Steve Hilton: How David Cameron’s former spin doctor became one of the most influential voices on Fox News

Ex-Downing Street ‘blue-sky thinker’ undergoes extraordinary reinvention as Trumpian talking head

Related video: Donald Trump shares Steve Hilton video on Twitter without comment

Steve Hilton has been on an astonishing journey since he first came to public attention as director of strategy to Conservative Party leader David Cameron, known for his “blue-sky thinking” and cycling spandex.

The inspiration for maverick Tory spin doctor Stewart Pearson in Armando Iannucci’s BBC satire The Thick of It, Mr Hilton is now one of Fox News’s most prominent hosts, regularly retweeted by Donald Trump until that was no longer possible.

Born in 1969, he is the son of two Hungarian immigrants to Britain.

His father, Istvan Csak, had been a celebrated ice hockey goalkeeper who played for his country at the 1936 Olympic Games in Germany before sidestepping the 1956 revolution in his homeland and anglicising his name.

Mr Csak and his wife worked together in catering at Heathrow Airport before separating in 1974, their son raised by his mother in poverty in a basement apartment before being granted a bursary to Christ’s Hospital School in Horsham and excelling academically, going on to study philosophy, politics and economics at New College, Oxford, where he encountered many aspiring members of Britain’s political establishment.

After graduating, Mr Hilton began working for Conservative Central Office where he first met both Mr Cameron and his future wife Rachel Whetstone, who would go on to work as a senior public relations executive for Uber, Facebook and now Netflix.

It was here that he first attracted notice by championing Saatchi and Saatchi’s notorious “New Labour, New Danger” poster featuring Labour leader Tony Blair with demon eyes, which won advertising industry awards but backfired badly when the opposition stormed to victory in the 1997 general election.

After 13 years of languishing in opposition, the Tories returned to power as part of a coalition with the Liberal Democrats under Mr Cameron and Nick Clegg in 2010, the new prime minister entering Downing Street with Mr Hilton at his side as director of strategy.

The two were inseparable, with Michael Gove once observing: “It’s impossible to know where Steve ends and David begins.”

Mr Hilton’s efforts to “greenwash” the prime minister, who once posed with huskies in the Arctic to establish himself as concerned about the climate crisis, were easily derided in the pages of Private Eye but influential in terms of presenting a more caring, compassionate face of British conservatism, still widely associated in the minds of many with the brutalities of “milk snatcher” Margaret Thatcher’s reign in the 1980s, typified by such “nasty party” happenings as the sinking of the Belgrano and the Battle of Orgreave.

Steve Hilton in his Downing Street days

Mr Hilton left Number 10 acrimoniously in 2012, as much a man of his moment as Dominic Cummings would later be to Boris Johnson and likewise an opponent of a sprawling civil service and membership of the European Union.

His departure was mourned by The Economist, who called him “the ultimate radical” and gushingly characterised him as “restless, shaven-headed, piercingly blue-eyed” who, alongside George Osborne’s (short-sighted) austerity agenda, had driven “the parallel project to open up Britain's Napoleonic state to people power”, crediting him with agitating for free schools, welfare reform, elected mayors and police commissioners “with elemental personal force”.

Mr Hilton spent the following years in the wilderness, estranged from his old friends Dave and George. He wrote a book, More Human (2015), which outlined his political philosophy of “positive populism”, and founded Crowdpac, a Silicon Valley tech start-up.

But he finally found his second act when he wrote a guest editorial for Fox News’s website in 2016 backing Mr Trump for the presidency in admiration of the promise he represented to “shake things up”.

An invitation to present his own show, The Next Revolution, followed and first took to the air in 2017, with Mr Hilton telling The Guardian’s Decca Aitkenhead at the outset that Fox “is the only place where there is actual political debate going on in America” in an interview most memorable for his expressing criticism of the “staggering lack of empathy” the wealthy harbour for the poor while also opposing salary regulation and denying being rich himself despite admitting to living in a $20.5m San Francisco mansion.

Pushed by the journalist on whether he deserved his fortune, Mr Hilton answered: “I think that’s not… because in the end, it’s not a moral… I think that’s what all this conversation that’s happening around about… that’s why… that’s the whole…”

Since then, he has bought into the Fox message wholesale, humouring far-right pundit Ann Coulter’s claim that crying migrant children separated from their parents at the US-Mexico border were really child actors and claiming himself that the true “agents of Vladimir Putin” were not Mr Trump and his aides but CNN, MSNBC, national intelligence officials John Brennan and James Clapper and California Democratic congressmen Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell.

More recently, he has backed Mr Trump’s calls for an investigation into his claims of election fraud and even accused Dr Anthony Fauci, America’s most respected infectious diseases expert, of being responsible for the creation of Covid-19 while simultaneously attacking lockdowns as a solution to the pandemic, warning: “The cure could be worse than the disease.”

So much for “positive populism”.

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