Behind imposing security gates on a private cul-de-sac just outside commuter town Bishop’s Stortford is the house that porn built.
Described by estate agents as a ‘stunning, modern home finished to a very high specification’, the gleaming mansion boasts six bedrooms and eight bathrooms, plus a gym, sauna, home cinema, marble bar and a games room lit by fluorescent modern art sculptures and fitted out with a purple-baize pool table.
On the ‘generous’ gravel drive, the property’s owner, Tim Stokely, parks a gleaming collection of supercars, including a £120,000 matt black Audi R8 and a bespoke Range Rover from a customised car firm popular with Premier League footballers.
Like many of his generation, the Essex-born 37-year-old shares images of his turbocharged lifestyle on Instagram, posing in Savile Row suits and with chunky wristwatches, drinking champagne on super-yachts off the coast of Ibiza, or partying in New York and London‘s most exclusive bars, clubs and restaurants.
Tim Stokely (picture) is the CEO of a notorious social network called OnlyFans
Stokely also invites followers into his luxury home, which he bought for a cool £2,425,000 in cash in the summer of 2019.
At Christmas, he showed off a tree surrounded by Louis Vuitton parcels.
Last Easter, he posted pictures of a 200-year-old olive tree he’d had planted near the built-in barbecue and pizza oven next to his perfectly groomed, half-acre back lawn.
It’s quite a performance. Yet one thing this wealthy young man isn’t quite so eager to advertise, in the curated display of conspicuous consumption, is exactly where all the money that fuels it comes from.
On his various personal websites, Tim Stokely likes to describe himself as an ‘accomplished British tech entrepreneur’ and ‘disruptor’ who was born into ‘a very close-knit family’ from Essex and now ‘leads the vision’ of one of the world’s fastest-growing ‘social media platforms’.
What isn’t properly explained, however, is the highly dubious nature of this ‘platform’.
For Stokely is the CEO of a notorious social network called OnlyFans. Not only does his website generate the lion’s share of its proceeds from online smut, but — according to a BBC investigation published this week — it is also being used to host X-rated footage of underage children.
The firm, which Stokely founded in 2016, is a sort of pay-for-access version of Facebook or Instagram. It allows social media ‘influencers’ and minor celebrities to charge followers a monthly fee — usually between £3.50 and £15 — to view their personal posts.
Though some of these feeds contain relatively anodyne footage — such as fitness classes or cookery videos — the vast majority of OnlyFans ‘creators’ treat their subscribers to a regularly updated stream of either suggestive or sexually explicit films and images, of a sort banned from more mainstream rivals.
For further payment, these ‘creators’ will often flog videos and images created on demand, tailor-made to a customer’s sexual tastes. OnlyFans takes a 20 per cent cut of all revenues.
The pornographic site boomed during lockdown, when the number of ‘creators’ on its books rose from 348,000 to 1.6 million, according to recent Companies House filings, with some making tens of thousands of pounds per month.
By 2019, The New York Times was reporting that one of the original five, a glamour model from Neath in Wales called Dannii Harwood (pictured), was earning £30,000 a month, with hundreds of male fans paying to access videos of her driving around in her underwear, or enacting sexual fantasies dressed as a nurse or a dominatrix
The number of users shot up from 13 million to 82 million people in 187 different countries, the company declared. Together, they paid a whopping £1.7 billion to view content on the site.
OnlyFans’ London-based parent company, Fenix International, which boasts just 27 employees, declared profits of £42 million in the year to November and has another £204 million in the bank.
All of which wasn’t just good news for fast-living Stokely, but also for his ‘close-knit family’, several of whom work, or have worked, in senior roles at either the online sex firm or connected businesses.
Indeed, despite being of solid, middle-class stock — Tim and his three siblings grew up in a commuter mansion in a village near Felsted in Essex — the outwardly respectable Stokelys can now lay claim to being Britain’s first family of pornography.
The patriarch is Guy Stokely, a 77-year-old former investment banker who once worked at Barclays. He’s a director of Fenix International and owned a majority of the firm’s shares until 2018, when they were sold to a Ukrainian-American pornographer named Leonid Radvinsky, who made his original fortune via a sex website called MyFreeCams.
Guy’s wife (and Tim’s mother) Deborah, 62, is not only a pearl-wearing grandmother but a former director of both Fenix International and Delivery Code Limited, a second internet company controlled by Guy that was acquired by OnlyFans in December in a deal that netted Guy and a second major shareholder, Tim’s 42-year-old brother Tom, £23.65 million.
Tom also happens to be the chief operating officer of OnlyFans, while Tim’s 47-year-old sister, Sarah, is a former director of Delivery Code. The only family member with no connections is the oldest sibling, Robert, 51, who works at a wealth management firm in the City called Sandaire.
For perhaps obvious reasons, no members of the wider Stokely family has ever publicly commented on their links to the notorious OnlyFans.
Tim, for his part, has said that his career in the porn business dates back to his time at Anglia Ruskin University in the 2000s, when he ‘stumbled across the appeal of fetish movies’. In comments on the internet site Reddit in 2014, he explained: ‘While studying several UK dominatrix sites for potential business opportunities, I found a need for a properly operating financial domination site.’
By early 2020, Ms Harwood (pictured), the daughter of a forklift operator, had made £1 million. As the site’s profile rose, so it began to draw more and more mainstream celebrities into its seedy grip
He created his first porn site, Glamworship, in 2011, and in 2013 built a second called Customs4U, where users could pay to ask adult film stars for bespoke content. By now he was calling himself a ‘British entrepreneur in the adult entertainment industry’.
The family fortunes didn’t really take off until 2016, however, when Tim came up for the idea for OnlyFans. It launched that November, with the first board meeting at the Institute of Directors on Pall Mall.
Although just five ‘creators’ signed up initially, earning a few hundred pounds a month, it quickly snowballed as minor celebrities (including several Love Island contestants) with large Instagram presences realised they could generate significant sums by pushing followers towards the paid-for site.
The problem, of course, was that ‘creators’ swiftly discovered that the easiest way to secure new subscribers was to provide them with ever more explicit content.
By 2019, The New York Times was reporting that one of the original five, a glamour model from Neath in Wales called Dannii Harwood, was earning £30,000 a month, with hundreds of male fans paying to access videos of her driving around in her underwear, or enacting sexual fantasies dressed as a nurse or a dominatrix.
It described OnlyFans as ‘the hottest site in the adult entertainment industry’ and said it was ‘changing sex work forever’.
By early 2020, Ms Harwood, the daughter of a forklift operator, had made £1 million. As the site’s profile rose, so it began to draw more and more mainstream celebrities into its seedy grip.
Former Atomic Kitten singer Kerry Katona has said that she gets her 19-year-old daughter to take shots of her in her underwear, while Towie star Lauren Goodger poses for naked bath shots.
Last August, the former Disney child actress Bella Thorne made headlines after revealing that she had earned £1.5 million in less than a week after signing up, though she stressed that her feed contained no full nudity.
OnlyFans has sought to portray itself as a force for good, with supporters arguing that it empowers ‘creators’ by allowing them to sell content — over which they have full control — directly to consumers, rather than using male-dominated and often exploitative pornographic film studios and websites as intermediaries.
Guy’s wife (and Tim’s mother) Deborah, 62, is not only a pearl-wearing grandmother but a former director of both Fenix International and Delivery Code Limited, a second internet company controlled by Guy that was acquired by OnlyFans in December in a deal that netted Guy and a second major shareholder, Tim’s 42-year-old brother Tom, £23.65 million (pictured)
Until last night the site also employed a blue-chip PR firm called Bacchus — which works with such squeaky-clean brands as Eurostar, Adidas, Fever-Tree, drinks giant Diageo and even the V&A museum — to publicise, among other things, the fact that it didn’t just host X-rated content, but also allowed musicians, chefs, make-up artists and even gardeners to monetise their hobbies without removing their clothes or posting videos of themselves performing sex acts.
Tellingly, however, Bacchus never chose to name OnlyFans on the exhaustive list of clients — including prestigious outfits such as The Brit Awards, The Ivy restaurant, Peroni and Krug champagne — carried on its website.
And yesterday, following inquiries from the Mail, it ceased representing the firm. But whatever the spin, to critics OnlyFans is simply profiting from the seemingly endless sexualisation of everyday life.
Far from being harmless, these critics regard many of the pornographic activities as a sort of virtual prostitution which, although carried out over the internet, can carry huge risks for content creators who may very well find graphic and highly personal images and films end up being taken from the site and shared more widely.
Once out there, leaked sexual content is famously tough to get rid of. For example, Pornhub, the most prolific porn website in the world, currently has 1,458 films in a category named ‘leaked OnlyFans videos’.
Honza Cervenka, a lawyer at leading law firm McAllister Olivarius specialising in harassment, online privacy violations and image-based abuse, likens trying to remove leaked material from the internet to playing a game of Whac-A-Mole.
‘Anybody with very basic IT skills can screengrab or download this content on their computer and then repost it elsewhere,’ he says. ‘Victims who find their material popping up without their consent can file a takedown request with the site responsible only for it to for it simply pop up somewhere else.’
The dark side of OnlyFans made further headlines this week when the BBC investigation revealed how children have been allowed to sell explicit videos on the website.
In a deeply troubling dispatch, its reporters spoke with a number of under-age boys and girls who had used fake identification documents to bypass age verification systems designed to prevent child sex abuse from appearing on the site.
The broadcaster interviewed the mother of a 17-year-old girl called Leah who used a fake driving licence to set up an OnlyFans account where she made £5,000 uploading explicit videos of herself using sex toys.
Although the internet firm was tipped off in January that she was under-age, moderators wrongly concluded that her ID documents were genuine.
By the time the page was eventually shut down, in late April, many of its 50 videos and images had been leaked to other websites.
Tom (pictured) also happens to be the chief operating officer of OnlyFans, while Tim’s 47-year-old sister, Sarah, is a former director of Delivery Code
The BBC also revealed that a vulnerable 17-year-old boy from the U.S. state of Nevada called Aaron had been persuaded to appear in a sex video with his girlfriend which was then posted to the site, making them $5,000 in the process.
Meanwhile, the head of safeguarding at a school in London was quoted as saying that one 16-year-old pupil had boasted of posting ‘very sexualised, pornographic’ images on OnlyFans, while a 12-year-old girl said she had used the site to contact adult film creators.
One counsellor for the protection charity Childline said she had spoken to a girl who’d opened an OnlyFans account aged 13 as ‘an easy way to make money’. Another had heard from a 16-year-old boy who was ‘worried to the point of throwing up’ about someone discovering he had bought nude images on the site.
Perhaps inevitably, police are now looking at a number of cases involving OnlyFans, the BBC report revealed.
In Hertfordshire, for example, detectives are trying to establish how a 14-year-old girl had managed to use her grandmother’s passport and bank details to sell explicit images via the site, while in South Wales, offers are investigating complaints that a 17-year-old girl was blackmailed into posting nudes there.
A further three children have complained that images were uploaded to the site without consent, including a 17-year-old in Surrey who said her face had been edited onto someone else’s body.
‘It is increasingly clear that OnlyFans is being used by children,’ chief constable Simon Bailey, the most senior British police officer in charge of child protection, said this week. ‘The company is not doing enough to put in place the safeguards that prevent children exploiting the opportunity to generate money, but also for children to be exploited.’
American authorities seem to take a similar view. In January, a 20-something couple from Florida were charged with human trafficking after allegedly profiting from the sale of a topless photo of a 16-year-old child on OnlyFans. Meanwhile, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in the U.S. told the BBC that it is dealing with an explosion in cases where missing children pop up in videos carried on the British site.
In other words, children who have gone missing pop up on the site where they can make money by making seedy videos for subscribers.
‘In 2019 there were around a dozen children known to be missing being linked with content on OnlyFans,’ its vice president, Staca Shehan, told the BBC. ‘Last year the number of those cases nearly tripled.’
So ‘concerning’ are the website’s safeguarding procedures that a BBC reporter was even able to open an account for an underage creator using a 26-year-old person’s driving license.
In response to the BBC’s revelations Bacchus — now, of course, its former PR firm — had released a statement on behalf of OnlyFans saying ‘we take our duty of care extremely seriously’ and arguing that the site is ‘committed to the safety and security of its users’.
It added that it vetted users and content ‘using systems and software that are not only compliant but go over and above current regulations’.
A spokesman claimed the report had sought to ‘sensationalise’ and was ‘extremely provocative’.
For reasons that remain unclear, OnlyFans did not use the statement to apologise to the victims of child sexual exploitation identified in the report. Neither Tim Stokely nor any other family member offered any comment or apology, either.
Among those who think that isn’t remotely good enough is the UK Government, which this week issued a statement via the Department for Culture Media and Sport saying that it intends to crack down on the firm via an Online Safety Bill that will go before Parliament in the coming months.
‘OnlyFans failed to properly protect children and this is completely unacceptable,’ says a spokesman. ‘Our new laws will make sure this no longer happens.’
Time will, of course, tell whether they succeed.
Until then, the Stokely clan — Britain’s first family of porn — will watch the grubby money roll in.