'...There is an idea of a Patrick Bateman, some kind of abstraction, but there is no real me, only an entity, something illusory…My personality is sketchy and unformed, my heartlessness goes deep and is persistent. My conscience, my pity, my hopes disappeared a long time ago, if they ever did exist.’
This quote from American Psycho hovered in my mind as I headed to interview columnist, radio host and now TV presenter Katie Hopkins, in what might be a hurtful comparison, had she not already been described as a “venomous snake” and a “top c*nt” multiple times online this year alone (plus far worse).
I’m fascinated by Katie Hopkins, and I almost admire her. Not for her ideology and words, which I so vehemently disagree with it’s quite boring to have to even state, but for her sheer resilience. If a handful of people bitterly criticise me or my work I retreat to my duvet for days, questioning myself and the value of opinion in modern discourse. When tens of thousands of people bay for Hopkins’ blood and exhaust dictionaries finding new ways to deride her, she laughs and cheerfully fires out a tweet about how migrants are of equal worth to the contents of a vacuum cleaner bag, or something.
How can someone be so fireproof?
“You haven't separated what you've written from your writing,” she advises. “For me the thing that would hurt me is if people suggested that I was bad at writing.”
We’re sat in a fancy cafe in Soho (my suggestion of a Wetherspoons was politely declined by her publicist), and so far we amazingly haven’t even been hit with an angry stare, let alone the spears and tridents I was expecting. Does it make her flinch to read the harsh criticisms she receives by the bucket load on a daily basis? “Oh no, that’s the joy of it, isn’t it?” she beams. I ask about this separation she sees between herself and what she writes.
“It’s massive, massive. I completely separate the two things. So here's my view that I'm purporting [not sure if that was a malapropism, but it was a good one if so] through copy or radio, and here's the way I've written it.
“Now if I can draw you through 500 words I've done a great job. If you don't agree with my view at the end of those, that's great too, that's fine, but if I've got you through an issue that you don't agree with me on, that's good writing. For me I can see a distance between ‘this is what I've written’ and ‘this is me the person’.”
I counter that your writing should be inextricable from you, which I think she finds quite darling.
At the time of the interview, Hopkins is embroiled in a furore (“which furore are you referring to?” is a matter that has to be cleared up) surrounding her suggestion that we repel migrants - ‘cockroaches’ as she described them in The Sun - from our shores using gunships. It’s incredibly incendiary wording, but she maintains everything she writes she believes, and that she isn’t a troll.
“I really believe the stuff I say. Yes, there is definitely this gap, but it’s not a gap between 'Oh she's controversial for a reason and this is the real Katie' - it’s not that kind of a gap - it's a gap between a very public RAAGH RAAGH RAAGH Katie versus this super private person behind a wall.”
For someone who claims to be being herself, it strikes me that she talks about herself in the third person an awful lot.
Admitting to being a troll would obviously be career suicide though and is something I’m not going to get her to do (not that I’m convinced she is one), so I get back to the abuse thing. Has she become de-sensitised to it through the prism of the internet?
“I think that's super true, being anti-my opinions or views, I'm impervious to it all.” Hopkins rationalises the bile she receives through the belief that her detractors simply aren’t smart enough to critique her properly. “They don't mean they want to rape you with a machete, they mean they really want you to shut up, they just didn't have the language,” she says. “They all go under that folder in my head - ‘didn't have the language, should have tried harder at English, what a shame’. I slide it all away.”
But surely the abuse she must receive in the street penetrates her armour? “I don't get anything in the street,” she says. “I think people find that really surprising. The world is quite oblivious to me on the whole I think.”
Surprised at this, I tell her about the time two of my friends were discussing her latest rant over dinner at a restaurant but couldn’t recall her name. A woman at a nearby table leaned over and said ‘Excuse me, but I think that’s Katie Hopkins you’re talking about and she’s a real bitch.’ Hopkins laughs at this, “That’s good!”
The Sun has been criticised for printing her fiercely polemical columns, which she says her editors only make the occasional tweak to before publishing. Their genesis begins at seven o’clock in the morning, when Hopkins defuses her children’s arguments over cereal and switches on the radio to find out what today’s issue of outrage will be.
Calais migrants…Ebola…Scotland (“I think there was about 15 police forces after me on that one”)… these are just a handful of the sensitive arguments that she routinely wades into, and you would think it must make it pretty difficult to be a relative of Katie Hopkins, but she claims to have shielded her family as much as she can.
“My children, they don't really see much of it at the moment because they're 11, 10 and 6 and the school they go to isn't a big school so their friends at the moment still think it's kind of cool,” she explains. “We'll see where that evolves to, probably the next couple of years might get a bit tougher I think. We've already had 'my mum hates your mum’ [in the playground], but I can't apologise for myself, I can just equip them. I tell them ‘they don't hate mum, they hate what she's saying’.”
Her second husband, ‘lovely Mark’ as he’s known, is apparently the polar opposite to her - quiet, and culturally and politically liberal. “People say to my husband 'Oh I didn't think you'd be married to that’.” It’s an unlikely dynamic, but it seems to work. “I married myself the first time round and that was really bad, a terrible thing to do.”
Viewing the response to her work through the news feeds of one’s generally like-minded friends and followers, it’s easy to forget the (often silent) legion of supporters Hopkins commands.
She claims to receive hundreds of emails from people in agreement with her, who perhaps don’t wish to show their allegiance through something as public as Twitter.
“Why am I not just some old woman ranting in a room? I think because what I say connects with people's truths,” she says. “Someone is finally saying what they think and not giving a shit about whether they're liked or not.”
Contrary to what you might expect, Hopkins is very genial in person. She is polite, courteous and unpatronising. If you had no prior knowledge of her on first meeting, you would never expect her to be the kind of person who discounts other humans on name alone.
This could be evidence that the belligerent Hopkins we see in the media is a facade, but I don’t actually believe she is a troll. To answer my original question, the Katie Hopkins ranting on This Morning is the same Katie Hopkins sat in front of me, albeit with the volume turned down somewhat.
But if this media phase of her life is real and not an act, what is the endgame? As Matt Lucas put it, “it’s hard to think of anything left for Katie Hopkins to do now, other than to just kill some people.”
“What is the end game for Katie Hopkins? I don't know," she says. "It's interesting for me because this media cycle era was never envisaged, but this is a gifted place at the moment doing radio and TV and my column, so it does feel like an end point for this thing."
“There will come a day when someone calls to tell me my column’s been binned, and that will be a really hard day and I've already got it set up so that they'll ring someone else first - because I don't want to be given that news when I'm walking down the street because it will be really heartbreaking.”
While her new TLC series, If Katie Hopkins Ruled The World is keeping her busy at present, she still wants to go into politics one day, though fully realises that none of the main parties would have her. “Maybe I’ll be the spokesperson for Benjamin Netanyahu?” she ponders.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies