The gentleman feels for something in his jacket pocket. It’s a nice suit, and it is accompanied by a suitably gentlemanly bow-tie. The effect is sartorially unusual but not too much. What will come out of the pocket, though, is more than unusual. It is unparalleled and almost unbelievable. ‘Here,’ says Maurice Ward, handing over a creamy small square. ‘That’s Starlite.’ It’s a piece of plastic that bends in all directions, with a charred mark the size of a coin on one side. ‘That’s from the nuclear blast,’ says Ward. ‘Don’t worry, there’s no nuclear stuff on it. I wouldn’t have given it to you otherwise.’

Maurice Ward, inventor of Starlite

It feels and looks like nothing much, but holding this nondescript piece of plastic would be, to the world’s defence and scientific community, somewhat of a privilege. Starlite, invented by the white-bearded, suited Ward, has been described as astonishing; impossible; miraculous. It has changed assumptions about thermodynamics and physics. It can resist temperatures that would melt diamonds, threefold. ‘If it is what it seems,’ says Toby Greenbury, a partner at law firm Mischon de Reya and Ward’s lawyer for 20 years, ‘it will be of enormous benefit to mankind. It’s very difficult to think of another invention that is bigger in its implications.’ As a fire-retardant, thermal barrier or heat-resistant coating, Starlite could change the world. Except that it hasn’t, and that’s as much of a mystery as the secret, unheard of properties of the material Ward invented 23 years ago.

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