Katie Hopkins: 'Someone sent me £10 to help with the court costs and I was a sobbing wreck - I've a thing that I don't cry but with my family I do'
She lost a defamation case to food blogger Jack Monroe, but professional provocateur Katie Hopkins won't say sorry. She tells Charlotte Edwardes about her passion for Jeremy Corbyn and what makes her cry
As Katie Hopkins refuses to read the interview with Jack Monroe, the food blogger who has just won £24,000 (plus an interim £107,000 in costs) from her in a court case over defamatory tweets, I give her a precis.
She bears no ill-will and wants to invite you for dinner, I say. Hopkins snorts. Will she go? "No." Why not? "Mainly because I'm too busy," she says. "But notice how individuals who pursue litigation in courts end up delivering some noble gesture that makes them sound like they took the higher ground."
It's true the Mahmood family, who won a £150,000 defamation claim against Hopkins' employers, Mail Online, when she falsely labelled them extremists, invited her for tea. But I'm not convinced this "always" happens.
Perhaps the Mahmoods and Monroe share a general curiosity about who Hopkins (42), really is. Does she really hold her more extreme "rent a gob" views? If so, why? How has a middle-class girl from a Devon market town grown up to be a national hate figure of such notoriety that GCSE English students analyse her articles?
In one outburst, Hopkins, a mother of three (aged, 12, 11 and eight), columnist and presenter on rasio station LBC, called refugees "cockroaches" and suggested drilling holes in the bottoms of their boats to help them sink.
"I don't care," she said after a Syrian child was pictured drowned on a Turkish beach. "Show me bodies floating in water (and) skinny people looking sad. I still don't care."
Elsewhere, she's invited suicidal prisoners to kill themselves, said fat people are lazy and ginger babies harder to love (surely a joke?).
Her opinions are an out-of-control tank, and on Twitter she lobs grenades to cause maximum impact.
In 2015 she meant to tweet Laurie Penny, the New Statesman columnist who'd written she didn't "have a problem" with vandalism as a form of protest. "Scrawled on any memorials recently?" she wrote to Monroe by mistake. "Vandalised the memory of those who fought for your freedom? Grandma got any more medals?"
Monroe, whose family members are in the military, demanded a "public apology + £5k to migrant rescue and I won't sue".
Hopkins deleted the initial tweet, but asked if Twitter could differentiate between "the irritant" Penny and "social anthrax" Monroe. Monroe consulted lawyers.
Nearly two years later, here we are.
I suppose I was expecting an attack dog when I sat down to wait for Hopkins at a London restaurant. What I get is a puppy. Smallish, energetic and with a pink rinse over cropped blonde hair ("midlife crisis"), she comes balling in, liberally spraying "darlings" at me, the waiter, the photographer.
She's "chitty chatty" and smiley, but everything she says is extreme.
For instance, beetroot is "the devil's vegetable". Accountants are "petty, sad bastards - that's one thing I'd never do, marry an accountant" (later, it turns out her brother-in-law is one).
When the photographer tells her I've had good news - interviewer of the year at the Press Awards - she says: "I feel like your mother just died and I didn't say sorry - but the opposite, if you see what I mean."
On the subject of the case, she hardens up, explaining that she hopes to appeal on grounds that she's not sure Monroe can assert she "felt" or "believed" she had been damaged with so little proof, and the costs "have to be proportionate".
"It's around £25,000 if you lose a big toe in an industrial accident," she tells me. "So a tweet that was up for two hours or a big toe? Go on, choose: big toe or tweet?"
She has the money to pay the costs without re-mortgaging - "The business is set up so that I can manage costs," she says, obliquely. "People have been very kind in support."
It's a dangerous precedent because Twitter is "the place where big debates are held and there's a bit of rough and tumble that goes with it," she adds. "I can see some people might want to silence Katie Hopkins, but it's never good if we start trimming the edges of that freedom. Because where do you stop?"
Perhaps. But equally, where does Katie Hopkins stop? Why not just say sorry?
"There's never been an opportunity to say sorry - which I don't think is necessary if you've deleted and formally retracted - that wasn't linked to something else," she says. "There was always sorry plus a donation to migrants."
I'm not persuaded. She agrees it's not a hard word: "In the street I'd say sorry. If I got run over I'd probably say sorry."
But now that the word is soaked in the politics of left and right, she is unyielding. She won't even utter Monroe's name. "I'm sorry there was a mistake," she offers. She's convinced the world sees her - on the right - as "the baddie" and that Monroe - on the left - as "the goodie" and that the whole event was "gladiatorial". "The reason this is noisy is that it's two perfect characters, the villain and the hero, fighting it out. Good versus evil. The underdog verses the big bitch. Leave and Remain.
"I saw someone on Twitter saying, 'Why is that gobby cow on Radio 4, surely it should be the victim speaking out, not the oppressor?' And I thought 'Well, at least I'm not being described as the victim'. Because that's the territory I never want to be in."
For all her energy, the last two years have been distressing, not just because of the court case. She is physically vulnerable after having a brain operation last year that involved having a chunk of her skull cut out in a 12-and-a-half-hour procedure.
"Are you squeamish?" she asks, before taking my hand and placing it on her head. "That soft bit there is my actual brain. They opened me like an egg. I was a massive epileptic and my fits have now stopped. I can sleep again."
After the surgery, she contracted meningitis. "It was dodgy for a bit," she says. "I lost three stone. I looked like Julian Clary." Was she scared? "Of course. Even the week before, I didn't think I was going to have the operation. I kept bottling it. I was too scared to tell my children, so I didn't.
"I was too scared to say goodbye to my mum, so I didn't. We just passed on the driveway without speaking. So British."
Her children didn't see her for six weeks. Half her head was shaved and she had 52 staples banged in a line around her skull. "I'm so lucky," she says.
The two events have led her to think about what "harm" is. "Maybe I connect with harm differently," she says. "Maybe it has to be significant real pain."
Hopkins has a daughter with autistic spectrum disorder ("She would describe me in facts: 'My mum has a big nose, doesn't wear pants, walks around the house naked'") and Hopkins thinks she too may have traits of the condition.
In some ways the person she trolls hardest is herself. She calls herself a "t**t" repeatedly and confides that she can carry two pencils under her bottom.
She tells me that her first husband, Damian, left her for his secretary the day after she'd given birth to their second daughter, Poppy, and that she has never seen or heard from him again. "I quite admire him, though. He knew what he wanted and went for it."
Does he have more children? "He had children before me, and he's had others since, I think." So her children have brothers and sisters they've not met? "Yes." She seems remarkably calm about this. "It's not my choice, it's just how things are."
After a year of being a single mother with two children under two, she says, "I had to find a replacement dad because being a single mum was a bit s***. I was a really bad single mum. I used to go to the supermarket just for somewhere to go."
She met Mark, who was married, while working at the Met Office. She also signed up for The Apprentice, boasting on the application form that she was so ruthless she had "stolen someone else's husband".
But she insists she isn't a "rent-a-gob shock-jock" (although she concedes she'd know how to annoy if necessary) because "nobody would want to do that over 10 or 15 years. It would be boring and very wearing").
Sometimes, she is just being funny. For instance, she tells me: "I'm quite willing to have an affair - on the record - with Jeremy Corbyn. He seems like a nice guy. If you took him away from the vests and all that.
"He sticks to his word. Means what he says. Doesn't try to please people. I like that."
Later, she tells me that she always wanted to be a comedian. "If I was some fat bloke and had a strong regional accent, I'd be a stand-up because I think I'm funny."
She believes there is a fuss around her because "people aren't used to a woman being quite so opinionated - it's not considered kind".
Does she consider herself unkind? She tells me how she helped a blind person into the lift at the BBC where she was being interviewed while an employee looked on.
"Those who are most pious and noble tend to be the least tolerant," she says. "Those that preach tolerance have become absolutely prescriptive in what's allowed to be thought."
I wonder if she hates before she likes as a defence mechanism. She'll identify a weak spot and pounce. She calls me "a leftie" as an insult and teases I'm obsessed with "migrant babies".
When I spot what I think is an unusual spelling of the name 'George' on her phone, she eviscerates me because she thinks I'm mocking her.
This hair-trigger response to perceived insult must be exhausting, but she says she's at her armour-plated toughest when she's being abused. Her parents were strict ("My friends were scared of my dad"). She was thrown out of Sandhurst because she didn't declare her epilepsy and only went "to prove that I could be in the Army".
Nevertheless, she cries when people are nice to her (or "cute", as she puts it). Someone sent her £10 to help with her court costs and she was a "sobbing wreck on the carpet". "I have a thing that I don't cry and obviously I don't when I am being 'tough me', but with my family I do - I cry when I'm sorry," she says.
How has the court case changed her? She says while "reinvigorated to keep going" she also recognises that she needs to concentrate on "things that really matter: personal stories".
"People email me all the time with stories they need to be heard," she adds.
"I want to articulate for the many that don't have a voice. I don't want to be just having a go at some random punter. It's not worth it."
No more will we see her sitting next to "a 24-stone woman" verbally prodding them to lose weight. "That was the old life, that feels like aeons ago," she says.
"Do I still have stuff within my life that is relatively shocking of its own story telling? Yes. I over-share. That's how I cope."