Steph and Dom are the posh-sounding, drunk couple from Gogglebox – the surprise hit programme where people are recorded sitting on sofas giving a running commentary on the TV shows they are watching.
If they had been reviewing Steph And Dom Meet Nigel Farage, I like to think, they’d have been very rude. ‘What a right pair of slippery tossers,’ they would have yelled, chucking canapes at the incredibly bad mannered, disturbingly callous pair of smug hypocrites on the screen. ‘Leave the poor sod alone. He’s supposed to be your guest.’
All right, so the poor sod can take it. He’s Nigel Farage – taking it is what he does. But I still felt rather sorry for him, the way he was stitched up like a kipper on what he must have thought would be an agreeable, booze-filled romp with basically like-minded chums. They weren’t though. They were snakes in the grass.
The couple run Britain’s grandest B & B – a vast Lutyens/Jekyll pile in Sandwich, Kent called The Salutation. They’re clearly brilliantly successful at what they do and I bet that they’re the most delightful hosts. Which made it all wrong, somehow, that their job on this show was to mix hospitality with inquisition. It made for uncomfortable viewing because you were never quite sure how to respond: was this car-crash TV you were supposed to be watching or just light-hearted jolly japes?
Farage, clearly, was similarly confused. On the one hand, he obviously liked the idea of encountering perhaps the only two people on earth with a bigger appetite for booze than he has. On the other, he was clearly thrown by their weird behaviour.
There was one scene, for example, where Steph threw a fit because Dom had taken Nige down to the boozer for a sharpener or three before dinner and they came back quite well oiled. (Which she must have known about well in advance because these TV reality docs are planned almost to the frame). Farage looked sheepish as she bollocked both him and Dom, which I thought was simply not on. Bloody rude in fact. You do NOT drag guests that you’ve barely met into your pervy marital head games.
But they did. At times they were like sinister giggling children in some sub-Henry James horror story, plotting by the grand staircase how best to make their guest look more ridiculous, while deluding themselves that this was all rather delightful, harmless fun. When Farage tripped down some steps and spilt champagne all over his pressed Farah-style trousers, for example, they gleefully whipped them off and offered the silliest replacements they could find in Dom’s wardrobe: ripped, faded Bros-style jeans; tartan trews; leathers.
Mind you, this did provide the programme’s single worthwhile insight: that our Nige, au fond, is not a very sophisticated type. He dresses like the golf club secretary because that’s basically where he’s coming from. He likes a smoke and a pint, likes fishing. But what he definitely doesn’t do is metropolitan trendy or Oxbridge louche or uber-country-smart-set feral craziness. There is – whisper it – a touch of the Pooter about him.
This though, I suspect (and hope) will have won him more sympathy from his audience than it lost him. Almost throughout, Farage came as well-meaning, good-mannered, decent and honest whereas Steph and Dom could on occasion be boorish. There was a particularly grisly scene where Dom took it upon himself to give Farage the third degree about having put his wife on the MEP payroll. But why wouldn’t you? Everyone does it – it’s sensible – and God knows you need to scrabble compensation where you can for the utterly miserable, thankless lives politicians have to lead. Here was Farage, being disarmingly frank about the immense personal cost of his political career: having to live in a house far cruddier than the one he’d have if he had stayed in the City. And here was this immensely rich couple of luvvie hoteliers sniffing through his account books like the people who come to see if you’re poor enough to deserve a bursary for your kids at public school. Farage, it struck me, was wasted on these brittle show-offs.