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In the first of a two-part interview, Katie Hopkins tells Shy Society about the horrors of epilepsy, what life is like at Rebel Media, why she was so angry with Nigel Farage, and what the future of Brexit might hold.
Waiting for Katie Hopkins to enter a busy train station pub in London is arguably one of the more surreal ways to spend a Monday afternoon – personified brilliantly when a text message arrives reading “ten minutes out, mines a small glass of Merlot”.
They say you should never judge a book by its cover but I’m honest enough to admit I had visions of Katie having to fight her way inside, brushing off jeers and rotten tomatoes as metropolitan Londoners came face-to-face with the devil incarnate. Fresh (or maybe not so fresh) from a long-haul flight from Washington D.C where she had been attending the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Katie rather crushes the scenario which has already played out in my head as she bounds in unnoticed with a youthful exuberance perhaps not expected from someone who has just spent seven hours reading the same in-flight magazine.
The self-confessed ‘biggest bitch in Britain’ looks distinctly relaxed as she tells me about CPAC, which is hosted annually in the rather unfortunately named Gaylord Convention Centre.
“I don’t think the Americans quite get my sense of humour,” she says. “Whenever I go, the ‘Gaylord centre’ gets me every time, but the Americans haven’t a clue why I find it funny and just look at me weirdly.”
Once she’s made herself at home, I start by asking just how hard it was to write her new book Rude which shows a different side to the brash, uncompromising and often unforgiving character that we all know and love/hate (delete as appropriate). In it, she describes her dark and largely secret battle with severe epilepsy which at its peak led to seizures powerful enough to dislocate her shoulders 43 times in a 12-month period, eventually leading to brain surgery around 18 months ago.
“I used to come downstairs at 4am and write until 7am before everyone got up, so I was on my own in the dark. It was really therapeutic actually because I just used to chit-chat away to myself,” she describes. “And then this horror day came when this book arrived at my house and I couldn’t even open it. The publishers sent me about 20 copies and I just put them away because it was just a horror story and I didn’t want to know.
“Those things I still struggle with and feel awkward that people know – so if people tell me they have read the book, I feel shy immediately because I feel like they know stuff about me that they’re not supposed to know – I mean I wrote the bloody thing but it’s a really weird feeling. But yeah, epilepsy for me, to the point that it wasn’t worth living – and I can still reconcile that in the sense that it was a rational kind of choice. It seemed rational to me that if your life was going to carry on with four or five fits a night, dislocating arms and biting your tongue, and there’s quite a lot of pain that comes with those things, there comes a point where the rational decision is to end that and carrying on doesn’t make much sense.”
And despite not feeling entirely comfortable talking about the ‘other’ side to her, Katie says she now feels “invincible” and “fearless” since her life-changing operation with her one shoulder recently sewed back on, her other one booked in, and the process of fitting a titanium skull replacement about to begin.
“It has completely changed my outlook on life, in the sense of having a future and wanting to carry on. I’m super lucky, I got rid of my fits, and I didn’t lose my hand or my leg or my sight, so it has been really epic – and not even family see that side of me – I’ve not let my mum read the book yet because I think it would be upsetting for her. But I feel like I’ve shared it, it’s out there now, and I feel good about that because it was a big fat secret for a long time.”
Confronted with scores of messages from fans at her book launch, the whole affair became something rather more poignant than she perhaps envisioned.
“Given what people say on Twitter, I thought it would be a right laugh to encourage people to write these messages, but then I got into the publishers and not only were there bloody mountains of books, but all of these messages which were mostly woman to women but also men to women that had either gone through something or a lot of people that had survived something like a cancer or a tumour, and I sat there reading all these messages in the publishers crying my eyes out. The publisher came in saying ‘what’s wrong, what’s wrong’ and I was like ‘nothing, it’s just all these messages’. So, it was really nice actually because it became a book for people that had overcome shit and I quite like that. I would probably change the title now to ‘if you’ve overcome shit’ – it has a better ring.”
Whilst her personal life has been a story of heroic survival, the past 12 months professionally has seen Katie leave posts at both LBC and Mail Online before curiously deciding to join Canadian-based Rebel Media, first made famous in the UK by Tommy Robinson.
Refreshingly unaware of the myriad of onlookers, including her husband Mark who catches up on emails elsewhere in the pub, she continues: “Look, do I miss having a column on the world’s biggest online news site? Yeah, sure. But the Rebel is refreshing and there’s this massive sense of liberation to be part of a platform that isn’t reliant on advertising – so now I’m not bending to the will of advertisers, and I’m not bending to the will of an editor who is reliant on advertisers to pay all of us.
“They’ve just got in Seb Gorka who was a massive coup and it undoubtedly feels exciting to be part of something new. Granted I no longer have a travel agent on hand or a cameraman at a whim but maybe that’s a good thing too because you try harder and you put more effort in.”
Perhaps the most symbolic image to emerge from CPAC was a photo of Katie smiling alongside Nigel Farage, a man she has repeatedly criticised in the past year – even devoting a section to him in her book.
“Yeah everyone says ‘you’ve been so critical of him, what are you doing?’ but I’m like ‘yeah, but we’re still on the same team’ – I am going to criticise the dude and he can criticise me also. Farage would be a really good example of someone I am cross at, and he knows because we had this specific conversation: if you’re going to drop the baton (UKIP leadership), for Christ’s sake work out who is behind you on the track first? Where was that? So, lovely, you’re going to leave, I’m with you all the way, you’re knackered, you’ve had enough but for Christ’s sake look behind you. And that’s my cross patch with people, where is the succession planning?
“My other criticism was the most recent leadership election. Anne Marie is brave and she’s doing it and I totally supported that she should have been allowed to run in a fair election and that never happened which is shocking. I think she was really let down by Farage and his club, they sorted out Bolton’s win and they did her over and that’s not acceptable,” she claims.
And as for Brexit? Her American-fuelled positivity quickly and visibly drains from her pores.
“As it stands, Brexit definitely won’t happen,” she says. “We’ll have a notional nod at leaving in March but nothing will happen and nothing will change and no actual separation will occur – we will be the divorced couple that decide for the benefit of the children to stay living in the same house but just move bedrooms – that’s exactly the Brexit we’re getting.
“People always talk about Brexit like a divorce and we’re going to be that sad couple who are a bit awkward because they’ve got Felicia and Miles, their kids, so they pretend like they still get on. And whatever configuration, that is not the Brexit that people want. Arguably it’ll be worse than if we had just stayed. It’s a half of no worlds – and as a couple, it means you’ll definitely hate that person by the end of the year. There’s this real sense of a fight to be had. I don’t know what part I have in it, but I see that I have a role.
“It might be that it’s Jacob Rees-Mogg, but can he bring the young people with him? Yeah, I think he can actually. He’s got that niche trendy thing going on. I think he could bring it, and I think if he goes hard Brexit, he wins Brexit. So, he does seem to me to be the apex to an answer it’s just how does he ditch the Doris?” she jokes sarcastically referring to embattled Prime Minister Theresa May.
By this point the down-to-earth and articulate Hopkins has me convinced that the left-leaning Twitterati must be mistaken: this is not a shouty, hate-filled Nazi sitting before me like some would lead you to believe. I end by asking Katie what keeps her motivated given the slow political progress in Britain contrasted with her new lease for life after the operation.
“There are days when I think ‘sod this I’m going to go and sit in the countryside and keep chickens’. My whole ambition in life is to one day have chickens so I feel like I would be really happy with that, but my husband Mark tells me I’d be bored shitless and that I’d end up killing the chickens. This is also probably true.
“But then more of the time, and on a daily basis, a story happens – like a proper story not some nonsense, then I’m really into it. So, I was doing South Africa the other week, and someone said to me ‘what you’re doing is like properly dangerous’ but I do feel like maybe I’m invincible now. I feel like terminator and when I say that people go ‘holy shit, how long’s she staying for?’ with a little shake of the head. But the more I get rebuilt, the more I get this overwhelming sense of fearlessness and I intend to enjoy every minute.”
Standing up for those without a voice in Britain