James Roberts, Features Editor, takes a look behind the snarling mask of Britain’s favourite hate figure, and finds a suprisingly gooey centre…
Standing in the packed lobby of Paddington Station ready to meet with Katie Hopkins, we were aware of the risk of becoming public enemy number two by association. It was a mere week or so after Hopkins set her sights on the two darlings of stay-at-home-mothers – small children and Holly Willoughby – and had since been touring the television studios megaphoning her musings on everything from Katherine Jenkins to fat people. The prospect of now sitting with her, stationary and easily approachable, in a public place, was a daunting one.
Seconds later, ‘Britain’s most hated woman’ appeared from the station stairs, with surprisingly little fanfare. Hopkins seems to revel in the label. “No one comes up and calls you the biggest bitch in Britain,” she says, “in the street, the reaction is really positive.” Given the internet epidemic that followed her polemical spat about baby-names on the This Morning sofa, I’m shocked that a London tube journey could be so serene. “I got a few ‘Tyler, Tyler, give us a wave’ chants on the way here, but that’s about it.”
Hopkins begins by illustrating her side of the ‘Tyler-gate’ scandal, which conveniently elbowed her back into the public eye. Naturally, she is defiant at the prospect of a carefully managed back-track, so common with celebrities today; “I am a snob and I won’t apologise”, she affirms with her cutting, middle-England eloquence. Indeed, Hopkins has positioned herself as the unapologetic voice of the career-minded classes, willing to speak up where otherwise a slight tut and sideways glance at the school gate might suffice. While unpopular with most, she is undoubtedly their persistent champion. “Loads of us say ‘there’s that Tyler, or that Chardonnay. Would you look at the mother?’” Hopkins explains with an almost conspiratorial conviction, “the mum’s snubbing out a cigarette under her heel; yep there’s little Destiny all mapped out.” We ask: Why don’t more people rally to her cause? “Saying it out loud is not a terribly British thing to do“, she dismissively hits back. Despite her unfaltering reserves of self-confidence, Hopkins seems relieved to hear at the start of the interview that it will not be played out live.
Perhaps she is sub-consciously aware of the already considerable and ever-growing list of foes that has been accumulated through her regular chat-show blitzkriegs. However, Hopkins shows no desire for armistice. “This Morning sent me a press release from NetMums”, she recounts dryly, rolling her eyes, “that turgid, dull, unoriginal and uninspiring lot.” Preparing to pounce and drawing her claws, she goes on, “if you cut them their blood would run Cath Kidston floral,” at the same time, with a mischievous grin, confirming she couldn’t bear the thought of lacerating any Mumsnet members. Catty, indeed.
Nevertheless, Hopkins has certainly made a career as businesswoman-come-mother, “telling it the way it is”, though she adamantly objects to her rent-a-gob status on daytime television: “I’m not like that, but you have to spin on a dial to make TV work”, Hopkins pleads. Even more so, with just a hint of genuine self-consciousness, she insists, “I’m not a ‘celebrity’ at all! I hate television and reality TV!” Though one might be inclined to question the merit of such a sentiment from a former I’m a Celebrity contestant, it seems to betray a more complex, personal side to this otherwise single-minded and business-like exterior.
This is made most clear as she describes the circumstances in which she shot to national fame, on the BBC television show, The Apprentice. “It was quite frightening to start with, with only six months between filming and The Apprentice being shown on TV,” particularly given that she “thought I would come out of the series around the middle, looking normal, with people thinking ‘she’s quite a good egg!’ and leaving it there.” Conceivably, then, could Britain be wrong about Katie Hopkins?
Increasingly, as the conversation moves away from her most recent forays into television, Hopkins becomes decidedly more credible, though no less forgiving. She is clear that her public image has been shaped by her personal world view. “I have opinions on everything,” she says, including life in the media spotlight: “If you don’t like being on TV, sit on the sofa!” Hopkins blasts, “I don’t have any sympathy.” If nothing else, Hopkins is happy to practice as she preaches, recalling with unnerving impassivity the moment that a
Sunday newspaper “knocked at the door on a Saturday morning, telling me they were going to run pictures of me naked with someone in a field.” But does she accept, as Philip Schofield pointed out, her own hypocrisy in condemning geographical baby names while calling her own daughter India? “If you mention India and the geographical thing I will kick you in the nuts.” With the point well taken, we move on with the interview.
For a woman seemingly incapable of taking offence, Hopkins is firm about the effect of her own choices on her children. Her willingness to laugh at the tranche of abuse thrown at her is as telling as her conviction to help her children protect themselves from her media profile. Hopkins triumphantly lists her favourite abuses: ““horse-face”, “big nose”, they are both good ones”, she chuckles. Instead, her most poisonous venom is reserved exclusively for those that use her children to attack her. “Judgemental mothers that use guilt as a tool are awful”, Hopkins hisses with curtness and surprising vulnerability: “vipers in the kitchen.”
Indeed, as the interview goes on, Hopkins becomes an increasingly warm, almost motherly, figure; far detached from the cold, almost vindictive, persona which comes with appearing on television to regularly to defend relatively unpopular opinions. At one point, without a hint of acrimony, Hopkins describes the difficulty of the media misreporting her being thrown out of Sandhurst: “I’m epileptic, and I lied to get in. When they found out they obviously had to ask me to leave – obviously you can’t have an epileptic with an AK-47.” One cannot help get the sense that her readiness to attack others, without defending herself, has helped craft her one-sided image as Britain’s nastiest talking head.
As the interview draws to a close, Katie points down the stairs from where we are sitting, drawing attention to an overweight lady at the bottom. “Overhanging bum shelf,” she sighs, “that’s not attractive at all.” Almost immediately, Katie Hopkins the mother is gone, and in her place sits the outwardly malicious, seemingly spiteful, blonde shrew which has made her a household name. She may be a strong woman and principled mother, but Katie Hopkins still revels in being the biggest bitch in Britain.
James Roberts, Features Editorbookmark me