Lily Kember laughs at the ‘upper crusty’ tag given to her by the media for her role in the daring raid on Stansted Airport which brought flights to a standstill and briefly caught the nation’s attention.
In fact the 21-year-old green protester, who was born in Queensway, Westminster, says she received a full bursary to attend the Godolphin and Latymer Schools in Hammersmith, and did not pay the £15,000 yearly fees used by the papers to paint her as a leader of a toffy-nosed band of environmental activists, called Plane Stupid.
“My dad drives trucks but the papers chose to ignore that and used my education to create a lazy stereotype,” says Miss Kember, who is now a student at Edinburgh University.
“But it's easier to write us off as a bunch of toffs with nothing better to do, than listen to the logic for our protest or recognise that an incredibly diverse group of people are united over the issue of climate change."
The west Londoner is one of 49 people to be charged with trespass, after cutting through the airport’s perimeter fence and sitting on the runway before police removed them, causing dozens of flights to be cancelled.
It was a risky plan and one which she knew would most probably result in her arrest, but Miss Kember says it was worth it as the spectre of dramatic rising temperatures caused by carbon dioxide emissions looms ever closer.
“Being arrested is terrifying and the prospect of having a criminal record is not something you anticipate with glee,” she said. “But climate change is a global catastrophe and we all felt we had a duty to make a stand, especially as the Government seems set on doing nothing.”
The result could be more direct action as green groups form an unlikely coalition with west London residents to try to block plans for a third runway at Heathrow Airport.
Plane Stupid says Heathrow is again in its sights after several members managed to climb onto a jet and unfurl banners earlier this year.
Although they will not specify the next target, any action is likely to follow transport secretary Geoff Hoon’s verdict on the expansion, which is due early next year.
A successful action will spell more misery for passengers and the aviation industry. But Miss Kember says it’s a price worth paying: “I apologise to them unreservedly for ruining people’s flights, but climate change is something that affects us all and – in that respect – it had to be done.”
Miss Kember’s passion for environmentalism emerged after leaving Latymer Girls’ School, in Hammersmith, and taking up a social anthropology degree. She never thought of herself as an activist, but the more she researched climate change, the clearer the need to get involved became.
“Direct action has a long historical precedent in forcing the political agenda – look at the Suffragettes role in women’s rights,” she explains. “Government ultimately has the power to stop us falling into the abyss, but sometimes the people have a role to play in making them aware of that.
"There’s more and more people willing to take direct action and we’re no longer pushing a cause that can be ignored.”