So, Mr Farage, why does UKIP's leader have a German wife …and did she make you kip in the spare room over that 'seven-times-a night fling' with a LatvianLove him or loathe him, Nigel Farage is impossible to ignoreHe dresses like a City trader, smells of fags and speaks from the hipThe UKIP leader has been at death's door three times in his 48 years'Circumstances have changed, things could really happen now'
22:03 GMT, 28 December 2012
A lot of people don't seem to like UKIP leader Nigel Farage. They roll their eyes and dismiss him as brash and vulgar – part used-car dealer, part public-school fool, 'utterly unembarrassable' and 'a poor man's Boris Johnson'.
They mutter about the BNP, a supposed tryst with a very passionate Latvian lady and the 2 million of EU expenses that he claimed over ten years 'to prove a point'.
They do, however, all know who he is. Because, love him or loathe him, he's impossible to ignore – blasting the President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, as having 'the charisma of a damp rag and the appearance of a low-grade bank clerk'; dismissing Robert Kilroy-Silk as a 'vain, orange buffoon and a monster'; camping it up on TV's Have I Got News For You; or dangling upside down from the wreckage of a light aircraft in the middle of an election campaign, UKIP rosette still flapping.
Speaking his mind: UKIP leader Nigel Farage believes 'things could really happen' for his party
Today, he's sipping a small glass of red – 'I only drink in moderation' (it's 3pm) – and discussing his political opponents with typical Faragian zest. 'They're a bunch of saddoes! They have no life outside politics – they're desperate. DESPERATE! And so TERRIBLY DULL!' he squawks. [For the record, his hobbies, or 'fanaticisms', as he calls them, include deep-sea angling, Test cricket and 1914-18 battlefields.]
'None of them pass the Farage test. Number one, would I employ them And number two, would I want to have a drink with them No and NO!'
He's delighted to get a bit more specific. David Cameron 'Agghh, so shallow – the bland leading the bland. I have no respect for him.'
Ed Miliband 'Soooo boring and geeky – he's spent his whole life sitting around the kitchen table talking politics!'
Nick Clegg 'Nice enough, but what's the point You have to admit, there's a bit of a gap in the market right now, isn't there'
It's a gap Nigel and UKIP, with their anti-Europe, anti-immigration and anti-windfarms policies (they are, incidentally, pro grammar schools, smoking and defence spending) are doing their utmost to fill.
Indeed, the 20,000-strong party once described by Cameron as 'fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists, mostly' is having a purple patch, with commentators talking of shifting 'tectonic plates' and describing their rise as 'this winter's biggest political story'.
In the last general election, UKIP secured nearly a million votes. For over a year they've been scoring at least six or seven per cent in the polls – and sometimes as much as 11 per cent and relegating the Lib Dems to fourth place.
Last month, things really shifted. First, Tory vice-chairman Michael Fabricant (who reckons the battle between the Tories and UKIP cost his party 40 seats at the last election) published The Pact – a report advocating an electoral deal between the two parties, on the basis of a referendum on Britain's EU membership and a place in the Tory Cabinet for Nigel.
Then, at the Corby by-election, UKIP won 14.3 per cent of the poll – its highest-ever share. And promptly topped that in Rotherham with 22 per cent.
Brush with death: Mr Farage survived a plane crash while contesting the 2010 General Election
'When I saw the boxes open, I thought, God Blimey! Goody-good. This is going to be exciting – we were neck and neck, but the postal votes did for us on the day,' says Nigel.
UKIP's votes were hugely boosted by the story of a UKIP-voting Rotherham family whose three Slovakian foster children were removed because of the couple's political beliefs.
'That was appalling, but it's the tip of the iceberg – it's not the first time UKIP people have been discriminated against.
'And Mr Cameron is at the top of the discriminators! When the Rotherham foster row broke, Michael Gove was up in minutes saying: “This is outrageous!” Even Miliband said UKIP were a perfectly reasonable group of people. Only one person was rude about us. DAVID CAMERON!
'At first he retracted his earlier statement [the 2006 one about the fruitcakes and racists]. Fantastic! I was delighted. Then he retracted the retraction, saying: “Not everybody is UKIP is racist!” Can you believe it I've taken that very, very personally.'
Oh dear. Chatting to Nigel is a lively business. There are endless God Blimeys, goody-goods and ghastlys. He rolls his eyes, speaks in outraged capital letters and strongly resembles Zippy from Rainbow.
He's also refreshingly unlike a normal politician. He's not careful, smooth or strategic. He dresses like a City trader, smells of fags and wine and speaks from the hip.
So when someone phones to tell him the Duchess of Cambridge is pregnant, his reaction is: 'She's pregnant, is she Good Lord. Well, not guilty! Never even met her, ha ha ha!'
Thirsty work: The UKIP leader enjoys a joke with friends at his local pub in Downe, Kent
He famously adores pubs and drinking ('Now what a bloody laugh that can be – I've no idea how much, but nothing like William Hague used to, ha ha'), loves Dad's Army and 'Allo 'Allo! ('just genius') and smokes endless smelly Rothmans cigarettes.
'I smoke too many. Too, too, TOO MANY. I did stop, but then they announced the smoking ban and I thought, sod 'em. So I started again.'
A former commodities trader (tin and cocoa) – 'I wanted to be a yuppie and make stacks of money' – he helped set up UKIP in 1993 in protest at the Maastricht Treaty.
'I've felt from day one that being part of the European Union was a very, very, VERY BAD thing for this country. I can't explain it, but I just KNOW I'm right. And I've dedicated myself to it in a way I don't suppose has been wholly rational.'
He's not joking. In order to spread his message, he gets up at 5am, works seven days a week, travels on average eight hours a day to speak in town halls and rugby clubs ('I call it my Billy Graham tour') and barely sees his second wife, Kirsten, (from Germany, oddly enough) and two daughters – his two sons from his first marriage are grown up now.
Household name: Robert Kilroy-Silk was once called a 'vain orange buffoon' by Mr Farage
'Nobody else in British politics works harder than me. No question. My work load is astronomical. It's mega and I don't see nearly enough of my family, but I've never doubted it's the right thing to do.'
Blimey. Does his wife ever think: 'Oh God, just shut up about bloody UKIP won't you, just for a minute'
'It's a bit late for that, to be honest. We met when I was on business in Germany – which goes to prove I want us to engage with Europe, trade with Europe, be friends with Europe but I don't want to be governed by, that bloody Herman Van Rompuy, aka Rumpy Pumpy. But I think being married to me is pretty difficult.'
Is he teased about having a German wife 'Funnily enough, people do tend to mention it. But most UKIP people see it as being as rather a triumphant position for us to be in, rather than a bad position.'
What is her view on Europe 'I don't like to speak for her, but like all sensible Germans she would have kept the Deutsche mark and a German model of parliamentary democracy that since 1945 has produced one of the richest, happiest countries in Europe.'
He says she's been astonished by his patience over the years with UKIP. At least he's seen some progress. In 1995, UKIP's first national conference was attended by 500 people.
In 1999, the party got its first three MEPs. Five years later, 12 were elected and celebrity supporters got involved.
'Joan [Collins] supported us in the 2004 European elections – that was brilliant! Then the Kilroy-Silk thing buggered everything up.'
The 'Kilroy-Silk thing' was Nigel recruiting the sacked BBC presenter to UKIP.
'He did make the party a household name. But after he got elected to leader he became impossible. He didn't listen to anyone. All that mattered was what he'd got to say. There isn't room for Kilroy and the rest of the world! He's impossible. IMPOSSIBLE!'
The end came when Kilroy described UKIP as 'Right-wing nutters' and Farage responded with his brilliant 'vain orange buffoon' line.
Much calmer: Spread betting tycoon Stuart Wheeler is UKIP treasurer
Today, things are much calmer. Stuart Wheeler (the spread betting tycoon) is party treasurer and he, Nigel and his deputy Paul Nuttall are doing their best to move the party as far away as possible from the slightest whiff of closet racism and their old 'BNP in blazers' nickname.
So what about all that 'ban the burka' stuff a while back
'That was from a different time,' he says quickly. 'I wasn't the leader then. It's all different now – things are really beginning to change.'
Nigel has always been a 'cup-half-full' man – which is impressive given he's been at death's door three times in his 48 years.
The first was in 1985, when he 21 and working in the City, blowing most of his money on nightclubs and booze ('but never cocaine, thank goodness') and was run over on a pelican crossing after the customary liquid lunch and after-work drinks.
'They just didn't see me. It was nasty, really nasty. I don't remember it or the hours afterwards, but my A&E notes said, lucid, but aggressive!' he says proudly. He was in hospital for over three months, in plaster for 11 and plagued by tinnitus for years.
Then he got testicular cancer. 'I was 22 and thought is this ever going to end After spending 11 months saving my life, the NHS nearly killed me. They kept misdiagnosing me.
'I kept going back every week. A lump I won't be crude, but it wasn't good. I could barely bloody walk. It was awful. AWFUL!'
His third brush with death came in 2010 during his (unsuccessful) battle to win Speaker John Bercow's Buckingham seat at the general election, when his UKIP banner became tangled around the tail fin of the light aircraft he was flying in.
'We knew we were going down four minutes before we hit the ground. But with four children, which one would you ring So I sat there and kept schtum.'
Protest vote: 'At the moment we're still being treated like the country cousins – and that's not justifiable'
The plane disintegrated as they hit the ground. Amazingly, both he and the pilot survived.
'I was upside down, I could barely breathe. My whole chest was caved in. Every one of these bones was broken,' he says, thumping his chest dramatically.
'I was battling for breath and covered in petrol and I remember thinking, there is nothing in the world that can get any worse than this!'
Needless to say, when he finally struggled out, he didn't embrace post-traumatic therapy. Not even when his pilot was given a two-year community order after making bizarre death threats against him. (He believed UKIP was using the accident to generate PR.)
'When they offered therapy, I did rather scoff – it's just not my thing.'
Up against it: 'If I believe something's right, I tend to pursue it'
Unsurprisingly, his recipe for recovery was a bottle of red, a pack of fags and counting his blessings.
'I just took the view: 'God I'm lucky – this is just the most amazing piece of luck I've had in my life.' I'm an optimist – a RIDICULOUS optimist.
'I mean, to have joined a party like UKIP, you have to be. Just look at the history of British politics and there've been hundreds of parties like this – and they all fail, they all get nowhere. What a ridiculous thing to do! I mean BONKERS!'
So, er, why continue Why work 18-hour days seven days a week and neglect your wife and health and two young daughters
'Because if I believe something's right, I tend to pursue it. And I genuinely think circumstances have changed over the past 18 months. Things could really happen now.'
Maybe he's right. UKIP has 12 MEPs, about 110 councillors, a good few skeletons in the cupboard and a lot of passion. What it needs now is a seat in the Commons.
'At the moment we're still being treated like the country cousins – and that's not really justifiable. Once people think voting UKIP isn't just a protest vote, then it can become a very different thing.'
Which begs the question – if former Lib Dem minister Chris Huhne's Eastleigh seat comes up next year (his court case resumes on January 14) would Nigel throw his hat in the ring
'Heh heh! I've no idea. I doubt it. I've no idea. Ha ha!' he rolls his eyes and stretches his face like a rubber band. 'I haven't made any decisions. But keeping the electoral momentum going after the past couple of weeks is very important to us!'
So that's a yes, then 'Oooh, I don't know, dear girl!'
Given his passion for publicity, would he go on I'm A Celebrity . . . Get Me Out Of Here! like Nadine Dorries
'No. But I can see what Nadine was doing. She's not going to be promoted, is she And it's 40 grand – which, when you come from a council estate in Liverpool, really matters. But I wouldn't do it – not that.'
Leadership: Mr Farage with the party's deputy leader Paul Nuttall and South East MEP Marta Andreasen
It must be strange being Nigel. He clearly adores the limelight, but thanks to his readiness to speak his mind ('Prince Charles – a deluded chap who wobbles around') alienates people in droves and attracts bile. So is he very thick-skinned Does he ever get upset
'Listen, I've survived cancer, car crashes, plane crashes – this stuff isn't going to worry me. Arguing with my wife – that can upset me. My whole family can upset me. They can make me hyperventilate!'
I bet his wife was hyperventilating when the claims about his seven times-a-night tryst with a Latvian lady hit the news in 2005 and led to the joke 'Ukip if you want to'.
'Erm, well, that was all nonsense.' Really 'Oh, come off it. I did have a lot of phone calls from ex-girlfriends saying: 'Gosh, it wasn't like that with me.''
And presumably a frosty time at home 'Yes, that wasn't so good. Of course I've done stupid things and made mistakes – everyone has. But is there any point in regrets Life's too short.'
With that, we call it a day and Nigel Farage (who is surprisingly likeable, in a camp, over-the-top way, though of course you're not supposed to say) hurtles off into the night to spark up a Rothmans, make a million phone calls and limber up for his hundredth UKIP meeting of the day.