They have blocked the Dartford Bridge, tipped tomato soup over Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, spray-painted the iconic glass frontage of Harrods orange and glued themselves to London’s Abbey Road crossing.
And that’s just in the past week.
Now Just Stop Oil protesters have also been accused of ‘having blood on their hands’ after traffic carnage, caused after activists suspended themselves from the notoriously busy Thames crossing, indirectly led to the deaths of two women on the nearby choked M20.
The women, one of whom was named as Lisa Webber, a mother of four in her 50s, had stopped in heavy rain on the hard-shoulder of the motorway, when they were hit by a passing car.
A shocked witness said: ‘The eco-warriors may have thought it was an innocent protest, but they’ve got blood on their hands.’
Step forward Aileen Getty, an heiress to the Getty family fortune, which, of course, grew from the very industry activists are so keen to bring to its knees
While no one is suggesting the protesters planned such a terrible outcome, there are, it would seem, no lengths to which members of Just Stop Oil will not go in pursuit of their aim.
How ironic, then, to discover that one of the most prominent backers of this rag-tag assortment of eco-zealots who think gluing themselves to walls aids their anti-fossil fuel cause, is a woman whose funding clout possibly runs deeper than, well, an oil well.
Step forward Aileen Getty, an heiress to the Getty family fortune, which, of course, grew from the very industry activists are so keen to bring to its knees.
Aileen, 65, is the granddaughter of J. Paul Getty, the late tycoon who built an empire out of oil, one that made him the richest man in the world for a time.
The family left the oil industry in the early 2000s, but it certainly helped to grow a family fortune reckoned to be worth somewhere in the region of £4.8 billion.
Aileen, who has a collection of high-end properties in the U.S., is a founding member of the Climate Emergency Fund (CEF), a U.S.-based non-profit organisation that is funding direct action, like that of Just Stop Oil and Extinction Rebellion, across the globe.
According to the CEF’s own Twitter feed, she has donated ‘over a million dollars to brave climate activists’, money that in some cases pays such protesters a nominal salary. A Just Stop Oil spokesman confirmed this week that supporters ‘do receive a small income’.
And she’s doing this, she told the Mail, because society was ‘out of time’.
‘My hope is that we, as a society, can accept these actions from brave climate activists for what they are — an alarm that jolts us out of the status quo and focuses us on the real emergency at hand: we are literally killing life on Earth,’ she said.
Aileen, 65, is the granddaughter of J. Paul Getty, the late tycoon who built an empire out of oil, one that made him the richest man in the world for a time
Quite how the notoriously frugal Getty family patriarch, who died in 1976, aged 83, would feel about his once favourite granddaughter’s actions is open to debate.
Aileen, however, has spent most of her life treading an unconventional path.
Now something of an ageing hippy chick — albeit one who has chefs to prepare her vegan cuisine and who sold one of her homes to pop star Katy Perry — her life was once extraordinarily glamorous; Dudley Moore played the piano at her engagement party, and her first husband was Christopher Wilding, son of the late Elizabeth Taylor — more of which later.
Despite the marriage, a deeply troubled Aileen was on a path to self-destruction.
A cocaine addict (an interviewer once noted her daily cocaine habit was ‘enough to put an elephant into space’), she contracted HIV as the result of an extra-marital affair. It was 1985, a time when there was still terrible public stigma to the disease.
By 1990 Aileen’s infection would escalate to Aids. She suffered heart problems, lung disease, collapsed and nearly died, but somehow clung on, saved by the discovery of effective HIV medication.
The year 1996 was a turning point. She got clean, and was famously photographed with Princess Diana visiting a drop-in centre for people with Aids in London’s West End.
Facing death and her own demons were definite motivating factors in her epiphany. As was money. ‘Wealth has destroyed us,’ she said in an interview in June 1996.
The ‘us’ she was referring to was, of course, her family. For Aileen’s extraordinary story is just one chapter in a family history often dubbed the ‘Curse of the Gettys’ — a dynastic saga punctuated by kidnapping, drugs, rivalry and death.
A cocaine addict (an interviewer once noted her daily cocaine habit was ‘enough to put an elephant into space’), she contracted HIV as the result of an extra-marital affair
J. Paul Getty was shown his first oil well aged 11. After graduating from Oxford University, he’d made his first million by the age of 23. He struck black gold after securing a 60-year concession on a stretch of land between Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in 1949. What he lacked as a husband — he married and divorced five times — Getty made up for in his money-making ability.
By 1966 he was named the richest private citizen in the world, with an estimated billion-dollar fortune.
He bought Rembrandts and Renoirs and moved to England to Sutton Place, a 16th-century estate near Guildford, Surrey, where, a notorious skinflint, he installed a payphone for guests.
Aileen spent long periods there as a youngster. ‘I was my grandfather’s favourite, I think, because I wasn’t afraid of him,’ she once said.
His estate was a sanctuary for her as a teenager. Her own father, John Paul Jr, was a jet-setting heroin addict in the 1960s and 1970s.
By the mid-1960s, his marriage to Aileen’s mother, Gail Harris, had crumbled and he married Dutch actress Talitha Pol, who would die from a drug overdose in 1971.
Darker times still were yet to come. Aileen was 13 and living in Rome with her mother, when her elder brother, John Paul III, 16, was kidnapped by Italian terrorists. A bitter five-month negotiation ensued.
Aileen’s dad had never got on with his own father, who’d sacked him from Getty Oil and cut him out of his will. When asked to pay the ransom demand — initially around £15 million — Getty refused, declaring: ‘I have 13 other grandchildren, if I pay one penny now, then I’ll have 14 kidnapped grandchildren.’
It was only when John Paul III’s severed ear arrived in the post, along with a lock of his hair, that he agreed to pay £1.9 million (the maximum that was tax deductible) towards a reduced ransom for his grandson.
Money-minded even in the midst of this crisis, he loaned the difference, about £885,000, to his son on the condition he pay it back with 4 per cent interest. Aileen’s brother was then freed.
Their father eventually left his wild ways behind and became a virtual recluse. The impact of the kidnap on his son, however, was cataclysmic. He adopted a hippy lifestyle, married at the age of 18 (for which he was disinherited), then tumbled into a trail of self-destruction that culminated in a drug overdose in 1981, which left him paralysed and virtually blind until his death at the age of 54 in 2011.
A teenage Aileen moved to Los Angeles, where she fell into a glossy world of parties — and drugs — and fell in love with Christopher Wilding. Desperate to marry, they had to wait until she was 22 to avoid disinheritance under Getty trust rules.
They have blocked the Dartford Bridge, tipped tomato soup over Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, spray-painted the iconic glass frontage of Harrods orange and glued themselves to London’s Abbey Road crossing
The marriage was haunted by the heartbreak of multiple miscarriages before the couple adopted Caleb, now 39. Aileen then fell pregnant with Andrew, now 37.
But four years into the union the wheels had already started to come off. In 1985, Aileen had a fling with a man only ever named as ‘Gary’ who infected her with HIV.
That led to the end of her marriage, a descent into drug addiction and the temporary loss of custody of her beloved boys.
Her family’s reaction to the disease didn’t help — she said they were in denial. Her biggest source of support was her former mother-in-law Elizabeth Taylor, herself an early and committed supporter of research on HIV/Aids.
Such was Aileen’s devotion to Liz she always referred to her as ‘Mom’, while her own mother she called ‘Gail’.
‘Elizabeth is the greatest. If it wasn’t for her, I don’t think I would have lasted this long,’ she said in an interview in 1996.
It was reciprocal. ‘I love her like she’s one of my own children,’ the late star declared.
Aileen threw herself into HIV awareness campaigning (she’s still an ambassador for the Elizabeth Taylor Aids Foundation), which brought her close to Princess Diana. ‘Aids has given me a purpose, in many senses,’ Aileen once said. ‘I was numb before; I didn’t know what to do with my life.’
In 2012, she founded the Aileen Getty Foundation, supporting a variety of causes close to her heart. She had a short-lived second marriage to American Scott Padilla, whom she met in rehab in 1990; and intriguingly spoke in 1997 of a third marriage to an unnamed Englishman. It clearly didn’t last, because in 2004 she married Bartolomeo Ruspoli.
In recent years she has kept a low profile. Her last significant interview appears to have been in 2015 for a U.S. magazine, in which she said: ‘The early years were very hard years and I don’t think I’m over that. I don’t talk about it much, but it lives in a very deep place in me that’s . . . still painful.’
She said her health was good, as was her relationship with her two sons.
Aileen threw herself into HIV awareness campaigning (she’s still an ambassador for the Elizabeth Taylor Aids Foundation), which brought her close to Princess Diana
As youngsters, they had been given instructions on the emergency number to call if their mother collapsed and were told to wear rubber gloves to protect themselves if she bled. ‘I’m a very lucky parent,’ she said. ‘They’re both divine souls and we’re all very close.’
Philanthropy and activism aside, she does appear to have inherited some of the business acumen of her forbears. Founder of LA restaurant company Sprout, she’s a serial buyer and seller of high-end homes, most recently a £19 million New York townhouse.
On the subject of her activism, she has been pointed but brief.
But she responded by email to the Mail last week, insisting: ‘I support climate activism through the Climate Emergency Fund because we are out of time for anything other than rapid, comprehensive climate action.
‘We can have a fossil fuel-powered economy, or we can have thriving life on planet Earth. We can’t have both.’
She said she funded the CEF, which in turn made grants to climate activists ‘engaged in non-violent legal civil disobedience’, including Just Stop Oil and Insulate Britain.
‘I do not fund these groups or their actions directly, though I am in full support of Just Stop Oil’s critical demand of no new oil and gas leases.’
As for the disruptive actions of those groups she said: ‘If you accept that we are facing a widespread climate disaster, then civil disobedience does not seem so crazy and extreme.
‘Any discomfort caused by the protests we are seeing — which have been peaceful and non- violent — pales in comparison with what awaits us all if we fail to act on climate.’
Additional reporting Barbara McMahon.