It’s a real testament to your status when you can send the world into a meltdown, incite countless death threats and end up being flanked by your very own pair of burly security men 24 hours a day just by sharing your thoughts with the Internet while enjoying your morning tea and crumpets (although NEVER while sitting on the toilet, as I’d assumed: “Just for clarity: I don’t Tweet on the toilet, that would be terrible darling. You’ll never be a gay icon if you Tweet on the toilet”, it was explained).
Katie Hopkins and her outspoken and controversial views have become a daily go-to of lazy UK journalists the country over, morning coffee in the office conversation fodder and Facebook favourites. It would be quicker to note the things that Katie likes (sequins, taxpayers, outdoor sex) than what she doesn’t (this keyboard would give up the ghost long before finishing that list).
It’s become popular to jump on the 'I hate Katie Hopkins' bandwagon, especially if your name is Chantelle, Tyler or Perez Hilton, but you have to respect someone whose personal and often flippant musings are able to cause a whole hemisphere to practically combust with opinion and hatred.
I met with Katie at News UK’s impressive and looming headquarters at 1 London Bridge Street, from where she writes her column for The Sun newspaper (it surprises most people to learn that she doesn’t pay the mortgage just by slating fat people on Twitter all day), towering 17 floors into the London skyline from where she is aptly able to look down over the country while spouting her venom, 140 characters (or less) at a time.
Katie had just taken part in a hilarious Q&A session for Sun readers, which was broadcast live on the web, and after dealing with selfie requests from the 30 or so people who queued patiently to meet her afterwards, we were whisked into a meeting room where we were shadowed by a steely-looking bodyguard who kept watch over us (or more likely, over me) while a second steelier-looking one guarded the door (Katie explaining the bodyguards being a new addition to the payroll in light of threats made against her over recent Tweets).
Since her 2007 appearance as a contestant on the UK version of The Apprentice, Katie and her views have been an omnipresent part of the UK media landscape but it was her recent tenure on Celebrity Big Brother in the UK which, thanks to the wonders of torrents and YouTube, brought her to the attention of Michelle Visage fans (read: gays) in the US/Canada, who tuned in/downloaded for the Drag Race judge yet seemed to warm to Katie's dry British wit, devastating repartee and the mutual hatred between her and Perez Hilton.
I asked Katie if she had gotten more attention from the US since her Big Brother appearance:
“I think anyone that watched Celebrity Big Brother ended up being a bit of a fan in some way or another. There are still a hard core group of people that HATE me, so let’s not deny that, but I do have a new gay following which I’m very proud of”.
And what is it that attracts her to the gays?
“I do love a tan tight, I think that helps me greatly. I’m quite honest about female issues, like nipple hair and leg hair.
“I’m quite keen on a reinforced gusset. A reinforced gusset on a tan tight does show a particular quality in a woman, I think. That and sequins, and the fact that I can try to look a bit like Barbara Streisand ‘cause I do have a weird nose”.
During her time on Celebrity Big Brother, Katie found an unexpected comrade and confidant in Michelle Visage, a pairing of which many were not anticipating. These two huge personalities were expected to be at constant loggerheads, some saying they were looking forward to Michelle ‘putting Katie in her place’ - this was not the case however:
“I didn’t know what to expect actually before I met Michelle - I didn’t know who she was, I’d never seen any of the Drag Race stuff and everyone said we’d hate each other so I got this whole thing when I got in the house, people said ‘oh yeah, well you and Michelle are gonna HATE each other’, but actually she was one of the people who I liked the most – in the fact the person I liked the most.
“I really love Michelle; I think she’s fantastic”.
I mentioned to Katie that it’s been said she has the appearance of a drag queen and asked what her drag name would be. She laughs and christens herself “Hatie Hopkins”, adding:
“I’m not known for my looks, I’m not a pretty person, I don’t want to be a pretty person either because if you are known for your looks, one day those will go whereas I kind of feel like I’m known for stuff I say and for not really giving two monkeys and so I feel like that makes you enduring and far better to be enduring than to be pretty but gone in half a minute”.
Typing ‘Katie Hopkins’ into Google News at any given time normally brings up 10 or so completely unconnected stories written based on her Twitter scrawlings. Is this intentional?
“I don’t intend to become the news agenda. It is really odd.
“I do think a lot of the stuff I write - a lot of the copy I write, a lot of my columns - they become the news of other people’s magazines or media or newspapers and sometimes I feel like when they’re complaining about me I kind of want to say ‘well you know what, write your own copy, come up with your own ideas, have some thoughts about where actually life is going or where this story is going’ because the interesting thing of course is never the story, you know ‘a plane crashes in the mountains’, it’s where that story goes that’s more interesting and if you can find that destination first and write about it, you capture that moment and I like to think that’s pretty much more what I do is capture where the story’s going as opposed to where the story’s just been”.
Skirting around her trivialisation of the deaths of 150 people, I decided to question Katie’s self-appointed gay icon status. She’s been quoted as saying she would like to join the ranks of Madonna, Cher and Barbara Streisand (she does have the nose, as she gladly pointed out) although she admits: “The ultimate gay icon is Michelle Visage; I am but a pretender to the throne - I recognise that”.
To put Katie to the test, I pulled the ‘about’ text from a few Grindr profiles (I actually Googled these, but I’m sure at least one person in the world lists ‘handballing’ as a pastime on their profile) and asked if she knew what these meant:
Docking – “The plane would have arrived at the airport and connected with the concourse – that would be docking in a gay airport sense. If you’ve docked, good on you.”.
Bean Queen – “someone who likes to dabble in the bean”
Handballing – “I assume that’s just fisting someone up the arse” (my thrusting forearm action gave that away, causing the steely bodyguard to look ever more nervous around the theme of this interview).
After answering, Katie explains: “I’m not a beauty pageant queen, I’m not going to give you the pageant answer. I’m not always going to get it right. You’re going to get the Katie Hopkins answer and that may not always fit in with what is the truth of it or what you like but it will be what I am so like me, hate me, whatever you prefer!”.
In a change of direction, I ask, on behalf of a reader, if she is worried that someone with a machete is going to come after her one day. After all, she receives frequent threats of such on a daily basis:
“My house is wired to the local police station and obviously I get threats on a regular basis, to machete my head off or do whatever but I think that ultimately if you don’t keep speaking the stuff that you believe is true then you’re being silenced and once we start to be silenced, this is a bit like the whole Je suis Charlie thing, once you start to be silenced then freedom of speech is lost and I’d argue in many ways freedom of speech in the UK is already much maligned and actually America is still probably the only place that really understands what freedom of speech is all about so I celebrate freedom of speech in America and I try to advocate freedom of speech in the UK”.
Fielding a reader’s hilarious question (do you still eat solid food or do you sustain yourself solely from the misery of others?):
“I leech off misery and the tears of others so the more I make people cry the happier I am and if I’m thirsty I just tell a fat person to stop eating and then I quench my thirst. That IS how I live”, adding that she should start her own cookery show: “Misery Cooking – the Great British Bitch Off” – you read it here first.
It was at this point my life became complete: Katie personally insulted me, well, my name: “It’s not great” which made the long journey down to London completely worth it. Driving for several hours before having to traverse the London public transport network, not eating for most of the day, having to get by on that half eaten granola bar you found at the bottom of your bag, is worth every second if Katie Hopkins reads the fuck out of you at the end of it all.
What message does Katie have for her band of North American followers?
“Defend your freedom of speech. We don’t have it here in the same way that you do and it’s a privilege and I think it’s a really attractive thing that a society can be tolerant enough to tolerate the views that it disagrees with at a more fundamental level”.
She closes with her most important piece of advice: “Sequins. If you’re feeling shit, add sequins”.
To get to sit down and talk with Katie Hopkins allowed me to appreciate who she really is behind what various newspaper articles tell us what to think she is: a truly articulate and intelligent woman who, yes, is a rent-a-gob (US/Canada translation: talks a lot of shit), but she is a career woman who has made her career from controversy and has been very successful in doing so. After all, we are all talking about her opinions aren’t we? And that’s exactly what they are –opinions. Until she actually goes out and rapes and/or murders someone, perhaps the machete is best left in its cabinet.
Listen to the audio below or to the ishTalk podcast for a full version of the interview plus I play the word association game with Katie and ask what she really thinks of Perez Hilton (hint: it’s a word that begins with ‘t’ and rhymes with ‘hat’, or ‘hot’ for our North American cousins).
What do you think of Katie? Love her or hate her? Let us know in the comments below. Follow me on Twitter @daleljfox @theishtalk