Madeleina Kay has been the voice of young British people in the fight against Brexit for several years.
She sacrificed her education but lost the battle for the EU.
What was worst? Her answer is surprising.
On New Year's Eve, Madeleina Kay thought she would check her Twitter profile. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing and maybe she shouldn't have looked at all.
It was just half an hour before the clock struck midnight and yet someone had just taken the time to criticize her once again.
25-year-old Madeleina Kay from Sheffield is used to angry and bitter people calling her everything between heaven and earth because she has been one of the rare young British voices to be found in the fight against Brexit.
But this time - it was more of the criticism that bites the most. And once again Madeleina Kay had to ask herself the question: Why?
It was not a New Year's Eve that Madeleina Kay could celebrate as a winner. On the contrary, she has had to accept that her more than three-year long battle is now lost.
After Madeleina Kay started presenting her songs on social media, she was contacted by a pub landlord in Sheffield, who surprised her with a guitar in the EU colours.
Along the way, Madeleina Kay was named ‘Young European of the Year 2018’ by the EU-affiliated Schwarzkopf foundation.
On Friday at midnight, Brexit is going ahead, and thus EU opponents have won the battle that has so sharply divided the British.
One of the crucial reasons behind this can be found in the two bitter Twitter comments received by Madeleina Kay on New Year's Eve, when she felt that everyone should be reaching for the champagne.
She doesn't understand why EU supporters have been fighting each other instead of coming together for what they want to achieve.
“They wrote that I only do this for my own sake and that I always make it all about me, me, me. I thought: Do they really have nothing better to do on New Year's Eve but to criticize me?”.
It was not the threats of violence and rape that Madeleina Kay sometimes receives from Brexit supporters.
These particular words came from Remainers, and "it's the criticism of EU supporters that hurts the most," says the young and slender woman in the room full of love tributes to the EU inside the small townhouse on the outskirts of the industrial northern city of Sheffield.
Boring the young to death
Her hair is coloured EU light-blue, and on a coat stand hangs some of the many colourful costumes that have caught a lot of attention during demonstrations and happenings.
When Madeleina Kay turned up, dressed as Supergirl wanting to ‘save the British and the EU’, at a press conference in Brussels for the EU chief negotiator and the British Brexit Minister, she was shown the door.
“I also get criticized for dressing up. Some people write that they don’t like my clothes and that it is not serious.
But it is especially older people who write this.
And this has been precisely the problem with the campaign to reverse Brexit and get a new EU referendum, which has been ruled by old, white, privileged men in suits who have presented long reports and come with gloomy warnings about the economy.
It has all been so negative and it is boring young to death.”, explains Madeleina Kay.
In connection with this, she refers to the successful Brexit campaigns leading up to the referendum in June 2016 and again at the last parliamentary election, when EU opponents were highly motivated to vote and "a three-word slogan was all they needed.
"You cannot fight that with rational and serious arguments, because it's about identity and what you want to believe.
I try to make it as simple as possible and focus on a positive message.
Instead of criticizing and warning about Brexit, I try to use my art to poke fun at the lies and selfish motives that have driven the EU opposition."
The absence of young people in the Brexit vote made a big difference to the narrow result of 51.9 percent for Brexit and 48.1 percent for remain.
Only about 60 percent of 18 to 24-year-old Britons voted in the referendum.
Whereas, nine out of ten voted among Britons aged over 65, according to a survey by the BBC.
British opinion polls also demonstrate that the choice of Brexit is a generational battle with older Britons overwhelmingly voting against the EU, whilst the vast majority of young people voted for the EU.
In addition, unlike the Scottish independence vote, the 16-17-year-olds were not allowed to vote in the EU referendum, Madeleina Kay points out.
Sheffield was formerly a powerhouse for British industry. Now the historic industrial area, Kelham Island, offers a wealth of creative opportunities in the old factory buildings.
Some say older Britons with their votes have stolen the young people's future. Do you agree?
“No, I don't believe that. In a democratic election, everyone's vote counts the same and everyone can vote as they please.
That is how democracy works.
There is no moral basis for saying that young people's voices should have been given more weight.”
Met with online scorn
The generational gap has not levelled out over the past three and a half years.
On the contrary, the 2017 and 2019 elections showed that the elderly largely voted for Brexit parties, while young people tended to prefer parties opposed to Brexit.
Madeleina Kay has tried to draw attention to the good sides of the EU, which she finds amazingly positive and which has brought Europeans together in a peaceful project.
The day after the EU referendum, she spontaneously sat down and wrote a song she posted on YouTube.
Shortly after she was contacted by the Liberal Democrats in Sheffield, who wanted her to sing at a demonstration against Brexit.
Madeleina Kay, who has since dedicated her life to the campaign to stay in the EU, remembers it as a very positive experience.
Madeleina Kay has become one of the rare young and prominent voices in the British Brexit debate.
She even participated in a BBC programme, as a counterpart to the man, who more than anyone else, paved the way for Britain's EU exit, Nigel Farage.
Money raised from crowdfunding online has enabled Madeleina Kay to record her songs with producer James Fosberry in his Bigdogs Studio.
A university course to become a landscape architect was abandoned. Instead online crowdfunding has enabled Madeleina Kay to record 20 songs in a small audio studio in Sheffield's historic industrial area, Kelham Island, which now offers a wealth of creative opportunities in the old factory buildings.
The songs are continuously posted on YouTube, Instagram and Twitter.
It is the songs that often result in a stream of criticism. Recently, she presented a new song and immediately mocking comments came flooding in, recalls Madeleina Kay and shows some shocking examples.
“The song wasn't even political. The criticism comes mostly from older men.
It’s as if they are really provoked by a young woman putting herself forward,” explains Madeleina Kay.
She shows a video where you can see protesters in yellow vests, who have just spotted her. Is it her, oh no, one man shouts while another asks: Are you a Nazi?
"They don't really know what to do with me because I'm not aggressive and they can't really fight me.
Sometimes when I stand with my guitar, they circle me and shout slogans to drown me out. "
Young could have made the difference
Apart from the music, Madeleina Kay has published children's books and drawings, all of which focuses on the positive aspects of EU membership.
She is also a leading figure and the ‘face’ of a campaign for the organisation New Europeans, which is fighting for the continued rights of EU citizens in the UK and the rights of Britons in EU countries.
Most recently, Madeleina Kay released ‘The Future is Europe’ featuring impressions from a tour of all EU member states.
This has led to comments from other EU supporters, says Madeleina Kay, - supporters who point out that she should rather concentrate on traveling around the UK.
“I've made a lot of European friends, and I'm trying to explain why Brexit has happened so that others can try to change the bad things about the EU and avoid the same thing happening to them. Why should I be criticized? I've given up my education because I want to do something.”
The young woman, who grew up in Leicester and moved north to Sheffield after college, has no plans to expand her EU activism and enter politics as such - she will not be locked into a political party.
Madeleina Kay lives with her father, who is "an academic and has voted for the Liberal Democrats all his life," and she declares that she doesn't like Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
What do you think Brexit is going to mean to you personally?
“I haven't thought about it that much. I have concentrated on living in the present and doing what I believe is right.
Brexit will be so damaging in many areas.
For the economy, it will go beyond the poor, and my foreign friends are experiencing racism and xenophobia, which many others have also faced since the Brexit vote. "
How about yourself. As you say, your battle is lost. What should happen now?
"I need to figure that out. Maybe I'll resume my studies, maybe I can continue as an artist.
I have applied for funding for a couple of projects, both here and in the EU. But there is something in me, which tells me that I really don't want to be in the UK anymore.
Now, most of all, I feel like going abroad.
I regret nothing. Even though I do not have a piece of paper to prove that I have an education.
I've met amazing people. I have gained a lot of experience. I've done something that really matters to me. Isn't that what life is all about? "
More than three years of struggle to reverse Brexit is lost. Madeleina Kay is seriously considering leaving the UK. She has become an easily recognizable and distinctive profile in the struggle to remain in the EU, and she believes it could hamper her opportunities in the home country after Brexit. Photo: Niels Ahlmann Olesen.
What will it be like for you Friday at midnight when Brexit officially happens?
“I will travel to London to show that I do not agree with what is happening. I will not let all those people down who have backed me up and who say I have given them hope. We can still return to the EU sometime in the future - we must keep that alive. "
However, it is important that the advocates of the European Union learn from the failed struggle to maintain British EU membership, Madeleina Kay says.
“It could have been so different, if EU supporters had approached things differently. If there had been room for young people to have played a role - just look at what has happened to the climate movement as a result of Greta Thunberg and the other young people's protests. Imagine if we had just half that effect ... "
About the author
Uffe Taufel is the former London correspondent of the leading Danish broadsheet, Berlingske.
Reproduced by kind permission from Berlingske Tidende