LONDON — Brenda Hale was not well known outside niche British legal and political circles before Tuesday, when she suddenly began trending worldwide on Twitter.
The Rt. Hon. the Baroness Hale of Richmond DBE (to use her full title), or Lady Hale, is the president of the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court.
She shot to social media stardom after reading out a unanimous ruling by the court’s 11 justices against Prime Minister Boris Johnson — all the while with a large and sparkly spider brooch perched on her right shoulder.
“The effect upon the fundamentals of our democracy was extreme,” Hale, 74, said, ruling that Johnson’s government gave unlawful advice to Queen Elizabeth II to suspend Parliament over Brexit.
Almost immediately — as her words dropped like a bombshell on British politics — Hale’s fledgling fan club grew.
Let our news meet your inbox. The news and stories that matters, delivered weekday mornings.
Some compared her to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, others remarked on her collection of jewelry.
There were those who said we should not hero-worship the necessarily sober and unglamorous experts who quietly uphold constitutional democracy. But they were largely ignored.
Tuesday’s landmark case had already ignited unprecedented interest in Britain’s Supreme Court, which does not enjoy the same vaunted status of its counterpart in the United States.
Hale’s 1,892-word statement, streamed live online, sent that buzz into overdrive.
Onlookers quickly learned of her distinguished, groundbreaking career, one that saw her become the first female justice of the British Supreme Court in 2007, and in 2017 its first female president.
In a profession dominated by men from prestigious fee-paying schools, Hale was educated in the public system and was its first student to go to Cambridge University. According to a profile in The Guardian, she once worked in a pub while studying for her bar exams.
But Tuesday, Twitter seemed more interested in the brooches.
It was hard to ignore that while reading the court’s judgment, Hale sported a silver pin in the shape of a spider. What did it mean? What message was this arachnid adornment supposed to convey to the nation, and indeed the world?
These questions were left unanswered, but it soon emerged that it wasn’t a one-time event. Hale has a track record of snazzy pins, kindly pointed out by the Legal Cheek website in 2017.
Among a dozen different brooches she’s been seen wearing, there’s been a fox, a frog and a centipede.
The internet being the internet, a clothing company has already started selling a “Lady Hale Spider Brooch T-shirt” on eBay, with 15,000 viewings and 1,500 purchases in an hour.
Thirty percent of the sales are going to the British homeless charity Shelter.
Alexander Smith is a senior reporter for NBC News Digital based in London.