After a year-long investigation by Claudia Joseph, Simon Trump, Ewan Fletcher, Adam Luck, Jason Buckner and Craig Hibbert, the Mail on Sunday named Banksy as Robin Gunningham.
The search began with a photograph taken in Jamaica showing a man in a blue shirt and jeans, with a hint of a smile on his face and a spray can at his feet. Taken in 2004, it was said to show Banksy at work. When the picture was published it appeared to be the first chink in the armour of anonymity with which the artist has shielded himself ever since his work began to attract the attention of the art world.
Armed with this photograph, the team travelled to Bristol, long said to have been Banksy’s home city, where they made contact with a man who claimed to have once met the artist in the flesh.
Many people claimed as much, but the moment one started asking for more information, one discovered they actually ‘know someone who met Banksy’ – and the trail ran cold.
However, this man claimed not only to have met the elusive artist but was able to furnish us with a name – not the usual variations of the name Banks but one all the more intriguing.
The man in the photograph, he insisted, was formerly known as Robin Gunningham – and it didn’t require much imagination to work out how such a name could result in the nickname Banksy.
From records available to the public, they were able to glean further information.
Robin’s father, Peter Gordon Gunningham was from the Whitehall area of Bristol. His mother, Pamela Ann Dawkin-Jones was a company director’s secretary and grew up in the exclusive surroundings of Clifton.
The couple married on April 25, 1970, at Kingswood Wesley Methodist Church. On February 8, 1972, their daughter Sarah was born at Bristol Maternity Hospital, by which time Peter had been promoted to area manager for a hotel company and the couple had bought their first home, a semidetached house in Bristol.
On July 28, 1973, Robin was born in the same hospital. According to neighbours, the boy had early surgery for a cleft palette.
The images provide a behind-the-scenes look at the guerrilla artist creating some of his famous works, captured by his long-time associate – although they do not appear to capture his face
When Robin was nine, the family moved to a larger home in the same street and it is there he spent his formative years and became interested in graffiti.
A neighbour, Anthony Hallett, recalls the couple moving into the street as newlyweds and living there until 1998. They have since separated.
When they showed Mr Hallett the Jamaica photograph, he said the man in it was Robin Gunningham.
In 1984, Robin, then 11, donned a black blazer, grey trousers and striped tie to attend the renowned Bristol Cathedral School, which currently charges fees of £9,240 a year and lists supermodel Sophie Anderton as a former pupil.
It was hard to imagine Banksy, the anti-authoritarian renegade, as a public schoolboy wandering around the 17th Century former monastery, with its upper and lower quadrangles and its prayers in the ancient cathedral.
But they then found a school photograph, taken in 1989, of a bespectacled Robin Gunningham in which he shows a discernible resemblance to the man in the Jamaica photograph.
Indeed, fellow pupils remember Robin, who was in Deans House, as being a particularly gifted artist.
In the rare interviews Banksy has given (always anonymously), the artist has acknowledged that it was while at school that he first became interested in graffiti.
Robin Gunningham left school at 16 after doing GCSEs and began dabbling in street art.
As the investigation continued, their inquiries demonstrated again and again that the details of Robin Gunningham’s life story dovetail perfectly with the known facts about Banksy.
By 1998 Robin Gunningham was living in Easton, Bristol, with Luke Egan, who went on to exhibit with Banksy at Santa’s Ghetto, an art store which launched at Christmas 2001 in London’s West End.
Egan and Gunningham are believed to have left the house when the owner wanted to sell it.
Camilla Stacey, a curator at Bristol’s Here Gallery who bought the property in 2000, said that Banksy and Robin Gunningham are one and the same person. She knew the house had been inhabited by Banksy because of the artwork left there – and she used to get post for him in the name of Robin Gunningham.
Once the group were almost certain Banksy was Gunningham – they went searching for him and tried to see if his parents would help.
His mother Pamela lived in a neat modern bungalow in a village outside Bristol. After identifying ourselves, they asked her if she had a son called Robin.
Her reaction was very odd. They showed her the Jamaica photograph and she was visibly startled, but said she didn’t recognise the man in the photograph, to whom she bears more than a passing resemblance. They asked if she could put us in touch with him.
‘I’m afraid I don’t know how to get in contact with him,’ she said.
So she did have a son called Robin? ‘No, I don’t. I don’t have a son at all.’
They asked her if she had any other children. ‘Yes, a daughter.’
But no son and certainly not a son who went to Bristol Cathedral School?
‘No,’ she said, and went on to deny she was Pamela Gunningham, insisting that the electoral roll must be incorrect.
Their conversation with Peter Gunningham, who now lived in a gated development in the suburb of Kingsdown, was equally baffling.
Again, they presented the photograph of Banksy/Robin Gunningham. Mr Gunningham said he didn’t recognise the person in the picture. They told him that they believed his son to be Banksy. ‘No,’ he replied. ‘I can’t help you, really.’
Mr Gunningham politely continued to deny that his son was Banksy but his manner was almost playful. He refused to give them any information about Robin. It was all very strange.
Had the couple never heard of Banksy or Robin Gunningham, one might have expected a reaction of complete bewilderment. This did not seem to be the case.
They then contacted Banksy’s public relations officer who, in the best Banksy tradition, neither confirmed nor denied the story.