Celebrity chef Ainsley Harriott has developed an insane cult following more than a decade after his heyday in the 90s thanks to an absurdly committed Facebook group.
Aiden Ducker, Jake Howland, Chris Milton and Jordan Boyd, the administrators of an online community, have explained how a group called UKainsley Harriott (UKAH) evolved into a religious cult with over 15,000 members.
UKAH started out as a Facebook group which photoshopped Ainsley's head onto pictures of inanimate things. Why? The admins said it was because of his expressive face, his upbeat demeanour and the silly things he says. Aiden added: "I'd seen Ainsley's face popping up a lot in internet culture, like the famous oil up photo and stuff, and I thought a group dedicated to him would be pretty funny."
Jake said: "I think it fits into the culture of strange celebrity worship and cult TV worship quite well. I've seen pages for other celebrities like Dave Benson-Phillips and Chucklevision. It seems to fit that well."
Chris said: "At its beginning, it was a smaller community, so its purpose was easily defined with a bunch of like-minded people, then as it got more popular, there was maybe a collective desire to turn it into something more."
Aiden mentioned that he never set it out to be like an oily worship cult group, but that it just seemed to happen organically as the group started to grow. He said: "At first I think people started making posts like that as a joke sort of thing, but then when new members kept piling in they saw what we were doing that with little context and just assumed that was the nature of the group so to speak."
From early on people always referred to Ainsley as the Oily Lord, as it got traction people started to jokingly take it seriously. Then as the group grew in numbers people started to put more time and effort into the premise. Then, as Jake said, "it all just slowly went odd".
Over a period of two months UKAH grew all the signs of a cult-like subculture. It had a hierarchy, a dating community, a fashion trend, a music taste, a sense of nostalgia, rules, an idea of authenticity, a 622,771 word old testament type document, and a name: The Ainslamic State.
Jake said: "I thought that whilst it was quite a feat, completely over the top, some people have taken this group way too far. Writing poems about him, recording songs about him, even those infamous ainsley.exe videos."
A subcultural economy started to emerge with Ainsley Apparel retailing for the group. Of this Chris said that "it did seem to mimic the feel of an actual community". In its preposterousness something real was actually happening.
A group called UKainsley Harriott Dating was set up where like minded single Ainsleyians could meet up and talk. By this point, the group was so deep in on its own personal joke it seemed true. Chris said: "I think it was all a bit strange but I suppose how almost easy it is for something on the internet to get a bit of popularity and to be treated in an almost cult like way."
A peculiar sense of authenticity started to form after a while. How long you had been in the group mattered. What you contributed. How loyal you were. How earnestly you took the whole thing. From this germinated a weird Manichean sense of 'the other' in a pseudo-religious way. Embodied by Jamie Oliver. Aiden said: "I think they just started to see other TV chefs as enemies and Oliver was the easy target, members kept saying things like 'that cunt took our turkey twizzlers'."
Aiden added: "The whole Jamie Oliver thing also started off funny here and there, but the constant negative portrayals of him got a bit tiresome... numerous times the more staunch Ainsley-fans raided the UKjamie Oliver group in the name of the oily lord."
As more and more religious-metaphors were adopted the more inevitable the apocalypse seemed. The groups demise started after a mainstreaming crisis. A campaign to get Ainsley on the new £20 note was met with national interest. While this recognition was appreciated, there was a sense of defensiveness over identity. Jake said: "I believe a lot of people wanted the group to stay small."
Chris added: "There was a fear that there'd be an infiltration of lads joining the group and making it mainstream".
On top of this people within the group started to fight amongst themselves, Aiden said that some members thought "they were better and belonged more so to speak, like they were actually competing for how much they loved Ainsley". At this juncture the group split off into factions, like a post-modern Catholic church, sub groups dedicated to Ainsley started to pop up: UKainsley Harriott II, UKainsley Harriott v2, UKainsley Harriott Two: Oilectric Bwoigaloo.
To this end, the Ainslamic State never really recovered. Over the course of a weekend the groups cult-like tendencies were put to an end. The groups admins decided to shit-post the group into oblivion. UKAH still exists but as a shell of its former self. For some this may have just been a joke that got out of hand. Others may be eternally haunted by the phrase 'give your meat a good ol rub'.