Katie Hopkins is married and has three children aged 10, nine and six. When asked how she classifies her job, Katie describes herself a ‘writer, commentator and a part of life, giving a different or shared view depending on whether you hate me or not’.
This includes a Sun column, being a TV sofa talking head and 2015’s Celebrity Big Brother, in which - to the surprise of pretty much everyone - she came second and did ‘just for the money’. Her decidedly non-PC opinions have riled everyone from the UN high commissioner for human rights to an Oxford student called Tyrone and she challenged Charlotte Church to a boxing match this week after the Welsh songstress called her a ‘parasite’ on Twitter.
But she says: ‘It gets on my nerves when people say I am controversial for a living. I only say what I really think. I really mean it. And I believe we must fight for the right to say what we believe. Otherwise we are confined to a narrow band of acceptable behaviour.’
Hopkins has epilepsy and averages four fits a night. She wrote an open letter to her kids last week saying that the epilepsy would get her in the end and offering her wisdom, which included being wary of zebra crossings.
Tell me about your working week.
I am on the road most of the week and go back to the West Country at the weekends and when I can at other times. People are confused by this. I say, ‘I work like a husband,’ and then they get it. But it still seems a bit weird to most people that the mum is not home every night.
How do you make it work?
To be able to manage my life I need rules and our nanny understands what they are. If the kids don’t bring their spelling books home they go to bed half an hour early. They own their decisions. They have to be accountable. I made them go to state school for a while, mostly because they can now appreciate what they have given now they are at private school.
On the fridge I have a chart and I know where everyone is. So if something goes wrong you can dial in the right person to fix it.
How do your children cope with your profile?
They are in a nice, small school that they love. They still see it as quite cool I am on TV. Some kid said to them that ‘their mum hates your mum’. My daughter explains it as ‘you just speak your mind Mum, and not everyone likes your mind.’
What if someone had a go at them in the street?
I don’t think it’ll happen. It doesn’t happen to me. People try to get at me through this kids line. We’re an open family, we talk about more than other families and some resilience wears off. There will be times when they tell me to just shut up. My mum tells me to [shut up] sometimes. My parents are quiet people and I have no filter at all.
I did have a call the other day from part of social services that they were concerned about the welfare of my child based on my Twitter feed, which someone thought might be damaging them. They said they had to call to follow up.
If you’re a fort at the top of the hill – which is how I see myself and my family – you will get incoming, like massive great mortar shells. And you always have to be ready for the next thing.
It sounds stressful.
I see it as interesting how people want to attack others for saying things they don’t like. The better you do the more people will want to take you out. Jeremy Clarkson is probably my closest comparison in some ways and loads of people want to take him out. People will try whatever mechanism there is – petitions, the UN, social services, having a go at my kids.
Do you feel guilty?
I see the guilt thing as a gift that other women love to give and I won’t take it. I don’t care how you live your life. Unless you describe yourself as a ‘full-time mummy,’ of course. I mean that’s just ridiculous and offensive. It makes my teeth itch. It suggests you’re on the moral high ground, making fruit kebabs and wearing Cath Kidson. Oh go and ‘do one’ is what I say.
Why do you care about stay-at-home mums?
Oh I’ve seen it all at the school gates – though not at our current school [she adds hastily]. You see the stay-at-home mummies in dreary clothes doing the school run and then drinking coffee and going back and they can’t abide the working mums. And then there is the eco mum with 18 kids and then the mother running the PTA wanting you to make a cake when you just want to give a fiver. They all need to go back to work.
Also, what are they saying – that I am a part-time mummy because I’m not full-time? What am I - a zero-hours mummy? Women should go back to work after maternity leave. Essentially one and two-year-olds don’t need you that much. They are happy - if they are clean and dry and full up and rocking around then happy days.
But what if it’s what they want to do, why can’t they do what suits them?
Because they are so anti-working women. So I’m taking them on for all working mums. If any stay-at-home mum walked in here I know I could take them down because they’d be a lame blathering mess. And anyway, are they an aspirational role model for your children? I think not.
They are just jealous of your interesting life and then they say ridiculous things like, ‘Why have those children if you didn’t want to stay with them?’
So is this a pre-emptive strike because you feel judged?
Yes, a little bit. When I had a go at children’s names that are shocking (Tyler, Chardonnay, etc) I made sure that did the school run the next day. And the truth is that no one ever takes me on to face to face.
What do you think we need to make more women’s working lives work?
It’s completely unrealistic for people to campaign for equality in the Commons or the boardroom when so many women take so much time out for maternity and come back flexi-time. The female pool is much reduced, so of course there are fewer women at the top.
For example, the corporate head of HR is always a bloody woman, and always a notional board member who says things like ‘shall I play mum?’ and pours the tea in meetings. It’s like when you meet a ballsy women in compliance and you know she’s obviously been sidelined. I mean, who wants to do compliance?
Does your work/life balance work for you?
Yes it works for us. We’ve always had a nanny. They always work fulltime. Mark works fulltime in a regular job. Mark or I will do the drop and then the nannies will pick up the end of the day doing tea and so on.
My advice to anyone wanting to be a power mum is that a nanny is the way forward. Even though for five years I handed my whole salary to the nanny. But you have to accept that if you choose children and want to get on. Paying the nanny and earning nothing is the way to go.
Other top tips?
My top tip is to employ a self-employed nanny as I’ve paid two lots of maternity pay to nannies. And that is morally abhorrent. To pay for maternity leave for a nanny, paying for someone to come back to work when they won’t because they have their own baby. And then I had to pay for cover and recruit the cover. The costs are 50% of the time off plus scans and classes. And I’m paying all this money AND having to do pick up. It’s wrong.
What are the solutions?
The American way. Six weeks unpaid leave. I buy into that entirely. Even though I took less leave than that.
I also like hire and fire at will, it’s more robust and rapid and people just deal with shit. HR has damaged women – we’ve legislated ourselves out of the game. Recruiters will tell you that SMEs ask them not to send women, they can’t afford to.
Shouldn’t we be able to combine kids and working life?
No. You need to work like a man.
Who runs the mental family mental tickertape of parties, spelling tests, etc?
Me. Except when I was in CBB I was able to take myself out of that for a month. It was really hard; I couldn’t tell the kids I was doing it, it was too upsetting to know I wouldn’t see them for what I thought was two weeks, but it turned out to be four.
But actually being inside was quite relaxing in many ways. And it was good for me because it gave me the money to focus on the things I want to do. I went in to the house as a national arsehole – the most hated candidate of all times - and came out as a national treasure.
The noise around what I do is pretty epic. That’s quite powerful.
Does it feel powerful?
Kind of. You can give topics a voice. You can make things happen. You can be part of the conversation. It’s exciting.
So, er, you thought CBB was a low-pressure place?
Loooow pressure. Relaxing. I found it fine. My husband told me to find the fun so I did. There was no freedom to do anything but there was freedom from everything.
But in my normal life I have about four fits a night. So I’m on the wait list for the surgery where they operate on your brain while you’re awake. Being the house cut me off from a life and my fits were much better. I don’t know what to think about that… [laughs].
Is there a link between your epilepsy and your outspokenness?
You can’t ask that! [cackles with laughter] No! I think I’m now 40 and fearless. Nothing really frightens me. The world can descend on me and that’s ok. People stop me in the street and say ‘Go on Katie’ and that makes it worth it.
I have a catalogue of police complaints, including a task force that was set up about me. I have a great barrister. You need to remember with calmness that I’ve not actually killed anyone. If you can withstand the pressure of the head of the UN having at go at you, then you have to be a big old bird. And that’s how I see myself. A big old bird.
So is this the right role for you?
Yes, I’ll never go back to a ‘real job’ because TV needs women who are curiously offensive. And only female comedians get near that now. Actually I might consider comedy in the future.
Christine is a contributing editor of MT, owner of www.villas4kids.com and a partner at Jericho Chambers.