After over 30 years spent successfully eluding identification, graffiti artist Banksy may have finally been unmasked: in a newly unearthed 2003 interview, the artist confirms his first name.
In the previously lost recording, which is now airing as part of Radio 4's The Banksy Story, journalist Nigel Wrench asks the artist if his real name is Robert Banks. "It's Robbie," replies Banksy.
Given that this ties in with a number of theories about the mysterious street artist's identity, including that he is a founding member of Massive Attack, fans feel like this might finally be the proof they need to unveil their hero.Although people have met Banksy – Louis Theroux famously bumped into the artist at a Queens Park Rangers football match in 2001, and two years later he was described by Guardian writer Simon Hattenstone as "white, 28, scruffy casual—jeans, T-shirt, a silver tooth, silver chain and silver earring" – Banksy's true identity has always remained a mystery.
So, on this potentially momentous day, as the field of potentials rapidly narrows, we reflect back on the wildest theories about the true identity of the famous graffiti artist.
1. A member of Massive Attack
One of the frontrunners has to be Massive Attack's Robert Del Naja; who is often rumoured to be the elusive artist.
Based on the fact that many of Banksy's earliest pieces popped up in Bristol in the Nineties, it's extremely likely that Banksy is from Bristol or the surrounding area: he was also a member of the city's DryBreadZ grafitti crew, along with artists Kato and Tes.
Del Naja is also from Bristol, and was actually a pioneering graffiti artist before becoming a musician. He's widely regarded as one of the first people to use stencils in graffiti artwork.
Also adding to the stack of evidence: Banksy works have regularly popped up in cities where Massive Attack have recently been on tour. This has happened numerous times over the years, including in Melbourne, New York, Boston, LA, Toronto and New Orleans.
Potentially as a way to deflect scrutiny, Del Naja has spoken about Banksy, calling him a "mate". The two run in the same Bristolian circles, and Del Naja even popped up in Banksy's documentary Exit Through The Gift Shop (2010).
Finally, DJ Goldie seemed to confirmed that Banksy was called Robert back in 2018, while speaking on Scroobius Pip's Distraction Pieces podcast. "Give me a bubble letter and put it on a T-shirt and write Banksy on it and we're sorted. We can sell it now,” said Goldie. “No disrespect to Robert,” he added. “I think he is a brilliant artist. I think he has flipped the world of art over."
2. A former public school boy
Back in 2008 The Daily Mail published a theory that "unmasked" former public school boy, Robin Gunningham, is the famous street artist.
According to The Mail, the "Scarlet Pimpernel of modern art" had been tracked down using a photograph of Banksy that was snapped while he was in Jamaica: it showed "a man in a blue shirt and jeans, with a hint of a smile on his face and a spray can at his feet".
This photo was taken to Bristol where it was shown to a man that claimed he once knew the artist. He claimed that it was the right person, but Banksy denied the photo was of him.
"It didn't require much imagination to work out how such a name could result in the nickname Banksy," said the article.
The Sun also reported on the case: "The picture had a striking resemblance to a weedy, bespectacled lad who featured in the Bristol Cathedral School year book in 1989." According to the paper, Gunningham had become involved in Bristol's underground art scene.
Over a decade later an October 2023 Mail article explained that the company that sells Banksy's artwork, Pest Control Ltd. and Bansky were being sued for defamation by a 56-year-old artist, called Andrew Gallagher.
"I can disclose that Banksy – the pseudonym of Bristol-born, 53-year-old, public school-educated Robin Gunningham – is named as the first defendant in a legal action accusing him of defamation," said writer Richard Eden.
However, later in the article Eden said: "Banksy's real identity has never been fully confirmed - and speculation continues to surround the mysterious artist."
3. The Art Attack guy
Another slightly strange theory: some people reckon that Neil Buchanan, the artist and photographer who became best known for presenting the CITV children's art show, Art Attack (1990-2007) is secretly Banksy.
Naturally, it all started with a random tweet, which went rapidly viral. People enjoyed the theory so much that Buchanan's team had to come out with a statement, denying that he was Banksy.
"Neil Buchanan ISN'T Banksy," it said. "We have been inundated with enquiries over the weekend regarding the current social media story. Unfortunately this website does not have the infrastructure to answer all these enquiries individually, however we can confirm that there is no truth in the rumour whatsoever."
4. A Gorillaz' band member
This rumour first emerged in 2018 when the Metro published an article in which a "forensic expert" claimed that the comic book illustrator and musician was, in fact, Banksy. As with Del Naja, there were some striking similarities between Hewlett and the street artist: the pair both emerged as artists around a similar time.
According to the Metro, the anonymous source said, "I really believe it could be Jamie Hewlett. Or at least he seems to own all things Banksy". As evidence, the source cited the fact that he had followed trail of owners on Companies House, a public database of UK companies.
He explained: "Paranoid Pictures, sole production company of Banksy’s documentary, Exit Through the Gift Shop, is owned by Pest Control Office ltd, the agency used to buy Banksy art. Pest Control Office is owned by Picturesonwalls Limited, a company used to sell prints of other street artists. Pictuesonwalls ltd is owned by Jamie Hewlett.
"Therefore, it seems Jamie Hewlett is the ultimate beneficial owner of all Banksy companies, so if he isn’t Banksy, he must be very close to him."
Banksy's publicist responded to the Metro saying, "I can confirm that Jamie Hewlitt is not the artist Banksy."
5. A Pembroke Dock councillor
A slightly perplexing one, this, but nonetheless: in 2022 a small Pembrokeshire community was shaken when gossip started to spread accusing its local councillor Billy Gannon of being Banksy.
"The problem I have is that when I say to people, ‘I am not Banksy,’ I can see this look in their eyes, and they say, ‘That’s what Banksy would say,’” said the then 58-year-old to The Guardian last year. "What I’m being asked to do is not to prove who I am. I’m being asked to prove who I am not, and the person that I am not may not exist. I mean, how am I supposed to prove that I’m not somebody who doesn’t exist? Just how do you do that?"
After finding himself caught in this never-ending predicament Gannon said he had “an existential crisis” and resigned from his post. Gannon believed the rumours, which were being shared between residents of the small town on social media and via email, had been started by another competing council member candidate.
Gannon ended up wearing a badge that said, "I am NOT Banksy" to prove that he was not Banksy.
“I am not Banksy,” he said. “And I have the badge to prove it.”
6. Or is Banksy actually a collective?
Here's an alternative theory: the artist Banksy surely has a team that he/she/they work with, including publicists, administrators, coordinators, designers and videographers who have helped produce projects including Exit Through The Gift Shop and bemusement theme park Dismaland (2015). With this in mind, it's not much of a stretch to speculate that Banksy could actually be a group of artists and creators working together.
In the 2014 HBO documentary Banksy Does New York, artist Chris Healey actually claimed that Banksy was a group that was led by a blonde woman. According to Healey, she is the same blonde who pops up in Exit Through The Gift Shop.