He's 58, drives a sports car, has a girlfriend 15 years his junior and is the interviewer politicians fear most. Meet Nick Ferrari... the 'new' Jeremy Paxman
The high-profile radio presenter has claimed a string of big name scalps during pre-election interviews. Here he reveals his secrets to Charlotte Edwardes
LBC radio presenter Nick Ferrari has claimed a string of big name scalps during pre-election interviews. Here he reveals his secrets to Charlotte Edwardes.
Nick Ferrari denies he's had a mid-life crisis despite driving a white Jaguar F-type, having a full set of capped teeth, a wheat-free diet and a girlfriend 15 years his junior ("Clare, without an i"). But professionally, at least, we agree that he is "in a good place".
His LBC weekday radio show (7am-10am) has record audience figures (1.1m a week) and you can't get in a cab or walk near a building site without hearing the rolling confidence of his Clarksonesque delivery. He's the king of punchy tabloid slogans and trip-wire political interviews.
We've met in his LBC radio studio. The soundproofing has a strange compressing effect on my eardrums, as if post-explosion. And perhaps that's apt given Ferrari's recent run of bomb-drop interviews. It was here that shadow home secretary Diane Abbott declared Labour would employ 100,000 new police officers for £300,000 (a salary of £30 a year), a muddle she corrected to £80 million (still only £8,000 a year).
Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner got her knickers in a twist about class sizes, and Michael Gove, the Conservative candidate for Surrey Heath, came a cropper when he cited the fee a company has to pay to employ a non-British worker as £2,000 when it is actually £1,000.
"In fairness it was not his policy," Ferrari, 58, says of Gove.
"The others were in a more difficult position because it's clearly the shadow home secretary's job to know about police officers, and the shadow education secretary's job to know about schools."
But it was here, too, that Natalie Bennett, former leader of the Greens, had her famous "brain fade" moment, suggesting that 500,000 new houses would cost £2.7 billion. Ferrari asked if they'd be made of plywood.
Politicians now arrive with crib sheets listing the price of bread, milk, margarine and the No 1 in the charts, among other things. Is he as well briefed? "You wouldn't have caught me out - I was 2p out on the price of milk and on the money with a Tiger loaf. Remember, I don't actually eat bread, but as the children stayed with me when I divorced, I've been doing the shopping for more than 10 years!"
Ferrari insists there's no deliberate kill strategy. "I wish I could pretend it was hours of intensive research and I sit up all night with bar charts and graphs.
"I come in, sometimes quite late before the show starts, and I just ask, Who? What? Where? When? Why? How?"
Journalism 101? "Exactly. I don't necessarily do that much really ugly, confrontational stuff. I would much rather ask them the most basic questions and see how they fare." But he's aware what makes good radio. "Oh yes."
Praise has been effusive. Tony Parsons wrote that journalists once admired Jeremy Paxman but "the journalistic star of this election is Nick Ferrari".
Whether that's true or not (Ferrari was "hugely flattered"), he has made an impact as a political interviewer at a time when politics seems to be the new showbiz - which he specialised in as a former editor of Bizarre on The Sun.
He describes the Abbott and Rayner interviews as "Labour scalps" or "hits". "Acutely aware" of political balance, he says there was "pressure to land a journalistic blow on the Prime Minister" too.
But Theresa May was too well versed on her figures. He recalls their exchange word-for-word with fondness. She was "charming", "determined", "focused" and "probably the hardest-working Prime Minister we've ever had".
It helps, he says, that "she doesn't have any children. Which is really unfortunate, but [it means] she can really apply herself." Realising a potential landmine here, he does a quick back-pedal: "Not that - I need to be careful now - women who have children can't. But for Mrs May politics isn't a job, it's in her DNA. This is a woman who on a Sunday, I understand, goes to church, has a nice Sunday lunch with her husband, and then will go out leafleting in neighbouring constituencies even when elections aren't on."
Being right-wing makes Ferrari's job far easier, he believes, because, "Right-wing opinions are more likely to get a reaction. If you're on the Left you say 'on the one hand we could do this, but on the other hand...' [If you're] Right wing you can be more dictatorial."
For instance, he once described prisons as holiday camps. "Do I think Belmarsh is like Butlin's? No. But the shorthand is like a tabloid headline, it allows the listener to get the story instantly in six words. Boom!"
Perhaps this is why "Mr Corbyn", as he calls the Labour leader, has repeatedly refused to come on.
"But we're hoping that will change," Ferrari adds. He'd also like to interview Donald Trump. (Has he asked fellow LBC host Nigel Farage to introduce him? "That's a brilliant idea, I'll text him now." He would ask Emmanuel Macron, the new President of France, whether "he is allowed to stay up late on school nights" (he mansplains that Macron's wife Brigitte is much older as well as being his former teacher).
In the office he is "demanding". Does he have a temper? "Nooooooo. Yes. A bit. If it gets beyond the 8.30 news or I haven't had my scrambled eggs by 8.45 that might start to get ugly."
He sticks his fingers in his ears if the team tells him something he doesn't want to hear - literally. "It's my way of saying, 'Just make it happen'," he says.
LBC employs Katie Hopkins as well as Farage. Ferrari says he likes them both. Hopkins is "a force" with whom, "I have never had lunch"; while the former Ukip leader is a "friend" with whom lunch is an event.
"Aaah, tremendous," he says of Farage's capacity for drink.
"A pre-lunch drink with most people is a gin and tonic. I kid you not, a pre-lunch drink was three pints for him. I did two Bloody Marys. And he's absolutely compos mentis." The restaurant of a pub near Westminster was "cleared" while they ate so that Farage could "smoke between courses" (he can't recall the name of the place).
"We sat by an open window. There were no other diners because, of course, it's illegal to do that. And I hand him the wine list and I say, 'I imagine you want to go for New World wines, don't you?'
"And he takes the wine list and says," - here Ferrari puts on a Farage voice, which sounds unintentionally Alan Partridge - 'Oh no, no, no. When it comes to wines I am positively European'. So it's an absolute joy to have lunch with him." Ferrari paid, though. "Undoubtedly quite a bit, but not as much as a night out gambling with Wayne Rooney."
Ferrari was steeped in news from childhood. His father Lino started the Ferrari Press Agency and later worked at The Mirror as the night news editor.
Ferrari, the youngest of three boys, remembers the stack of papers at the end of his bed when he woke up.
He listened in awe at his father's dinner parties, as characters regaled the wilder stories they "couldn't even print".
And then there was the humour. He wheezes his way through Fleet Street stories with delight as fresh as the day they happened. One involves an "underperforming executive" at The Sun who returned from lunch to find his desk, chair and filing cabinet set up in the lift to teach him a lesson. "He had to spend the afternoon going up and down."
Later - following news that a man had been jailed for impersonating doctors - Ferrari was ordered to, 'Get a white coat, a stethoscope and a clipboard and walk around hospitals'.
"And I did. This woman stopped me: 'I have been waiting for five hours about my sprained wrist. Doctor, all I need to know is, can I go home?' I said, 'Yeah, you'll be fine. Off you go'."
Most "fun" was working at L!ve TV with Kelvin MacKenzie, a short-lived enterprise that later became a porn channel.
Ferrari had his share of the output: a dwarf weatherman who bounced on a trampoline. "Rusty Goffe. Great bloke. That was my idea."
He is also "bloody proud" of topless darts, Tiffany's Big City Tips (Tiffany Bannister, a model, delivering the financial news while stripping to her underwear). Is it true that Julia Bradbury was "strong armed" (her words) by him to review sex toys on The Sex Show? "Yeah, probably. What's wrong with that?"
MacKenzie and he are still close. He describes his former editor's recent sacking from The Sun after he compared Everton footballer Ross Barkley, who has Nigerian heritage, to a "gorilla at the zoo", as "terribly unfortunate. Bad luck". They've spoken: MacKenzie is "Absolutely fine. He's Kelvin."
For a hardened newshound, Ferrari can be remarkably coy. He's divorced ("she stopped seeing the funny side") with two adult sons.
For a while in interviews he refused to give his age.
He's shy about his "partner", initially only revealing that "she works here". Eventually he says: "I don't know why I'm being such an arse. Her name is Clare Patterson."
His political "scalps" have been numbers-based. Is he a maths whizz? "My school contacted me saying: 'Marvellous that you're getting so much recognition. We'd like to tweet your [maths] teacher's name'.
I texted back: 'Can't remember his name, he was bloody hopeless. I got a D. So bugger off'.