If you are not a fan of Katie Hopkins, don’t read this. And if you haven’t heard of her then you should stop reading too – it’s best not to get involved. Why? Simple. Katie Hopkins has single-handedly assumed the mantel of Britain’s most outspoken and divisive woman since starring in Alan Sugar’s 2006 series of The Apprentice. She has built up a remarkable hate following, and recently was even ranked in the top two most loathed people in the world – second only to Vladimir Putin.
But the thing is, Katie is great for television. She provokes discussion (yes, admittedly often in the form of shouting matches), she challenges reformist thinking, and she claims her frank opinions are what we all think in private.
I interviewed her in a Paddington Station corridor last week, with the colours of the hallway backdrop almost as intense as her character. So if you’d like to know what’s wrong with being ‘politically correct’, why social mobility is ‘codswallop’, and what infuriates Katie ‘beyond belief’ then great! Enjoy! But be warned – there’s no cheap smearing nor abuse aimed at Katie in this piece: she is just as entitled to her opinions as we are to ours.
London, 11am, opposite ‘Eat’ café. “Hello my darlings,” Katie said as we met. “Give me a couple of minutes and I’ll join you when I’m ready.” With her confident and lively persona instantly obvious, she strolled over leisurely towing a small suitcase and pink scarf. Scarf?! It’s June! All the pleasantries – check. Down to business.
“Aren’t you just famous for being famous?” we began. “It wasn’t always like that,” Katie held. “There was the sensible me who used to go to work every day in New York. Then there was me who did The Apprentice. And then the me who did commentary and business… but now it’s mostly media, yes.” It’s undoubtedly this latter form of television appearances and her The Sun columns that have handed Katie her celebrity status. Particularly on This Morning, Katie’s forthright comments have provoked mass distaste for her character – it was clear that she has had to develop even thicker skin than that of her morning latte in the café opposite us.
Indeed, arguably Katie’s most infamous spat came after she confessed her prejudices about children’s names on ITV. To an astounded Holly Willoughby, Katie explained why forenames represent class and behaviour, to the extent that “no middle-class mother should let their children play with kids called Chardonnay.” So, what if my interview invitation wasn’t signed off from ‘Oscar and Philip’ – instead from a Tyler or Wayne? Would she have turned our request down? “Oh if I can help somebody then I will definitely do it. I even spoke with a Tyler on Sky News and one when at the Oxford Union.”
“Well done,” I congratulated.
Watched by nearly fourteen million people, that ITV appearance saw Philip Schofield accuse Katie of hypocrisy after she announced her dislike for children named after locations – such as David Beckham’s Brooklyn. “But your daughter is called India!” came Schofield’s baffled reply. And in our interview, for the first time since, Katie admitted defeat: “I appreciate, I’m never going to win on this one. India is a geographical location so I’m going to have to let you have that point.”
Katie has made several subsequent This Morning appearances in which she’s declared her aversion for overweight people and dislike of those with a tattoo. But isn’t diversity something to be celebrated, rather than avoided? “Yes we can ‘celebrate’ it,” she mocked. “But people say ‘diversity’ and ‘social mobility’ – kind of as The Guardian would do – in a noble voice like that’s what we should all aspire towards. We shouldn’t aspire towards it. If it happens then that’s marvellous. But I don’t believe in any social mobility policies, I think they’re all a load of codswallop.”
Time to find out why Katie feels the need to spout her contentious opinions publicly rather than keeping them in the background. “I do have very strong views, but they are views that quite a lot of people have – and that’s what annoys people so much. That actually, it’s stuff we say inside our houses. I’m saying out loud what people say in private.” Is she certain? That most of us actually do subscribe to her opinions – and does she even believe them herself? “That’s a question I get asked in the street. I really mean the stuff I say. For seven years I’ve been saying this stuff.”
To her credit, Katie recognises that a lot of people “couldn’t give a monkey’s armpit” about her views “and that’s fine.” Some people, she says, “think I write for a trashy paper so it’s all tabloid trash. That’s also fine. But there are also a lot of people who find there isn’t a voice for them. It’s why Farage has resonated so much.” And she’s absolutely right; it has never been clearer that so many people feel unrepresented within contemporary society. That’s why it’s somewhat a shame that Katie’s outrageous comments on names and obesity dilute her thoughts on political correctness and equality of outcomes; to the extent that such ideas are disregarded as equally silly. I suppose it’s her own fault, but the point stands: Katie believes, for instance, political correctness has “just gone so far.” Which is true. “I mean sure, we’re going to look after a few people; great. But it’s a very blunt tool and it’s taking out vast swathes of our vocabulary.”
She’s spot on. While the original intent of PC may have been wise – to encourage tact and sensitivity to issues of gender, race, religion and such; the effect of it has driven people to avoid these topics altogether, thereby hindering our confidence to live and work with differences. It has gone so far that PC itself is now a bigger problem than the matters it was intended to address.
So while Katie is sometimes right – not always, but sometimes – she does herself no favours by peppering her arguments with personal attacks and outbursts. It adds to the excitement of television, yes, with viewers driven to shouting from their sofas. But it renders her other, more restrained, ideas totally redundant. So has she considered being less aggressive in debates? Does she find it difficult to avoid being personal in arguments? “I don’t find it difficult. When they get played back of course it’ll be me who’s accused of being personal. But it’s usually the other person that goes for me first. And if you go for me, I’ll take you out at the kneecaps. I do like to be personal and a lot of what we say is personal opinion, so I’m going to attack the person. I’ve got no problem with that. People need to be a bit thicker skinned as we’re too sensitive in this world.”
For me, the most fascinating slice of the interview came as we discussed what Katie finds irritating. “I think it’s much too easy to excuse people as being controversial. Some people excuse my Twitter account by saying ‘oh it’s a parody’ and ‘people like that can’t be real.’ We are real and we do think what we say,” she asserted. I asked if she feels more offended by people dismissing her, than the abuse she receives online. “Oh totally. If someone calls me a parody, that infuriates me beyond belief. But if you call me a horse face or big nose – then no problem, keep going.”
If you Tweet, check out the replies to any of Katie’s comments – new or old – and you’ll see some of the abuse to which she is subjected daily. But it truly seems the insults and malice don’t affect her one bit: “I love that people feel able to say really harsh stuff to me that they would never say in polite society. That’s a fantastic achievement.” Of course it is! It’s undeniable that Katie Hopkins practices what she preaches. She can dish it out, but she can also take it. And that’s quite brilliant: if we want to be constantly polite and measured (perhaps, sometimes, overly) then that’s not a problem. But likewise, those who want to be critical – and critiqued – are as consistent.
And in reality, Katie’s views are entirely harmless: she will never hold a position of authority, nor will she have any genuine influence within society. So whilst I don’t endorse her opinions – as Katie says in our interview: we should agree to disagree – she provides terrific entertainment. Ask yourself this: have you ever thought or talked about Katie? Ever watched her television appearances, or typed her name into Google? Then there you are: she has achieved her ambitions, sparking discussion and debate.
It was our question to Katie, likening her to Marmite in that we either love her or hate her, that brought about the perfect summary of her character. “That’s absolutely fair,” she proclaimed. “I think I should probably be sponsored by Marmite in reality. I quite like the idea that if you have a strong opinion, at least people can either hate it or like it. So if it’s about me, then they can either hate me or like me.”
I don’t know about you – but whilst it’s strong stuff, I love Marmite.