SYDNEY — Nigel Farage is good — just ask him.
He is the most popular British politico on social media. He is the only human being in the world who was involved in both the campaign for Brexit and the campaign for Donald Trump. He discovered Matteo Salvini and weaponized YouTube. He stuck two fingers up at The Man and sparked a global revolution. He can teach you all about public speaking, he can drink you under the table, he can get elected (to the European Parliament, not the British one) on nothing more than a wing and a prayer — and a beer and a witty one-liner or two.
These are just some of the things he told the crowd when “An entertaining evening with Nigel Farage” rolled into Australia’s biggest city as part of an Australasia tour.
On a rainy, chilly Thursday, he got hundreds of Aussies to pay between $49 and $1,000 to listen to him talk about Brexit. He whipped the crowd into a “lock her up” chant with the mere mention of Hillary Clinton’s name — two years and 15,000 kilometers away from the U.S. election. He elicited boos by invoking George Soros. He generated applause and full-throated cheering for Viktor Orbán.
“I admire the way he’s committed to Brexit. And he won in the end” — 21-year-old Josh
How did this happen?
Because Nigel loves cricket. Nigel loves his country. Nigel’s stepfather’s uncle came to Australia in 1912 and fought with the ANZACs, and won a Victoria Cross. Nigel’s the real deal, just like his audience (he told us).
For two hours straight, he humblebragged and dropped names — Salvini is his protégé, Trump his “good friend.” For two hours, he recounted his greatest hits from the European Parliament — his Herman Van Rompuy burn, his Brexit gloat — and still left them begging for more.
“He tells it like it is,” one man told me after our “entertaining evening.”
* * *
Things got off to an inauspicious start. A week out, tickets weren’t exactly selling well. Emails from a ticket discount site were dispatched offering 40 percent off. A couple of hours before the event, 11 of the 20 seats for a private dinner (gourmet meal, Champagne, wine and “a free-flowing intimate conversation with Nigel,” all for $1,000) were still up for grabs.
It got worse.
Guests arriving at the International Convention Centre on Thursday evening were met with signs announcing that the event was canceled. Ushers handed out slips of paper saying that due to the organizers “not meeting the terms of the hiring agreement,” the event had been moved to the nearby Dolton House function center.
Word on the street was that only a third of the ICC’s seats were sold, thereby necessitating a move to a “more intimate” venue. A senior ICC staffer told me they’d pulled the plug after the organizers stopped responding to calls and emails. The man behind the event, Australian Penthouse magazine owner Damien Costas, told me the problem was the ICC jacking up prices for security and audiovisual equipment.
* * *
Over the weekend in Perth, dozens of protesters showed up to heckle attendees at Farage’s show.
I asked one of the cops milling around outside whether there’s been any trouble in Sydney. He pointed to a guy holding a slapdash sign handwritten on a sheet of A3 paper. (“$89? You know plenty of people will lie to you for free.”)
“He’s the closest we have to a protester,” the cop said.
Where’s everyone else, I ask the protester, Shaun Stevenson. He told me he was waiting for his girlfriend to come and bolster the resistance.
“It’s a piddling protest for a piddling event,” Stevenson shrugged.
* * *
I spoke with dozens of Aussies who’d traveled from far and wide and forked over serious cash to listen to a member of the European Parliament talk for two hours.
What drew them there?
Anne-Marie told me she’s “over the political suppression” in Australia. She and her husband Roy, both in their 50s, “want freedom.” She got into politics a few years ago, and got into Farage after she bought a cable TV subscription. “I believe in sovereignty for England,” she told me. “I don’t want the EU to make everyone the same. I don’t want one big, boring Europe.” Roy told me he’s sick of the “agenda push towards a more left-leaning ideology. I was very flexible, but when I was dictated to, I became more rigid. I don’t want anyone coming to tell me how to live.”
Geoff, a coal miner, spent much of the day traveling from regional New South Wales to be there. He is concerned that the Paris climate agreement “will destroy us economically.” Australian politicians of all stripes are selling us down the river, he reckons. He wants an alternative to Australia’s two-party politics. He wants to drain the swamp. He wants to take back control. Take back control from whom, I asked. The United Nations, he replied.
“There’s no gutsy politicians in Australia. They’re all sellouts” — Farage supporter
Richard, a locksmith, moved to Australia from London when Britain joined the single market. “It decimated my industry. Overnight I went from earning £140 for callouts to £45,” he told me. Farage “can show us a few red flags, warn us. He’s an honest person who’s got common sense.”
Kelly told me “our politicians have sold us out.” At first, she wouldn’t tell me why she came, but then she revealed she relishes being surrounded by like-minded people for once. “I don’t have that back home. I’m a black sheep.” Her husband is in manufacturing, and risks losing his job because of competition from China. Free-trade agreements are making working-class jobs disappear, she said.
Two cheerful university students, an 18-year-old and a 19-year-old both named Adrian, with baby faces, smart suits and slicked back hair, told me they’re sick of political correctness. “Nigel’s real,” one Adrian said. “There’s no gutsy politicians in Australia. They’re all sellouts,” the other one added.
Things got a bit dicey as I moved through the crowd.
“The truth hurts,” shouted an angry young woman, apropos of nothing. She wouldn’t tell me her name, but she did tell me she traveled eight hours to be there. “The EU is a group of elitists telling people how to live their lives,” she said.
An aggressive bloke behind us heckled me: “What about your boss George Soros? He wants open borders. No borders!”
The young woman nodded. “They don’t care about what happens to the people that can’t protect themselves. They’ll be safe with private security, but they don’t give two shits about us.”
The aggressive bloke muttered about “Clinton and her criminality.” I walked up to him. “As a member of the mainstream media, can I ask you a question?” he asked. Go ahead, I told him. “Why do you hate Donald Trump?”
Inside the function center, I crossed paths with 21-year-old Josh. He was wearing an I Nigel T-shirt. He wouldn’t give me his last name, but he let me take a picture. Why does he love Nigel Farage?
“I came across him on a meme page,” he told me. “Then I started watching his YouTube videos. I admire the way he’s committed to Brexit. And he won in the end.”