Union Interview: Katie Hopkins: “I’m in this space all on my own, this not-having-to-be-liked space”

Morwenna Jones 15 May 2014

Morwenna Jones (@MorwennaJones) and Hannah Graham (@HannahGraham) met Katie Hopkins, the Sun columnist, broadcaster and a businesswoman.  She prides herself on being the only person to ever say 'No' to Sir Alan.  She made headlines last year, when, in an interview for 'This Morning' she said that she 'didn't like' 'lower class' names like Charmaine, Chantelle, Chardonnay and Tyler and would prevent her children from playing with them. 

Speaking to the self-proclaimed ‘Jesus of the outspoken’ that is Katie Hopkins leaves one in shock.  I’ve listened to her spout her controversial opinions in the hallowed chamber of the Cambridge Union Society, sat through a twenty-minute interview of her spouting even more of them, listened to the recording of the latter and still, despite all of this, I’m confused about the 39 year old businesswoman/ journalist/ ‘rent-a-gob’. 

But then again, it would be hard not to be.  Hopkins’ media persona is bullet-proof and even during what we thought were our most challenging questions she is polite, cheerful and strangely playful. 

By ‘opinions’ of course I mean the usual, provocative views that we have come to expect from Hopkins.  She stoically sticks to her guns when we bring up her recent tweet about Lily Allen in which she calls the ‘Smile’ singer a ‘chubster’.  “I will always be someone who has no time for people that are overweight”, she says, “I’m not suggesting that Lily Allen is overweight now” she adds, emphasising the last word demurely before adding, “I have no patience nor time for anybody that’s overweight”.

The impact of her words aside, her main priority, as we discuss the tweet, appears to be that I appreciate her syntactic abilities with the line ‘Gary is a national treasure, you are a cheap man’s pleasure’.  “Good no?” She asks me.  I point out that I’m the same size as Lily Allen.  She doesn’t respond.  Instead, she explains her motivation behind the tweet.  “At the time I wrote that, I was also writing a piece for The Sun in which two columnists were pitted against each other, one pro-Gary and one against Gary this tweet was my way of giving a push to this column”. 

Would it bother her if column-supporting tweets like these caused their subjects to develop physical or mental health problems?  Hopkins skirts round the question (again) and starts to talk about the dangers of twitter and social media.  “People need to discipline themselves.  Twitter is fierce.  If you think that’s going to harm you, don’t go near it!  Don’t let it into your home!  Don’t let it on your smartphone!  But I will not step back from my strong views”. 

She addresses how these ‘strong views’ pertain to body image.  “We can say that society’s over-pressured and that society’s putting pressure on people.  The fact remains that two thirds of the population are now overweight.  That’s something I find very difficult to deal with”.  And the women she attacks who aren’t ‘overweight’?  ‘Everything I say could be massively offensive’, she admits and rationalises her criticism of ‘Made in Chelsea’ star Cheska Hull for having ‘back fat’.  “I think it’s just a ‘look at this picture, why would you wear that?’  It’s just part of the tittle-tattle of magazine life.  It’s the kind of stuff that fuels the world that I inhabit.

However Katie Hopkins’ views on ‘fat people’ go much further than ‘tittle-tattle’; they are painstakingly spelt out for us.  “I can’t stand the thought of the NHS shelling out hundreds of thousands of pounds to help people who couldn’t stop themselves from eating” she informs us.  Then, just as she (somewhat inelegantly, admittedly) shut down a question from Union President Michael Dunn-Goekjan during the debate that implied she might be racist, she checks herself.  “Clearly some of those people have medical issues and that’s not anywhere near the sphere I’d want to touch on.  I see the link that you’re trying to make and”, she pauses defiantly for effect, “I refute it”. 

Hopkins clearly chooses her battles.  She’s more than willing to dismiss feminists (renowned women’s rights campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez, who spoke at the Union last term, ‘annoys’ her) or anyone remotely left-wing, telling the chamber proudly that she doesn’t ‘believe’ in benefits; but there are evidently some issues that she just isn’t going to get involved in. 

Her lack of contribution to such issues is, however, more than adequately made up for whenever Hopkins speaks up about anything else.  I ask if she’s familiar with Caroline Criado-Perez’s recent and, frankly horrifying, article in which she exposes some of the online-trolling she experienced.  She isn’t.  I list some of the threats; genital mutilation, gang-rape…and she interrupts me, “Do you not think that’s what we get?”

Obviously, Hopkins gets her fair share of online abuse, but how does she deal with it?  “It’s simple for me”, she tells us, “it’s slowed down massively now because of all the noise that was made.  But before that it was stuff I can barely say.  There were times when you’d sit down and just go ‘phew!’ just because you can’t imagine someone even thinking that”.  How did it make her feel?  Hopkins clarifies her response,  “I mean this not in a snobby or patronising way, but maybe if you can’t iterate stuff because you haven’t got so many words at your disposal, maybe, the footage behind your profile picture is always a football, maybe your only language is this.  That’s how I imagine it. I put it in that category.  It tends to be true”.

Should something be done about this?  “If you want to report it then sure”, Hopkins says, although she doesn’t do this herself and is sceptical about the worth of ‘Everyday Sexism’ and other feminist movements.  “There are communities that believe in Everyday Sexism, there are communities that read it.  It is still just sitting in a room opening envelopes effectively.  It hasn’t moved us on” she says, bluntly.  For her, a better alternative would be to learn from her attitude:

I don’t ask for help.  It’s an independence thing I suppose.  I don’t ask for help from the police, I don’t ask for help in marriage when things have gone spectacularly pear-shaped, probably through my own fault.  Have I asked for help?  No.  It’s probably just a refusal to let things beat me”.

It’s an admirable, if naïve, sentiment but it comes with one clear problem: Hopkins’ hastiness to impose her expectations on others.  “I have no expectations that anyone should do something for me, that’s my level of expectation that I apply to everyone else.  It’s why I appear to be, well, am, harsh” she confesses.

Does she object to appearing this way in the media, as a harshly caricaturised pantomime villain?  “No.  It’s a persona that I adopt and it’s one that I enjoy.  I’m in this space all on my own, this not-having-to-be-liked space”, she answers.  “Other men are in it but they just come out as comedians.  When women adopt that space we’re (I don’t have any beef about it) crazy bitchy women- that’s what we become!

In spite of being seen as the ‘crazy aggressor woman’, Hopkins shows no signs of sitting down and shutting up.  During the debate, as well as our interview, it’s clear that she loves what she does, but also that she takes a great deal of pride in it.  “I can write for Debretts, I can write for Huffington Post or I can change that, and write for the Sun or do a debate for This Morning” she tells us, frankly.  “For me, I love words, I love sentences, I love the way words are constructed to deliver a message.  That’s actually where I get my pleasure from; the construction of sentences”.

It comes as no surprise to hear, then, that when it comes to mythological creatures, Hopkins would be the alluring siren.  “I like the whole ‘call of the siren’ thing” she confides.

 Unfortunately for Hopkins, her song just didn’t entice many Cambridge students.   

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Written by: Morwenna Jones

Interview by: Morwenna Jones & Hannah Graham