“Slave Labour” by Banksy was on the wall of a Poundland shop in Wood Green, London. Photo: Getty
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Stealing Banksy? Meet the man who takes the street art off the street

Tony Baxter has become the go-to guy for anyone wanting to shift – and flog – a Banksy mural.

Art curators aren’t usually the targets of hate mail and death threats.

But then Tony Baxter (who has received messages informing him “there's a bullet with your name on it” and whose staff are regularly accused of being thieves who “are going to die of cancer”) isn't your average custodian of culture.

The former model, investment banker and cross-Channel swimmer has become the go-to guy for anyone wanting to shift – and flog – a Banksy mural.

It all started when “Slave Labour” was painted on the side of a Poundland shop in Wood Green, north London, just before the Queen's diamond jubilee in May 2012. A few months later, the work, featuring a boy hunched over a sewing machine stitching union flag bunting, had been chainsawed off the wall before vanishing.

“No one knew where it was, and our whole goal as a concierge is that we're supposed to be the best-connected network in London,” says Baxter, in his first proper interview.

The director of The Sincura Group, which aims to fulfil every whim of its VIP members, adds: “It just so happened that a client said, ‘find the answer to ‘Slave Labour’’. The council did bugger all; they just sat there and drank tea.”

Sincura located the work in a Miami auction house and flew it back to London to see if a buyer with at least £900,000 in spare change could be found so the street art could be kept in the UK.

The Sincura name was splashed across the media and Baxter says he now gets about ten emails a week from people asking him to remove what they assume to be Banksys from their buildings.

The 39-year-old son of a Cambridge academic has since overseen the “salvaging” of three other murals across Britain and has got hold of a further five.

They form what is the most expensive collection of the artist’s work ever assembled under one roof – the Stealing Banksy? exhibition, which opened at the ME London hotel today. The show concludes on Sunday when all the pieces go under the hammer (total estimates stand at £5m).

Baxter does not own any of the works, and he insists he has never made a penny in profit from the sale of any piece taken from a building, nor has he ever approached anyone to remove one.

What he does get is “a small management fee that covers just a fraction of my staffing and insurance costs”; a strange kind of kudos for his company; and “a good way to entice people” to buy the Banksy canvases he sells, where he does get a cut.

Baxter also has ethical conditions that must be met. The owners must be intent on removing the piece regardless; they must have at least one non-financial motive (for example, fearing a grade II listing as a result of the graffiti); and he insists on some kind of charitable donation.

Has Baxter had any contact with the man himself? “I, I, I can't comment on any of my involvement with Banksy,” he says. It is the only time he hesitates.

The works are being taken from communities and will likely end up in an plutocrat's mansion. But he claims: “We're restoring these for ever. In 100 years’ time, or 1,000 years’ time, when these are the old masterpieces they may have become, they’ll still be around. We can’t stress enough – if you're going to do it, do it properly. You wouldn’t take the Mona Lisa and chop it in half.

“At the end of the day, we sleep easy at night knowing that what we’re doing is legal. It may not be the most ethically sound – but it is the lesser of two evils.”

Kyle Seeley
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For emotional value, Emily is Away – a nostalgic instant messaging game – is this year’s best release

If you want to express your lingering teenage angst, there’s no better option.

Every now and then, a game is released that goes beyond what it may look or sound like. It goes straight to the pit of your insides where you thought you had no soul left, and jolts you back to life. Or at least it attempts to. This year, it's Emily is Away.

Firstly, anyone and everyone can virtually play this thing as it’s a crude Windows XP simulator displaying an AIM/MSN messenger client and can run on the PC equivalent of a potato. And it's free. It’s a short game, taking about 30 minutes, in which you play a person chatting away to your friend called Emily (who could be more), choosing from a set list of pre-selected instant messages.

Each chapter takes place in a different year, starting in 2002 and ending in 2006.

You’re instantly smacked with nostalgia thanks to the user screen of Windows XP and a fuzzed out background of Bliss, which was the default wallpaper in the operating system, and probably the most widely seen photo in the world. And your ears aren’t abandoned either, with the upbeat pinging sounds reminiscent of how you used to natter away with your personal favourite into the early hours.

The first chapter starts with you and Emily reaching the end of your last year in high school, talking about plans for the evening, but also the future, such as what you’ll be studying at university. From this early point, the seeds of the future are already being sewn.

For example, Emily mentions how Brad is annoying her in another window on her computer, but you’re both too occupied about agreeing to go to a party that night. The following year, you learn that Brad is now in fact her boyfriend, because he decided to share how he felt about Emily while you were too shy and keeping your feelings hidden.

What’s so excellent about the game is that it can be whatever you wish. Retro games used the lack of visual detail to their advantage, allowing the players to fill in the blanks. The yearly gaps in this game do exactly the same job, making you long to go back in time, even if you haven't yet reached the age of 20 in the game.

Or it lets you forget about it entirely and move on, not knowing exactly what had happened with you and Emily as your brain starts to create the familiar fog of a faded memory.

Despite having the choice to respond to Emily’s IMs in three different ways each time, your digital self tries to sweeten the messages with emoticons, but they’re always automatically deleted, the same way bad spelling is corrected in the game too. We all know that to truly to take the risk and try and move a friendship to another level, emoticons are the digital equivalent to cheesy real-life gestures, and essential to trying to win someone’s heart.

Before you know it, your emotions are heavily invested in the game and you’re always left wondering what Emily wanted to say when the game shows that she’s deleting as well as typing in the messenger. You end up not even caring that she likes Coldplay and Muse – passions reflected in her profile picture and use of their lyrics. She also likes Snow Patrol. How much can you tolerate Chasing Cars, really?

The user reviews on Steam are very positive, despite many complaining you end up being “friend-zoned” by Emily, and one review simply calling it “Rejection Simulator 2015”.

I tried so hard from all of the options to create the perfect Em & Em. But whatever you decide, Emily will always give you the #feels, and you’ll constantly end up thinking about what else you could have done.