Following dedicated fans of Operation Mincemeat: A New Musical successfully uncovering the missing pieces of MI5 secretary Hester May Murray Leggatt’s life, a plaque in her honour is set to be unveiled at the Fortune Theatre on 11th December, six months after the show’s West End premiere.
The musical, based on the extraordinary true story of Operation Mincemeat during World War II, has garnered widespread acclaim for its portrayal of the elaborate scheme widely attributed to Ewen Montagu and Charles Cholmondeley. However, until recently, little was known about one of the less-regarded protagonists – Hester Leggatt, portrayed on-stage by Jak Malone, Christian Andrews, and Seán Carey.
The quest to unveil the mystery surrounding Leggatt began with fans, often referred to as ‘Mincefluencers’, initiating the #FindingHester project. Delving into research at sources including the National Archives and the Imperial War Museum, their collective efforts uncovered addresses, handwriting samples, work history, photographs, birth certificate, school records, and even piano exam results, providing a comprehensive view of the life of Hester May Murray Leggatt.
On 29th August 2023, over a quarter of the show’s audience was made up of fans dressed as characters from the story, including Saul Montagu, one of Montagu’s grandchildren, who came as Cholmondeley. By good fortune, this event (organised under the hashtag #OperationInterestingMan) coincided with the receipt of a letter by Mincefluencer Erin Edwards from MI5, confirming Hester May Murray Leggatt’s service in the security services during wartime.
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”
“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.” emphasised barrister Greg Callus, one of the key contributors to the project.
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.”
Special thanks to the team of researchers who helped uncover Hester Leggatt’s identity:
Annabel Rose, Ben Caligari, Bram de Buyser, Claudia Caplan, Caitlin DeAngelis, Dave Baxter, Elinor Quick, Erin Edwards, Gail Bishop, Greg 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 & Valeria Oliveira.