When Nigel Farage met Gogglebox's Steph and Dom
TV's posh couple meet the UKIP leader on Channel 4 tonight - but is it just a publicity stunt for the right-wing politician?
It’s a television first. The man who could well decide the outcome of the next general election stars in his own light-entertainment programme. And not only that, he knocks back so much booze with Steph and Dom Parker, the “posh couple” from Gogglebox, that Channel 4 boss Jay Hunt said he got “p***ed with them”.
At one point during a “rip-roaring” evening at the Parkers’ guest house in Sandwich, Kent, Ukip leader Nigel Farage stumbles on a step in their garden and smashes a glass of champagne. He is sent off to change his trousers and slips into a pair of ripped jeans thoughtfully provided by Dom (who had thought of proffering a pair of leather slacks).
“I had two, two-and-a-half pints in the pub with Dom,” Farage tells RT on the phone from Strasbourg, and enjoyed “steady consumption... [so] two pints, about five or six glasses [of wine and champagne]” over the evening. He didn’t drive himself, he adds firmly, and blames the smashed glass on “physical incapacity” due to injuries (he was involved in a plane crash on the day of the 2010 election and was in a road accident when he was younger).
“I like a drink but, crikey, these guys are professionals,” he chuckles with that familiar cigarette-laced rasp.
The film opens with jaunty music heavily reminiscent of the 1980s sitcom Terry and June, as if Farage is there for a laugh. But certainly there’s a serious purpose. Not only are Steph and Dom potential voters in the South Thanet constituency Farage will be contesting in the general election next spring, but it’s the audience of millions beyond he’s really courting.
Steph and Dom aren’t exactly Jeremy Paxman, but their questions do draw interesting insights from Farage into his brushes with death (which also include testicular cancer in his twenties), his divorce and, of course, his political beliefs.
The man who as an MEP earns a salary of £79,000 a year (with office allowances of around £42,600 a year) drops one bombshell that is surely bound to raise eyebrows: “I don’t think I know anybody in politics as poor as we are.”
“A small semi-detached house in the country” is his and his wife, Kirsten’s, only property, adding: “We don’t drive flash cars, we don’t have expensive holidays, we haven’t done for ten years.” Inquiries by RT also suggest that his home is worth around £540,000.
He says he doesn’t watch television any more, because he works seven days a week. He only watched a few clips of Steph and Dom on Gogglebox before their meeting.
“Was I taking a risk going in there? Yes, I was... Politics today is so thoroughly over- scripted. All the rough edges and all the risk is knocked off, and that is why it has become desperately dull. I thought they were genuine and... people who like me will like it.”
One person who certainly doesn’t like Farage is Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee, who tells RT that the programme should be pulled.
“It should be stopped; it’s an absolute outrage,” Toynbee says. “It plays straight into his image as the man with the glass of beer, a nice bloke. It’s unacceptable. He doesn’t get questioned about his policies, because his policies are a mess. It’s just a jolly pre-Christmas programme.”
John Sergeant, the political editor turned Strictly contestant who knows a thing or two about politics and light entertainment, thinks Toynbee’s view is a “bit heavy”, especially if Channel 4 is abiding by Ofcom’s impartiality rules. But he believes Farage is making an error by doing the show.
“There is always the risk of overexposure,” he says. “The idea that he is vaguely in entertainment isn’t particularly wise. What he has got to do now is stop being the man with the pint and be the man with the plan. The danger is [politicians] get seduced by these things because they are famous. We are six months away from an election. Isn’t it time he was serious and was thinking about what he was doing, instead of being a cheeky chappie? The problem his party has is that people think it hasn’t got an overall plan for government.
“Also, you have to be careful in the run-up to an election. You have to try to reduce the gaffes and things that can be used against you. This is certainly not the moment for him to play up his playful side.”
The veteran political journalist Michael Cockerell disagrees, however. “One of the bases of his appeal is that he is an ordinary bloke, who understands ordinary people and gets drunk like an ordinary bloke. Look at all the fuss with Emily Thornberry, because she is seen as being snobby. [The shadow minister was sacked by Labour after tweeting an image of a house draped in England flags, with a white van in the driveway, on the day of the Rochester and Strood by-election last month, which Ukip won.]
“Nigel Farage is the standing contradiction to what conventional politicians do,” adds Cockerell. “Most politicians would run a mile from smoking, or even being seen with a drink in their hand. But Farage breaks all the rules. It will do him good rather than harm, because it shows he is someone like us. The fact that he worked in the City and went to a public school is somehow conveniently forgotten.”
“Once he once said to me ‘what am I doing talking to you? It is ten in the morning and I am not on licensed premises’. That is what he is like.”
It sure is.
Steph and Dom Meet Nigel Farage is on Channel 4 tonight (15th December) at 10:00pm