“Katie Hopkins may give her words a punching steroidal boost but she means what she writes.”
Some years ago now I was working as a producer on the Jeremy Vine Show on BBC Radio 2. I was booking something linked to a news story along the lines of ‘would you employ someone overweight?’ A clumsy recruiter somewhere had said they wouldn’t and we knew the topic would get the callers riled and ringing in. Such is the reality of talk-based current affairs broadcasting.
The person who’d originally expressed the controversial opinion had got cold feet and backed off from the story and we were struggling to find anyone else who would willingly repeat it.
Then I remembered a contestant on The Apprentice UK a year or so previously called Katie Hopkins, who had seemed kind of ballsy and brash and a little unsympathetic. Perhaps she would fit the bill?
I found her company online. At the time she was running a consultancy and, I recall, going to conferences offering motivational advice to other small businesses. She’d slipped into the media wilderness after making headlines by walking out of the famous TV boardroom and then having sex with a married man in a field (who she later married herself).
Katie answered the phone and we had a lovely chat. She was friendly, engaging and helpful. I remember joking about my boyfriend and she laughed and said she had man troubles too. She was so charming that I winced when I told her what we were discussing. “What do you think?” I asked, biting my lip and closing my eyes, ready to be told off. “Oh” she said. “I would absolutely never employ a fat person, they’re probably lazy.” It was an instant, unblinking response.
And so, the most infamous contrarian commentator of a generation was born and was, if not the mother, then certainly the midwife. I have mixed feelings about it, as I will doubtless one day have to tell the Hague.
After parting with the Daily Mail and, before that, LBC amidst accusations of racism, willful journalistic inaccuracy and the alleged whipping up of inter-racial hatred, she has now joined forces with something called The Rebel, a far-right online ‘news’ platform which already offers a megaphone to the co-founder and former leader of the English Defence League, Tommy Robinson. What company to keep. Being mean to overweight people is horrid, but these days the bile stinks more and is far thicker.
For some years now, I’ve tried to defend Katie Hopkins’s place in the media, perhaps feeling a little like a guilty parent who holds responsibility for their anti-social child. In spite of my own feelings about her, I have argued that we can’t just have the same cabal of people writing the same old right-on ‘love everyone’ fluff that we lefties all love to retweet so much.
Deep down, our national conversation needs someone to say the un-sayable, someone we can disagree with and use to hone our own views, someone even to revile and mock and hound. Put them in the stocks, so the rest of us can be certain we’re the good ones whilst throwing rocks.
More importantly, it’s important to remember that those who agree with Hopkins need to feel they have a voice also. Without it, they’ll get much, much more angry and that’s not a valve we want to close. Katie Hopkins offers relief to the dispossessed who feel – quite rightly – that the middle class bleeding hearts don’t understand or care about them. Katie cares. Katie feels their anger. Katie doesn’t call them racist for seeing the world the way they do. Katie knows how to make them nod.
Today, the name Katie Hopkins is now so deeply-ingrained in our language as synonymous for supposed journalistic fascism that it’s managed to usurp The Daily Mail as the touchstone for offended liberals. Fascinating, isn’t it? That people used to use ‘Daily Mail’ as a catch-all byword for right-wing journalism and now that very publication has not only been replaced in the public imagination by one woman but, to add insult to injury, that very woman has proven herself so influential, it’s had to get rid of her…by mutual consent.
“Ah, but she doesn’t actually mean what she writes,” people say. In my experience, that’s a condescending and naive over-simplification.
Katie Hopkins may give her words a punching steroidal boost but she means what she writes. As I’ve said, I’ve booked her many times on Radio 2 and she often refused to take part if she felt the angle being covered wasn’t representative of her own views. She wouldn’t be drawn on topics to which she didn’t have a sincere response. In other words, she wasn’t willing to be a gob on a stick. What she said, she meant and I see no cause to believe that’s changed. Though perhaps now what she says and means has become stretched and poisoned by her own anger and bitterness at the way she’s been rejected and kicked to the curb by those – such as myself – who once encouraged her to be her very worst for the sake of good TV, radio or column inches.
Think about it. If Katie didn’t believe in her rhetoric, she’d have dropped them to keep her radio show and newspaper column. Besides, an epiphany and reincarnation as a born-again liberal would have earned her a much longer and more prosperous career than the current mole-like drilling into the bowels of the internet.
No. Katie Hopkins says what Katie Hopkins thinks and that worries me. It smacks of an intelligent but very angry and bitter woman who has been sent out into the cold until she admits she’s wrong. But, like a stubborn teenager, she’d rather freeze to death than concede any remorse for her most turgid outbursts. She called an innocent family extremists, she allegedly appropriated the term ‘final solution’ in her warped vision for Muslim people, she suggested sinking boats filled with refugees. Meanwhile, every shot blew chunks out of her own career and she sank faster than any Syrian dinghy and so today as the triumphant gasp of the drowning pirate, Katie announced with impressive bravado and cocky flourish that she’s stranded herself on a website in the middle of the ocean called The Rebel.
The Rebel claims to be a free voice, untethered by government, rich publishers or companies. In her statement on the website, announcing the launch of her new affiliated site, Katie Hopkins World, she says: “The aim of Hopkins World is to tell the stories not being told. And to help your voice be heard at a time when too many of us feel the list of things we can’t say is longer than the list of things we can.
“When so many platforms are under the control of the Saudis, tied to fickle commercial advertisers or beholden to special interests and religious lobbyists, it is a real thrill to find a place for us to speak without censorship.
“If you hear yourself saying: “I’m not supposed to say this, but…” then I am here to reassure you that you are. Your views matter. You matter.”
Such is the age-old clarion call from the tyrant to the dispossessed.
Should the articles, updates and videos we’re being promised from Hopkins World be taken on face value? Or might they be the veiled and angry cries of frustration from a woman who finds herself suddenly alone? It doesn’t matter. She relies on people being outraged and, when it comes down to it, the people retweeting her and using her to gain moral superiority aren’t interested in her motives because they’re little better than she is.
This latest lurch to the extreme disenfranchised right proves that Katie Hopkins is no longer the woman I spoke to back at Radio 2. Back then she was certainly rather chilly in some of her opinions but she wasn’t angry. She didn’t have the feel of a trapped, snarling dog, a ranting primary school teacher gurning clumsily about the evil of Islam in front of shoddy green screens.
I know she has no interest in my concern; she won’t even remember who I am since those early days at Radio 2, but I do worry about Katie, patronising though that is, because I can’t help but feel we are witnessing a pre-cursor to something rather tragic.
I can foresee a future for Katie Hopkins where she feels the need to become more and more venomous in her desperation to prove that she is serious and that she is right and that she is powerful and meaningful and the victim of injustice and that she doesn’t need acceptance or jobs with big papers and broadcasters. Her need to prove she’s on the right path becomes more vital than acknowledging the cliff up ahead.
Not so long ago, Kaite was a young woman looking for a business opportunity on a reality show. Not that long after she was a contrary but not dislikeable posh woman who thought people naming their kids after placenames was uncouth. As is now legend, her daughter’s name is India. Then she was the voice of the dispossessed in the newspapers and on the radio. All of that riled people, disgusted people and delighted people in equal measure, though they might not admit it.
Crucially, it felt as though it fitted into the sharp edge of an important national debate.
Now what are we to get from Hopkins World? I expect increasingly hysterical outburts and thinly-veiled begging for attention. Do we take what she says on face value? Or will the offensive outburts be nothing but a lonely and desperate cry for help from a world far far away from reality?