The UKIP MEP and lounge bar lizard has a few scores to settle and is set on rattling the Establishment at the election
I’m quite relieved that Nigel Farage MEP has only one testicle. When the former leader of the UK Independence party (UKIP) had the other removed in 1987 because of cancer, the doctors offered him an artificial replacement to give him “greater social confidence”. But to watch him screaming at Herman Van Rompuy as he did last month, saying the European council president had the “charisma of a damp rag”, tearing around with a loudhailer on his campaign to oust John Bercow, the Commons Speaker, from his Buckingham seat, working “100-hour weeks”, inhaling whole packs of Rothmans and choffing down hundreds and hundreds of pints, I dread to think what he would be like with ... two.
“Amaaaaaaazing, isn’t it?” he says, swivelling in his chair in the MEPs’ offices in central London and spreading his pinstriped legs as far as they’ll go. At 45, he has the complexion of a used teabag. “I’ve got the unhealthiest lifestyle of the lot, but the most energy! I left home at 5am on Monday, got up at 4.30 this morning . . .”
Somewhere between Alan B’Stard and a frog — “actually, I think I look most like President Medvedev” — Farage has carved something of a niche for himself as a mouthy, brash agent provocateur. His recent explosion in the European parliament, in which he also told Van Rompuy that he had “the appearance of a low-grade bank clerk”, got him fined £2,700 and 40,000 hits on YouTube; most people thought he went too far.
“Too far”, however, is not in the Farage lexicon. “All my speeches are like that! I’ve been doing that for 11 years. Look, I’m a . . .” — he gropes for a sufficiently weighty epithet — “veteran.” In fact, Nicolas Sarkozy absolutely loved the Faraging he got when they spoke in the EU parliament in 2008, even invited him to the Elysée Palace afterwards. “Sarko spent much more time with me than any of the other politicians, because he’d actually enjoyed it,” he says, voice rising to a shout. “He loved it.”
Still, “perhaps my delivery is a little shrill at times”, he concedes, twiddling his Spitfire cufflinks, “but [over the Van Rompuy affair] the parliament responded by fining me and questioning my right to speak freely”.
“I don’t think it was abusive. I was right!” he says. “Who is Herman Van Rompuy? Baroness Ashton [the EU high representative for foreign affairs] is even less well known. She never held elected office. She obviously ... married well.”
So, an inside job, because her husband, Peter Kellner, is an old friend of Tony Blair? “Of course it is! I very much doubt she’s up to doing it. But the highest-paid female politician in the world is not going to resign.”
He’s got a point, but I do wish he wouldn’t deliver it so odiously. But then, Farage is pretty odious: a shifty saloon-bar lizard. He stood down as UKIP leader last June — “the internal fights took up so much time” — to focus on being an MEP for the party. A rather odd task, representing a party in the European parliament whose sole desire is to get Brtitain out of the EU, but he has been fairly successful in raising awareness. Still, the operation overall has been typically amateur. Last November one of its MEPs, Tom Wise, was jailed for taking advantage of the generous EU expenses.
“I knew he was rotten within a fortnight,” boasts Farage now, although in a highly uncharacteristic episode of self-censorship, he initially kept his suspicions quiet, “because I didn’t know what he was doing, although I could just ... tell”. He “jolly well hope[s]” there aren’t any more wrong ’uns — but he’s been looking out for signs, which are “obvious”, he declares. “The six o’clock freebie cocktail party in the main reception area. If you see UKIP MEPs attending them on a regular basis you think, ‘Eh, what’s going on?’”
I wonder how closely Farage patrols these cocktail parties. He says he hardly ever goes, but he’s not chanced on anything to worry about. Still, the bare fact that we’re discussing spying on fellow party members makes me wonder what kind of a bonkers outfit UKIP is. Admittedly, it’s always been a bit of a Dad’s Army of gamblingaddicted cab drivers, depressed publicans, constipated schoolmasters and second world war re-enactment nuts with unpalatable views on immigration: “the BNP in blazers”. Even Farage admits he has made “big mistakes in judgments of character” when it comes to recruitment, a process that tends to take place over long lunches.
Farage readily admits he likes a drink — he’d be quite keen to conduct the interview in the pub, but 10.30am is “too early even for us”, he says, dolefully, glancing at his watch. “Give it 45.” Indeed the booze factor might explain the bizarre involvement of Robert Kilroy-Silk, the professionally irate former chat-show host, who burst onto the party scene in 2004, “to boost the party’s profile”, says Farage, but “suddenly, it all went to his head.” After a ham-fisted attempt on the leadership, Kilroy-Silk left and set up his own gang — sorry, party — Veritas, which spent “six months trying to destroy UKIP”.
Farage is now getting revenge in his autobiography, Fighting Bull, tracing his rise from irrepressible south London public-school boy to City metals trader and his current incarnation as single-issue cage rattler.
There are moments of unparalleled pomposity — “Others with my acumen ... would have won brilliant scholarships”, he writes of sitting the 11-plus; addressing 7,000 French farmers, he spoke in “un français parfait” — but much of it is straight bananas. The EU, according to Farage, is a “serial date rapist”: no matter how many times you say no, it only ever hears yes. A discussion of Arabs notes that they have made one outstanding contribution to western culture: the word “alcohol”.
Mostly, however, the book is about settling scores, or, as Farage describes it, “putting my side of the story”. The largest score is Kilroy-Silk, a vain, orange buffoon and “monster”.
Was Farage, who assumed the party leadership in 2006, a bit jealous of Kilroy-Silk’s profile? “Absolutely not!” he screams. “Absolutely not.” Actually he was “thrilled” and “delighted” that Kilroy-Silk came and stole all the thunder, but then he rather spoils things by going slightly too far, describing it as “before and after the birth of Christ”.
Farage’s current opponent, John Bercow, gets short shrift, too. The Speaker is traditionally unchallenged in parliamentary elections, but in standing against him Farage is trying to give voters an opportunity to “show their disenchantment with the political class”. In the book, Bercow is a “loose cannonball” with past far-right connections — all of which seems a little rich coming from Farage.
“Look,” he says. “I know you’ll laugh at me, but I don’t generally get involved in slagging people off. But he is very pleased with himself . . .”
Another of the book’s scores is ... well, just that. In 2006 Farage, who has been married twice and has four children, became the target of a tabloid kiss’n’tell when a woman from, of all places, Latvia claimed she had snogged him in a pub in Biggin Hill, Kent, before dragging him home, where he “stunned her with his kinky demands” and they had sex “at least seven times”. The revelation led to several jokes, including “UKIP if you want to”.
Seven times, I say. Wow. And on half power! Farage looks furtive, clearly searching for a way both to confirm this stunning feat of priapism and to deny it.
“Er ... well,” he says. “Yes. I did have a couple of phone calls, and there are cheers when I turn up at a student union ... but it’s not the sort of thing you plan. It was one of those very, very rare moments where I was ... out of control.”
As far as I can see, Farage has these very, very rare moments quite frequently. In 2004 he found himself in a lap-dancing bar during the French presidential campaign — with one of the candidates; in the book he recalls a more serious episode in 1985 when, trudging home somewhat refreshed, he barrelled over the bonnet of an oncoming VW. His blood-alcohol levels were so high he had to be sedated until they were sufficiently low for surgeons to operate.
The accident happened because he had been drinking all day — perfectly normal behaviour, apparently, at a time when “a proper lunch lasted seven, eight hours”, he recalls.
How much did they drink? “Oh, no,” he says. “I’m not doing the William Hague trick.”
Why not? “Because nobody would believe it if I told the truth.”
Go on! “Well. We’d have drinks before, and then a couple of bottles of red . . .” He ticks his fingers off. “We’d have quite a lot! Of course we would.”
Can he actually remember?
The idea that Farage can’t hold his drink is clearly preposterous. “People that know me well,” he raises his voice, “would tell you that they’ve hardly ever seen me pissed. And I’m rather proud of that.”
But you got run over! “I wasn’t blind drunk,” he says.
“I’d had,” he chortles, “a good day.”
Has he ever worried about alcoholism? His father, also a metals trader, was a terrible alcoholic. “I’ve been lucky,” he says. “I can pack it up for a week and it’s not a problem. It’s how we’re made. My father was made in the way it took him over and it wrecked him. But I’m lucky. I’m one of those people who can take it or leave it.”
He glances at his watch again, and I think how nice it’d be if he just went to the pub and stayed there for ever, and sure enough he is there two days later when I call his press officer to confirm which testicle he had removed. Farage has just given his party conference speech and is in high spirits. “Tell her to come and find out, ha-ha-ha!” he shouts over the din.