Dr Gail Bradbook co-founder of Extinction Rebellion at their HQ in Drummond Street, London
I’m standing in the kitchen of Extinction Rebellion’s London headquarters as the protest group’s scrupulously polite co-founder Gail Bradbrook makes me a cup of peppermint tea.
In an open-plan office, about 20 people tap away on laptops and talk in hushed voices.
To the uninformed, it could be one of the hip technology firms or trendy advertising agencies found in abundance across the capital, but this atmosphere of focused professionalism is very different from the last time I was here.
Two weeks ago, I posed as an eco-warrior to infiltrate the revolutionary protest group. When I entered the same fourth-floor office for the first time, loud music played and a man with long hair danced around and waved his arms.
Last weekend I revealed how Extinction Rebellion (XR) was planning huge disruption through a campaign of civil disobedience and by recruiting an army of middle-class ‘rebels’ willing to be arrested.
Gail Bradbrook addresses a speech to the protesters in central London yesterday
Dr Gail Bradbrook (pictured above) is the co-founder of Extinction Rebellion, the group which has been holding demonstrations across the capital this week
Remarkably, despite my deception, I am welcomed back and offered a tour of the nerve centre where XR ringleaders mastermind the rebellion.
The willingness of Gail to show me around says a lot about the group’s sophisticated approach to the media: XR’s blockade is disrupting the lives of millions and they want to do everything they can to explain why.
Protest leader: I drive a diesel
Gail Bradbrook has admitted that she still drives a highly polluting diesel car.
The molecular biophysicist, left, who helped to orchestrate almost a week of disruption, revealed she would not ‘paint herself as a saint on the green front’.
She also defended XR against claims that it is elitist, arguing: ‘In loads of successful civil disobedience movements, you’ll find some of the people who were leading them were a bit posh.’
A self-proclaimed ‘neo-pagan’, the 47-year-old says she experienced a ‘download from the Universe’ in Costa Rica in 2016 – after taking the psychedelic drugs ibogaine and ayahuasca – which opened her eyes to the environmental crisis.
She has left the care of her sons, aged ten and 13, to her second husband, but plans to return home to Stroud this week for her youngest’s 11th birthday.
I’m shown how the office, a bright room in an anonymous office block near Euston station, is split into sections for the key ‘working groups’: teams of six to eight people running different parts of the rebellion, from planning and logistics to finance and support for those who get arrested. The media and messaging team take up much of the main room, with five young women working across six desks that have been shoved together.
The desks are a jumble of newspapers, Apple Mac computers, reusable water bottles and plants. Staff have a choice of three different soya milks for their tea and coffee.
We walk past an office with the words ‘Regenerative room’ written on the door. Gail peers in and hushes me to be quiet as protesters are sleeping on the floor.
XR is built to be ‘self-organising’ with no job descriptions, few targets and hardly any budget. ‘When we start meetings everyone might say how they are actually really doing,’ Gail says. ‘Lots of tears, lots of hugging, lots of music and dancing.’
But amid the hippy vibes, there is steeliness and an anarchic impulse to overthrow the status quo. Gail, a molecular biophysicist, believes it will take between ten days and three weeks for the Government to cave in and Extinction Rebellion is ready for the long haul.
Each day at 7pm, key figures meet in a small room to go over that day’s successes and plan for tomorrow.
A flip-chart in this room has a list, including the alarming line: ‘Mass hunger strike?’
‘This is a rebellion,’ Gail tells me quietly. ‘It’s fine if people want to have a bit of fun and a bit of a dance but this is not a free party. What we’re wanting to do is create a political crisis.’