Nigel Farage is at his desk in his Brexit Party office in London, surrounded by broken blinds, empty fag packets, cans of sugar-free tonic water (‘only 15 calories a go!’), scattered memos, a china bulldog sporting a Union Jack vest and a couple of badly framed pictures of him beaming next to his great pal President Donald Trump.
Everything he has been yearning for, campaigning for, obsessing over (‘it wasn’t a bit of an obsession — it’s been a total obsession!’) and working towards for nearly three decades is about to come to fruition.
‘This is a huge, huge week for me,’ he says. ‘It’s amazing, isn’t it? I was thinking this morning about that Newbury by-election in June 1992, when the Anti-Federalist League [a cross-party alliance to campaign against the Maastricht Treaty] put up their first ever candidate and I spent seven days of my life campaigning for it.’
He still can’t fathom why he did it.
Nigel Farage at his desk in his Brexit Party office in London, surrounded by broken blinds, empty fag packets, cans of sugar-free tonic water (‘only 15 calories a go!’), scattered memos, a china bulldog sporting a Union Jack vest and a couple of badly framed pictures of him beaming next to his great pal President Donald Trump
‘It wasn’t as if I’d ever been particularly driven before. I was actually quite normal then — I was a commodities broker, I played golf, I went to the pub. But that was the real beginning and I still can’t believe it’s happened.’
On the stroke of 11pm tonight, Britain will leave the European Union. Nigel is the man who made it happen and who has changed the political landscape of Britain for ever.
He also did himself out of his 21-year tenure as an MEP and a place in Boris Johnson’s Government — which, after decades of 4.45am starts and relentless campaigning, leaves him facing a bit of a blank.
‘To be honest, I don’t know what I’m going to do next,’ he says. ‘I’d love to be on Strictly [Come Dancing]! It’s got everything going for it, but it’s difficult for me.’
As he speaks, he rolls up his left trouser leg, pulls down a stripy sock, places a shiny shoe on his messy desk and waggles a white, surprisingly muscular calf at me.
‘Look, look, look. I’ve got a great lump of bone sticking out of my leg, from a car crash years ago. I’m not sure I could do it. Though my daughters would love it!’
One last flash and he puts it away.
He’s less keen on appearing on I’m A Celebrity . ‘They’d pay me a fortune, but it’s not top of my bucket list.’
To more serious matters: he insists he hasn’t decided about his memoirs yet, but is planning a 120-page book about 2019, as well as a longer tome ‘on the whole populist wave’.
Of the persistent rumour that his next role will be Trump’s warm-up man in the 2020 presidential campaign, he is dismissive: ‘That is unrealistic. Totally unrealistic.’
But he likes the U.S., says he and Trump message each other and confirms he’ll be at the State of the Union speech next week.
‘I’m a foreigner, but I’m very well known there,’ he explains.
He’s well known everywhere. Over the past 27 years, Farage has gone from a national joke and one of Ukip’s ‘fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists’ (as infamously described by David Cameron in 2006), to become arguably one of the most significant British politicians in living memory and a populist hero to Britons who felt ignored by the Westminster elite.
He also did himself out of his 21-year tenure as an MEP and a place in Boris Johnson’s Government — which, after decades of 4.45am starts and relentless campaigning, leaves him facing a bit of a blank
Some say he overplayed his hand in the general election last year, assuming he could bargain with Boris Johnson for shared power.
In the event, he stepped his Brexit Party candidates down from 317 seats which had been won by the Tories in the 2017 election to avoid splitting the vote.
But if he’d expected reciprocity — the Tories standing down in traditional Labour seats in the North and North-East — he was to be disappointed. Boris did not oblige, a Tory landslide in those areas followed and the rest is history.
‘They didn’t give much back! But I’ve come to realise that, unlike business, in politics everyone behaves badly,’ he says. ‘We gave them the election on a plate, but I couldn’t be responsible for a second referendum.’
So Nigel’s Brexit became Boris’s Brexit. ‘But what else could it be?’ he cries. ‘If I’d wanted it to be my Brexit, I’d have had to rejoin the Conservatives and I think they’re ghastly.
‘I mean . . . Matt Hancock! What a weasel. Christ. Are these people really running our country? I wouldn’t let him wash my cars.’
And the deal? ‘The deal’s dreadful! And I would not have sold out for it,’ he says, but insists he was provided with two assurances to ease the pain: that we leave properly by the end of 2020 and that we commit to not having regulatory alignment. Right now, though, he’s more animated about how Boris aped his ‘man of the people’ style on the stump.
‘He carbon-copied everything!’ he cries. ‘I got into the boxing ring with the No 6 heavyweight in the world (who, incidentally, could have killed me!). Within a fortnight, Boris was in the boxing ring!’
He warms to his theme. ‘I went to Grimsby market and picked up a haddock. Three weeks later, Boris went to Grimsby and picked up a haddock!’ He insists the Tories copied both the Brexit Party’s rallies — ‘with pyrotechnics and music and glow sticks and me entering from the back’ — and their website, too.
‘They even copied the font! Cummings is not stupid. He copied it because it worked.’
Does it annoy him? ‘Look, their motives are different from mine. They’d sell their own granny. But I want Boris to succeed. We are where we are, and I feel satisfied.’
In person, Nigel is good company, breaking off from Brexit to extol the benefits of filling your freezer with plates of quartered limes to be eternally gin-ready.
He’ll answer pretty much anything — other than questions about his romantic life, which he describes as ‘mostly with someone’, but refuses to clarify what that means or who it involves.
When we meet, he’s about to head off to Brussels to clear his desk. I ask if, maybe, he’ll pocket a sentimental keepsake. Perhaps a nice EU ashtray? ‘They’re far too PC for ashtrays!’ he roars.
While he loathes Brussels — ‘it’s a dump. It’s full of litter, broken paving stones and crime’ — he likes Strasbourg, the formal home of the European Parliament, and adored being the pantomime villain ‘with them all booing’.
He certainly couldn’t have looked happier as he made his triumphant farewell speech at the EU Parliament on Wednesday, waving his Union Jacks in a final act of defiance and having his microphone cut off as punishment.
Today, he can’t conceal his joy at having had the last laugh over David Cameron.
‘He’s a pro-China globaliser who never had any conviction or panache. Or anything, really,’ he says. ‘There are people who disappear from history and Cameron is one of them. In 100 years, kids at school will know about as much about Cameron as kids today know about Andrew Bonar Law — he was our PM in 1922. No one’s ever heard of him!’
There’s certainly no danger of that happening to Farage. While rumours of a knighthood are gathering pace, he doesn’t fancy the House of Lords.
‘Look, in 2016 it was made clear that if I wanted to go into the Lords, then I could. I said, no. It would take me out of the front line.’
And since then? Was he offered a sweetener for the 317 seats?
‘No, no, no! I’m not for sale and anyway, I’d hate the House of Lords — 600 of Blair and Cameron’s mates? No thank you. Though the food is subsidised.’
And there is a bar . . .
For all his clattery lifestyle, Nigel Farage looks good. His rubbery skin is smooth (though he insists he’s had no work done), his hands soft and delicate, and he is trim (he does exercises on his bedroom floor every morning).
He bounces about like a mad thing, fuelled by fags (‘we don’t count how many’) and booze —’I’ve cut down massively, but if you start work by half past five, you deserve a couple of glasses of wine by lunch time.’
In a Channel 4 documentary this week, he said: ‘Of course politics is about sales. It’s about selling ideas, it’s about selling hope, sometimes it’s about selling fear.’
Well, it certainly worked for him. Somehow, where others failed, he managed to unite Ukip and put them on the map. He connected with the public.
When he stepped down in 2016, the party imploded with allegations of racism.
His total inability to feel self-conscious or embarrassed — ‘I nearly died in a plane crash on election day in 2010; why am I going to care what the world’s elite think of me?’ — has protected him from the insults, pints, eggs and excrement that have been hurled at him over the years.
‘I’ve been on the front page of every sodding newspaper, and in some it was like Oswald Mosley had come back from the dead,’ he says.
‘The worst is being in London and people constantly throwing drinks over me in the pub. Some of it has been very hard.’
But he never once wavered, always ready with a pithy quote and a gurning grin.
‘I nearly became the patron saint of lost causes, but I kept on going,’ he says.
Today his work is done. ‘We’re moving on. The war is over,’ he says. ‘The healing process is happening — it’s really happening.’
Not that he will accept any responsibility for the bitterness that has prevailed in Britain over Brexit.
‘What caused people to fall out was not the Referendum, but the refusal of the Establishment to accept the result, which caused a tribal split, and I blame them for that.’
He accepts, though, that he is fully responsible for the price paid by his own family.
‘To be honest, I don’t know what I’m going to do next,’ he says. ‘I’d love to be on Strictly [Come Dancing]! It’s got everything going for it, but it’s difficult for me’
There are two failed marriages — first to Grainne Hayes, with whom he has two grown-up sons. His second marriage, to the German-born Kirsten (they have two daughters, aged 19 and 14) never really recovered after reports of Nigel’s seven times-a-night tryst with a Latvian lady in 2006.
He has previously described himself as ‘an appalling husband and bad father’.
Is that still fair?
‘Well, I could have been better!’ he says. ‘But if you really dedicate yourself to something and it becomes such a part of your being, that you have to make a success of it, come what may, then everyone has to pay a price for it.’
So it was worth it?
‘Yes. Yes it was,’ he says firmly.
But what of his teenage daughters?
‘It’s been very tough for them. And the surname — it’s a very rare surname.’
Were they tempted to change it?
‘Well . . . they haven’t, but it’s been difficult. And as we all know, the internet’s a horrible place. It’s been pretty brutal.’
Seriously, though, what is he going to do? ‘I don’t know, but I need to be busy. If I have too much time, I’d be in the pub, wouldn’t I? And that would not be good. The pub should be a reward, not a way of life.’
He says he is ready to help any other country that wants to leave the EU and has no plans to give up his four-times-a-week LBC radio show. ‘I’m good at making people feel differently about things,’ he says. ‘Smart motorways! Don’t even get me started!’
My bet is that, very soon, ‘Sir Nigel’ will be spending far more time in America with his pal Donald than here. But, right now, he’s counting down to tonight’s Brexit bonanza in Trafalgar Square.
‘They’ve told me no fireworks. And there’s no Big Ben, which is crazy. It rang for Remembrance Sunday and New Year. You do feel the Civil Service are embarrassed about Brexit, rather than celebrating,’ he says. ‘We’ve said there’ll be no triumphalism, but we’ll see . . .’
And the ‘after party’, he promises, will ‘crack on’ until well after dawn.
‘I’ve got to see the sun rise over an independent United Kingdom! This is the biggest constitutional change for us since Henry VIII left the Church of Rome. It’s the biggest shift in 500 years. It’s the point of no return!’
And it’s all down to Nigel.