Has Katie Hopkins' defection to Mail Online given 'Britain's Biggest Bitch' her biggest stage yet?
Timing, as the old comedians' mantra goes, is everything. Well, Katie Hopkins is nothing if not the mistress of self-promotional timing in pursuit of living up to her self-confessed boast of being 'the biggest bitch in Britain'.
The ink was hardly dry on her new contract with Mail Online after quitting (or being fired) from her column on the Sun than the compulsive or cynical (take your pick, or maybe she's both) controversialist than she pulled off the considerable feat of wrong-footing, upstaging and embarrassing Nigel Farage.
Booked to appear at a fringe event at the UKIP party conference on Friday---the day of her last Sun column--Ms Controversy opined that she 'wouldn't mind if the House of Lords was locked up and gassed.' Now, like me, you don't have to be a huge fan of the Lords to recoil somewhat from the idea of such a Hitleresque final solution to the problem of our Upper House.
But hardly had La Hopkins offered her opinion on the Lords than she was off again, this time telling ITV political correspondent Paul Brand that she thought the harrowing photo of tragic Syrian refugee 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi washed up in his T-shirt and shorts and trainers on a Turkish beach was 'staged'. No matter that the photo had moved millions to tears and arguably sparked politicians to rethink their approach to the refugee crisis, Katie Hopkins was pushing the idea that it somehow wasn't genuine.
Maybe that shouldn't come as a big surprise, given Hopkins infamous Sun column description of fleeing boat people as 'cockroaches'--a sentiment that triggered massive online debate, a condemnation by the United Nations and a petition calling on the Sun's previous editor to sack her, plus a petition signed by over 50,000 people championing the idea of 'swapping Katie Hopkins' for 50,000 Syrian war refugees.
Even Nigel Farage, pressed by interviewers to comment on his guest speaker's viewpoint, seemed momentarily at a loss for words before saying rather lamely: 'I doubt it, but I don't know'. Still, Nigel, whoever booked Katie as a guest speaker presumably did it in the hope that she'd garner publicity and her remarks certainly generated more broadcast news coverage than the opening day of UKIP's jamboree might otherwise have expected.
Meanwhile a certain degree of controversy surrounded the background to former Apprentice and Celebrity Big Brother contestant Hopkins' switch from the Sun to Mail Online.
According to Hopkins herself she'd quit the Sun for Mail Online to boost her career, insisting: 'I can now write columns that immediately respond to the news of the day. I've been tremendously impressed with Mail Online's digital footprint and I look forward to adding my voice to their ever-growing audience'.
And Mail Online's editor in chief Martin Clarke, who not so long ago added another controversial media figure in Piers Morgan to his online stable of commentators, was crowing about his 'coup, declaring: 'At Mail Online we operate without fear or favour and this is something that Katie is known the world over for. Even if you don't agree with what she says, she knows how to engage and entertain an audience'.
Whether or not, 'entertain' is quite the right word for the Hopkins style, Martin, is open to semantic dispute, but the strategy is clear enough. If nothing else Big Mouth Katie, love her or loathe her, ignites social media like an out of control forest fire and it's a fair bet that her 600,000 Twitter followers probably includes as many loathers as lovers.
Significantly, however, Hopkins deal with Mail Online won't extend to a column in the Daily Mail itself, where editor in chief Paul Dacre is believed to view her as 'unsuited' to the print flagship title's reader profile.
Over at News UK's Baby Shard HQ, however, there didn't seem to be too many tears being shed over Katie Hopkins 'defection'. Indeed it was being suggested that her contract--which expired this weekend anyway--wasn't about to be renewed by new editor Tony Gallagher, freshly-arrived from his role as deputy editor of the Daily Mail. Indeed I was with Tony Gallagher at an event a couple of days ago, just before the news of Hopkins 'departure became official, and got the distinct impression he wasn't her Numero Uno fan.
Some media commentators were interpreting Hopkins switch as a blow to Gallagher and reinstalled CEO Rebekah Brooks, but my hunch is that she no longer fitted in the long-term target of the Gallagher/Brooks gameplan. Otherwise I fancy Rupert Murdoch's deep pockets would have been sought out to hang onto her.
That said, it still represents a gamble for News UK. With the Sun still in the early stages of its strategy switch of opening up its website rather than keeping it strictly behind a paywall, Gallagher and Brooks have a mountain to climb, with average daily user figures under 1.5m compared to Mail Online's 230million monthly unique users globally and almost 14million daily visitors on average. The Sun's strict paywall strategy has also left it trailing well behind arch-rival the Mirror Group's online audience.
To that extent, the question of how many of Hopkins 600,000 Twitter followers actually followed her online in the Sun and might defect is an intriguing one. But the gamble that the Sun's 'loss' is NOT going to prove Mail Online's big gain is clearly one Tony Gallagher and Rebekah Brooks have been prepared to take. And I have a (cautious) hunch that they may turn out to be right.
Meanwhile Katie Hopkins, ever uber-ambitious, equally clearly believes that the Mail Online might prove her passport to major success in cracking the all-important American market, given Mail Online's big following stateside. It's believed that she's disappointed with the ratings for her show, 'Katie Hopkins Ruled the World' on Discovery Channel's TLC channel in the UK which is only pulling in around 300,000 viewers despite a hefty promotional spend.
And for those who have forgotten here are just a few reminders of Katie Hopkins controversy-generating highlights or lowlights, depending on your viewpoint:
ON Obesity: Would I employ you if you were obese? No I would not. To call yourself plus-size is just a euphemism for being fat.
On Motherhood: Nothing makes my buttocks clench tighter and my teeth itch more than 'full time mummy'. Full time mummy is not a job title. It's a biological status.
On Publicly Breastfeeding: Mammary militia breastfeeding en masse in Costa. Puts one off their latte.
On Feminism: Women don't want equal treatment, they couldn't handle it if they got it. It's a tough world out there. What lot of women are actually looking for is special treatment. What women have to realise is that they have to toughen up.
On Children's Names: A name, for me, is a short way of working out what class that child comes from. Do I want my child to play with them? Hi, this is my daughter Charmaine. I hear 'Hi, I am thick and ignorant.'
On Addiction: It's a behaviour. Gazza likes drinking, let him crack on. He's enjoying himself. What's the obsession with treating things in this country.
On Ebola: Glaswegian ebola patient moved to London's Royal Free Hospital. Sending us ebola bormbs in the form of sweaty Glaswegians just isn't cricket. (the fact that the Glaswegian ebola patient was a British nurse who'd been volunteering in Africa didn't seem to bother Hopkins).
Paul Connew is a former editor of the Sunday Mirror and deputy editor Daily Mirror, now a PR/Media consultant and commentator.