A great write-up on nigel Farage and his tour of the country in the Shropshire Star on Friday.
The left wing press think it’s “trendy” to criticise UKIP whilst the right wing press do it to appease their Tory paymasters. It’s refreshing to see some honest and objective reporting from the Shropshire Star.
He’s standing in a Wetherspoons pub, surrounded by a crowd, a pint of real ale in hand and deep in conversation.
As she pushes through the small circle of suits to speak to him, he greets her like a long lost friend.
“Good to see you, how are you?” he booms, as she thrusts a camera out for someone to capture the moment on film.
“Make sure you take two pictures – I want to send one to my daughter in America,” she orders. “She’s a big supporter.”
He chats to her about her daughter for a while and listens intently to the answers. Then a man in a suit approaches to introduce himself.
“Good to see you, how are you?” says Mr Farage, with a big smile, a handshake and eye contact – always direct eye contact.
One thing is for sure – the Ukip leader is a man in demand and he’s quite at ease with it.
So much so that when it comes to my turn to meet him – big smile, big handshake, “Good to see you!”– we have to move to a quiet corner of the pub to prevent interruptions.
He is, after all, the man who has recently been voted the most popular party leader in an Ipsos MORI poll.
Enigmatic, eloquent, jovial, captivating, these are all words which have been used to describe him.
Today, he looks a little jaded having spent the past few days travelling the country on what he dubs with a wry smile “this Billy Graham tour I’m on”.
The day before – his 49th birthday – he was in Worcester where the crowd which flocked to see him was so big they could not all fit in the room. Now he’s in the Staffordshire village of Stone. I ask him about these descriptions of him as one of the most enigmatic political leaders around.
“Well, there isn’t much competition, is there?” he says. “Nobody says anything interesting or does anything any more. They’re all like cardboard cut outs. But at the end of the day, I’m disinterested in what people think of me and whether people like me.”
Instead, he says, he is driven by the feeling that “if we weren’t doing it, nobody else would be”.
“I’ve made a massive sacrifice to do this,” he says. “I’ve given up a very highly paid job and given up a huge amount of my time. But if we weren’t here fighting for these things, I can’t see who would be.
“Plus I enjoy it. Yes it can be very tiring. But I’m gregarious. I like meeting people, it’s huge fun.”
He flashes a grin. “I’m a bit of an extrovert really, I suppose.”
Relaxed, chatty and warm, he comes across as a down-to-earth bloke who you could quite happily enjoy a pint with.
He is comfortable and polite without being over the top or even smarmy, but always seems acutely aware he is being watched.
It would be difficult to describe Farage as “a cardboard cut-out”. He has been through his fair share in his 49 years. He was active in the Conservative party since he was a teenager but left in 1992 over the signing of the Maastricht Treaty.
He joined Ukip in 1993 and was elected to the European Parliament in 1999 and took over leadership of Ukip in 2006.
In his early 20s, he suffered a fractured skull after being hit by a car, and has also battled testicular cancer.
On May 6, 2010, the light aircraft he was in towing an election campaign banner famously nosedived to the ground. He escaped battered and bruised.
“I didn’t think I was coming out of that plane alive,” says the married father-of-four, his tone changing slightly. “I’m the luckiest bloke alive. “I’m a lucky bloke just to be here – two crashes and cancer. I’m completely fatalistic about it all now. That’s why I go on drinking and smoking.”
His tone is laid back and chatty but when it comes to politics, his voice steels and he jabs a finger on the table to emphasise his point.
It was the Eastleigh by-election on March 1 which was, he says was “mega” for the party and got the Tories running scared after beating them to second place behind the Lib Dems. Last week, Ukip also won the vacant seat on Wellington Town Council after polling almost half of the vote.
Does he regret not standing in Eastleigh himself? “No,” he says. “I do not regret it at all. If I had and I’d have won then I wouldn’t be here doing this. I’d be in Eastleigh or Westminster. I would have been hemmed in to doing that. What people see now is us offering positive policy solution. We’ve evolved as a party and have a completely different, forward-looking message.
“The biggest problem for us has always been the idea a vote for Ukip was a wasted vote. Eastleigh showed that’s no longer the case.”
He believes West Midlands could be strong for the party in the forthcoming county council elections. “I’ve got a good feeling about it all. No rash projections but we’re going to run it to the line.”
At this point, one of his team arrives and interrupts us.
“Nigel, are you going to be coming outside soon, the crowd’s getting a bit restless,” he says.
He looks at his watch, pulls a smart black coat over his colourful green check jacket, green and yellow tie and yellow corduroy combo and pops a trademark fedora on his head.
“Lovely to meet you,” he says charmingly. Handshake, big smile, direct eye contact.