Who is Nigel Farage? The divisive figure whose party is stealing votes from the Tories

Nigel Farage has been a fixture of British politics for almost three decades, despite never being elected to Parliament. Here's everything you need to know about the man who says he wants to take over the Tories.

Britain's Reform UK Party Leader Nigel Farage speaks at a campaign event in Clacton-on-Sea, Britain, June 18, 2024. REUTERS/Isabel Infantes
Reform UK party leader Nigel Farage speaks at a campaign event in Clacton-on-Sea, Essex, where he hopes to win his first parliamentary seat. (Reuters)

Nigel Farage has been a fixture of British politics for almost three decades, agitating over Europe and causing dissent within the Conservative Party. He played a significant role in Britain leaving the EU – something will continue to have major ramifications for years to come – yet he’s only ever sat as an MP in the European parliament.

He led the UK Independence Party (Ukip) for two decades until 2016, before forming the Brexit Party and later Reform UK.

Now he's leading Reform and standing for election in the right-leaning seat of Clacton in Essex. But is he starting a revolution, as he claims? Here's all you need to know about the most influential man who has never yet been elected to Westminster.

Farage was born in 1964 in Farnborough, a small village on the outskirts of south-east London near Kent, where he grew up alongside his younger brother Andrew in a wealthy family.

According to a BBC documentary his father – an alcoholic who lost his role in the City as a stockbroker – left the family home when he was five years old.

Two years later he got sober and found employment in the antiques trade. As a young boy, Farage was educated at the independent Greenhayes School for Boys in West Wickham.

Farage is currently in a relationship with Lauré Ferrari, a hard-right French politician who is more than 15 years his junior, though he has been married twice before.

His first marriage to Grainne Hayes, a lecturer in exercise physiology, lasted from 1988 to 1997 with the couple having two sons, Thomas and Samuel. He then married German-born Kirsten Mehr, his former secretary, in 1999. The pair had two daughters, Victoria and Isabelle, but Farage faced accusations of infidelity and by 2017 the couple were understood to be living separate lives.

All four of his children are known to be very private. Isabelle, who is just 19 years old and on a gap year, flew out to Australia to meet him when he left the bush camp for the reality TV show I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here last year.

Leader of Reform UK Nigel Farage wearing a 1996 England football shirt joins England football fans watching a live broadcast of the UEFA Euro 2024 Group C football match between Denmark and England at The Armfield Club in Blackpool, northwestern England, on June 20, 2024, in the build-up to the UK general election on July 4.
Nigel Farage has been married twice and has four children. (Reuters)

Farage is the son of Barbara and Guy Justus Oscar Farage. After his father gave up alcohol he was able to return to his career in the City, trading on the London Stock Exchange floor from the mid-1970s.

His grandfather, Harry Farage, was a private who was wounded in action during the First World War. He is descended from German immigrants who arrived in London from Frankfurt in the 1860s.

As a teenager, Farage attended the elite south London independent school for boys, Dulwich College. He joined the Conservative Party while still at school after being inspired by a visit from former Tory minister Keith Joseph.

But his early engagement in right-wing politics also courted controversy. In Michael Crick’s biography of Farage, One Party After Another, former student David Edmonds, his classmate when he was 15, described him as a “deeply unembarrassed racist”.

In 1981, Chloe Deakin, an English teacher at the school, wrote to the headmaster of Dulwich College, David Emms, to urge him not to make Farage a prefect, fearing he held “fascist” views – a claim that Farage later rejected.

According to Crick, the letter describes a colleague talking about Farage’s “publicly professed racist and neo-fascist views”. It goes on to claim that, at a Combined Cadet Force camp organised by the college, Farage and others “marched through a quiet Sussex village very late at night shouting Hitler-youth songs.”

Confronted by these claims in 2013, Farage said: “Of course I said some ridiculous things” but insisted they were “not necessarily racist” adding it “depends how you define it”. He denied even knowing the words to Hitler youth songs, describing the claim as “complete baloney”.

Others spoken to by Crick said Farage would have been joking and being deliberately provocative. Farage’s own memoir, Fighting Bull, claims teachers were hostile to him because he was an admirer of Enoch Powell, the controversial anti-immigration Conservative politician. Nevertheless, he was appointed prefect by the head.

At 18, Farage shunned a university education in favour of entering the City as a commodities trader.

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In announcing his candidacy in this election and taking over leadership of his Reform party from former incumbent Richard Tice, Farage said that this general election should be “the immigration election”.

In a social media post aimed at attacking the Conservative record on immigration, he claimed that the 50,000th migrant had crossed the English Channel in a small boat under Rishi Sunak’s leadership. He has previously stated that the arrival of migrants from France on small boats “should be declared a national emergency”.

Reform wants to achieve “net zero” immigration, and Farage has blamed immigration for rising rents, heavy traffic, the strain on social housing and long hospital waiting lists.

His manifesto states that Reform would freeze all non-essential migration, allowing entry only to those who have “essential skills, mainly around healthcare”. However, his comments have caused anger after he claimed there were streets in the city of Oldham where nobody speaks English.

Leader of Reform UK Nigel Farage stands in front of a van reading
Nigel Farage aims to bring down net migration. (Getty)

Unique among the party leaders, Farage does not support a National Health Service funded solely through taxation. He has said the “model through which we fund health is wrong” and has called for a social health insurance scheme similar to that already used in France.

He said: “It’s been very, very difficult to have any conversation about the NHS over the course of the 25 years that I’ve been in politics without someone pointing and screaming 'you want to privatise it. All we want is an NHS that is free at the point of the delivery that actually works. And how we get there, frankly, I don’t think most people could give a damn about.”

The party’s manifesto promises to give patients a voucher to see a private GP if they’re left waiting more than three days to see their family doctor on the NHS.

Despite being Brexit’s primary agitator for more than two decades and pushing former Tory PM David Cameron to call the Brexit referendum in 2016, Farage has since declared “Brexit has failed”.

“We’ve not delivered on Brexit and the Tories have let us down very, very badly,” he said.

Farage has attacked the government for failing to bring any economic benefits to the country by departing the EU. Rather than admitting Brexit might have been a mistake, he said “useless” Tory politicians were responsible for “mismanaging” the process of leaving the EU.

Arguing with Remain voters while appearing on TV show I’m a Celebrity…, Farage said Brexit had given the UK the freedom to “make a mess of it ourselves”.

His attacks on the Conservative Party have even extended to his claim that he wants to take over the party after the election.

Nigel Farage arrives at Heathrow Airport, London, after taking part in the ITV series I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here! in Australia. Picture date: Wednesday December 13, 2023.
Nigel Farage arrives back at Heathrow Airport after taking part in I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here! in Australia. (Alamy)

Despite achieving rapid success in the polls since announcing his return to UK politics, Farage hit a pothole in the road after he claimed that Western nations and Nato were responsible for the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“We provoked this war … he's used what we've done as an excuse,” he wrote in a newspaper article. “Don't blame me for telling the truth.”

He added: “It was obvious to me that the ever-eastward expansion of Nato and the European Union was giving this man [Vladimir Putin] a reason to go to his Russian people to say, 'They're coming for us again' and to go to war…. I saw it coming a decade ago, warned that it was coming and am one of the few political figures who has been consistently right and honest about Russia's Ukraine war.”

His comments were met with outrage from voters and other parties. Sunak accused him of “appeasement” of Putin and described him as “dangerous for Britain’s security”.

Farage has long questioned the basis of climate science and argues that the push for net zero by 2050 is bad for the British economy. In an interview with the magazine Spiked, he said that the growth of wind energy as a clean source of power was the “biggest collective economic insanity I’ve seen in my entire life”.

He has argued that the case that fossil fuels are a diminishing resource is “based on a fallacy” and that there is no need to change the way we live to become more ecologically sustainable.

“We are a nation that produces 1.8 per cent of global carbon dioxide, so I do not get closing down our aluminium smelters, most of our steel production, and now our refining industry, and all that production being moved to India, and therefore the steel-based products made in India then having to be shipped back to Britain! This to me makes no sense at all,” Farage said.

The Reform manifesto pledges to axe the 2050 net zero target altogether.