A double-page spread about her in the Daily Mail was headlined “The Biggest Bitch in Britain”. To be fair, it was written from the – understandably partial – perspective of her second husband’s ex-wife “who I knicked him from”.
But her parents were “mortified”. “They believe the Daily Mail and they believed it was true. I was so sorry for them. They didn’t ask for any of this. They’re not that sort of people. They’re really quiet and they’ve got this super-brash daughter. They’re endlessly forgiving of a child who must be quite a disappointment.”
But the ex-business consultant and soon-to- be ex-Met Office executive (they weren’t impressed, either) had spotted a gap in the market. “For a woman to say the kind of things I say, to be really blunt to people’s faces – like, you know, ‘I wouldn’t employ you, you’re fat and lazy,’ is really strange. Nobody had seen that before.”
So, ever since, on ITV’s This Morning, in her column for The Sun, in documentaries and reality shows like Big Brother, she goes after her targets with a sledgehammer, “saying the things we no longer have the courage to say”.
About fat people, for instance. “You’re fat because you eat too much and don’t do exercise. End of. My dream job would be to sit in the doctor’s surgery, ticking them off. ‘Get a grip, you fat b*****d. Stop eating and get out there and walk.’ ” Wallop.
The real breakthrough was when she had a rant about kids with what she considers chavvy names like Tyler, Chardonnay, Chantelle, Storm and Hunter. She says she did research that showed those names cropped up all the time on the lists of defendants in the law courts and she wouldn’t let her children play with them. There were 14 million hits on YouTube in a weekend. “It resonated, whether you think the same or called your kid Tyler. It flew.” Kapow.
Her attack on would-be migrants in The Sun certainly resonated. She called them “cockroaches”, not knowing, apparently, that was what the Hutus called the Tutsis before murdering them by the hundreds of thousands in the Rwandan genocide. Then, the next morning, a boat went down in the Mediterranean drowning dozens of refugees; a perfect storm, as she says.
She’s not quite apologetic. “Would I change a couple of words in that column? Yes I would. Do I ever feel bad about the rest of what I say? No I don’t, actually. I feel I want to say more.” More than 300,000 people signed a petition calling on the editor of The Sun to sack her, which she thinks “is a good enough reason for him to say: ‘Not bloody likely!’ Well done, you lefties!” Splat.
She insists she means everything she says; she’s not just doing it for the money — a “reasonable salary” over the past ten years, “far more than I’m worth recently, thanks to Big Brother. “You genuinely have to hold these views or you’d get caught out. But if I mean it, think it, feel it – I do it.”
She doesn’t mind the hatred, which is vitriolic on Twitter and other social media but not, she says, on the street, where she feels “buoyed up” by waves of public support. “The rest genuinely doesn’t matter. I can park it and walk away.”
Neither is she worried about the impact on her children (girls aged 11 and ten, and a boy, six). “So kids come up at school and say their mum’s a t**t. They’re at an age when they see me as really cool. Is it going to get trickier? Did I get caught having sex in a field [the pictures were all over the tabloids]? When they’re 14 and I’m telling them to behave, will they look at me and say: ‘You two-faced cow’ – yes. It’s going to be difficult. I’ll just have to do what I do best – be super-honest.”
She’s nicer, wittier, feistier in person than on the screen. Good company, too. If your name’s not Tyler. Or you’re not fat, or old, of course. What’s that noise? Whatever is an ice-cream van doing out in the street at this time of night?