.

In any case, Prince Roy, Princess Joan and their son, Prince Regent Michael of Sealand, who serves as head of state, have been going about their regal business, instituting a seven-article constitution, issuing passports, stamps and coins. It has a flag, a Latin motto (E Mare Libertas, which means "From the sea, freedom") and even a national anthem.

Sealand, which according to its records had a population of 27 in 2002, also holds the Guinness World Record for the "smallest area to lay claim to nation status". It has also been represented in sporting events, including the 2008 egg-throwing world championship, which it won. Apparently there's an under-20 football team in Kentucky carrying Sealand's colours.

More recently, the micronation has been selling entries into the ranks of its nobility, no doubt to pay the electricity bills, which brings us to my Christmas present. Having checked the website, it seems there were options of Lord, Lady and Baroness, so I'm rather pleased with my selection. Apparently, I can't actually visit Sealand, with the application list for visit visas suspended since 2002. So I guess I'll have to remain "in exile" until the situation changes.

While I'll try not to flaunt my new noble status too excessively, don't be shocked if you see me using it to try to get table reservations or airline upgrades. And don't feel the need to bow. I do get quite embarrassed by all that.