Theatre News

Operation Mincemeat to unveil plaque for Hester Leggatt following search for character’s history

A special moment for the production

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The real Hester Leggatt and Jak Malone’s portrayal in Operation Mincemeat: A New Musical. Photos: Wycombe Abbey archive and Matt Crockett

Following a campaign by fans of Operation Mincemeat to successfully uncover previously unknown details about MI5 secretary Hester Leggatt, a plaque in her honour is scheduled to be unveiled.

The musical, based on the true story of Operation Mincemeat during World War II, has gained acclaim for its portrayal of the scheme attributed to Ewen Montagu and Charles Cholmondeley.

Little was known about Hester Leggatt or her role in the operation until recently, when fans initiated the #FindingHester project, researching sources such as the National Archives and the Imperial War Museum.

The fans uncovered addresses, handwriting samples, work history, photographs, birth certificates, school records, and piano exam results, providing a comprehensive view of Leggatt’s life. On 29 August 2023, a significant portion of the musical’s audience dressed as characters from the story, coinciding with a letter from MI5 confirming Leggatt’s wartime contributions.

In acknowledgment of Leggatt’s service, the producers decided to install a plaque at the Fortune Theatre, set to be unveiled on 11 December. The ceremony is expected to be attended by cast members, the creative team, and “Mincefluencers” who played a crucial role in revealing Leggatt’s story. The unveiling marks six months since the musical’s West End debut.

SpitLip, the musical’s writers and composers, said: “We were captivated by the mystery of Hester Leggatt from the moment we came across her. Try as we might though, we couldn’t unearth the details of her life. The real identity of Hester Leggatt fell, once again, into the background. That might have been the end of the story, were it not for our show’s community. Where we let the facts fall back into the shadows, they rolled up their sleeves and said ‘let’s go.’ They found her.”

Barrister Greg Callus, one of the contributors to the project, said: “Operation Mincemeat succeeded because they managed to create an entirely fake person who was wholly believable from just a few fragments of pocket litter and documents. We all had great fun doing the exact reverse: finding and fleshing-out a very real woman from just the fragments of documentary evidence that her life had left behind. It was a joy to be a part of such a wonderful group of people, whose shared passion and care and diligence got so much done so quickly.”

Jak Malone, who plays Leggatt on stage, added: “The commitment, energy and enthusiasm of our fans has left me awed, inspired and immensely proud. Due to their efforts, the real Hester finally has the recognition she so rightly deserves and I’m simply elated. I first built my portrayal of Hester based on scraps of information and thanks to our fans now I’ve been presented with this fully fleshed out person with such a rich, full life and It’s been a blessing.”

Team members credited with discovering more were: Annabel Rose, Ben Caligari, Bram de Buyser, Claudia Caplan, Caitlin DeAngelis, Dave Baxter, Elinor Quick, Erin Edwards, Gail Bishop, Callus, Hûw Steer, Jack Lawrence, Jan Schneider, Jenny Murray, Jessie Honnor, Kathy Bolt, Maayan Shir, Misha Anker, Philippa Peall, Rachel Pantrey, Rose Crossgrove, Sarah Haynes, Sharon O’Connor, Silvia Lemos, Sophie Message and Valeria Oliveira.

The show continues in the West End.

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