An article I wrote will appear in this weekend’s Mail On Sunday in the You magazine. The editor has kindly given me permission to reproduce it here.
LITTLE ENGLAND, BIG HEART
Standing outside the Georgian country house of Sir Rhodes Everest, one could easily mistake it for a museum to the Empire. Two stone-carved English lions stand proudly on guard, a slight look of menace on their lips should one dare to enter without the temerity of good Norman breeding. The motif is reinforced by the motto etched above the entrance dais which reads: Enter Ye Only Of Hearty Angle Stock.
There, directly below, I find the beaming beetroot visage of Sir Rhodes, with a beagle under one arm, and a cricket bat under the other, clad in so much tweed you’d be forgiven for thinking him a good Shire Counties Conservative member. He is a member, but not a Tory one: rather he now nails his purple colours to the UK Independence Party. A purple that matches his alcohol engorged nose.
Sir Rhodes is my MEP, so over tea I ponder something as delicate as the bone china; his attendance record in Brussels.
“The whole bloody thing is rotten to the Tommys. Never going again. Never been.”
That much is true. After his election in 2004, Sir Rhodes refused to take his seat in the European Parliament, though he does still take advantage of the allowed remuneration. With some trepidation, I ask him about these expenses.
“Of course I take their money. How else would I keep myself in roast beef and pornography?” At which point he bellows a raucous and rather infectious laugh, and it’s hard to resist joining in. It dies as abruptly as it was born however, when I ask him why he joined UKIP. With a stern and earnest tone, he explains.
“I want Britain to be for Britons. Our plumbing can be done just as easily with an English wrench as with a Polish one. This country used to mean something to me, and I want it to mean something again. I’m as British as Carol Thatcher.”
Born in Hungary in 1934, Sir Rhodes is the fifth child of Istvan and Anna Szabo, who christened him Benedek. He was bought up by his mother and eldest sister, while his father travelled the country. Istvan was a second generation ironmonger, but was increasingly employed by the state in its nationwide water and sewerage improvement schemes.
Sir Rhodes is reluctant to talk about his father, saying only that his absence was never really noticed. But after the War, Istvan won a major rebuilding contract for his company and soon retired a very wealthy man. It was in the early 1950s that he relocated his family to Derbyshire, purchasing the manor home of the recently deceased Earl.
In his teens. Rhodes as he was now known, developed a keen interest in mechanics and won a national prize for his radical redesign of the manual gearbox. His synchromesh design eliminated the need to double clutch, but the bitterness he still feels about this is palpable. “Leyland pilfered the damn thing. Stuck it in the back of a Maxi and never looked back. Took me ten years, but I damn well set the bastards straight.”
Having no real political affiliation, the young Rhodes joined the Labour Party, sensing their imminent election, and with forceful vigour, and some say underhanded blackmailing shenanigans, he became the youngest ever junior minister, working under the Minister of Technology, Tony Benn.
“I never called him that of course. He spat feathers every time I addressed him. Used to invoke his full title you see. Anthony Neil Wedgewood Benn, 2nd Viscount of Stansgate. Threatened to sack me for that you know, but I had some photos. Never pushed it though. Usually I just called him Wedgie.”
His loathing for his senior colleague is still evident now. “Wedgie was an oaf. Used to talk about the proles like they were royalty, but not once did I see him actually engaging with them. One time, during a select committee hearing, he called on an intern, working class obviously, and used him as a foot stool. The whole Labour party was a flock of bastards, so I got out in 1970.”
And joined the Conservative Party, just in time to take up office in the new Cabinet. As Minister for Health under Edward Heath, he takes great pride in his one notorious act. “I tried to sell the NHS to Libya. Nearly got away with it too, until that jumped up Private, wassisname Gadaffi got cold feet.” He describes the subsequent scandal and his resignation with typical loquacity, “Never could stomach that shower of shites, so off I went.”
Further scandal followed in the early eighties when a servant of his died in a bizarre farming accident. I was reluctant to bring up the subject, but Sir Rhodes put me at ease. “Bring it up by all means. It’s not often one gets the chance to describe the sight of a man’s head being burst by a tractor wheel. Made a delicious noise. Almost wanted to pop her into reverse and have another go.”
The compensation claim all but wiped out the remaining family fortune, but with no children or spouse, Rhodes still had enough left. I asked him why he never married. “Never found a filly fine enough. My rapacious appetite for pornography has skewed my tastes. If such a woman exists as those in the pages of Hustler, I’m yet to meet her. Have you seen my spank mags?”
The Everest Collection is impressive, taking up his entire three storey library. He boasts that he has more publications here than the National Archive, and he blames this for his inability to leave the house until 1993. So what bought him out this self-imposed onanistic seclusion? “Fairly sure I wrung the old seeds dry. Pruned ‘em. Pure and simple.”
You may remember the mid-nineties fad of Testicularclurosis, but you may be less aware of Sir Rhodes involvement in the movement. It was his Foundation that launched the product that caused such furore. Now he freely admits the scant science behind his claims that mixing your own ejaculate with his powder and injecting it intravenously was bogus. “Maybe I got some strange kick out of knowing half the country had an armful of its own man juice.”
But it was a run-in with Sir James Goldsmith’s Referendum Party in 1997 that propelled Sir Rhodes back into the political spotlight. Appearing on Question Time with Peter Sissons, Rhodes accidentally shot a panellist with the blunderbuss he was carrying. He shows no remorse now, and he does not elucidate on the claim I put to him that he bribed the presiding judge at his trial.
So why UKIP, and why now? “Had a night on the sauce at the Groucho, fell flat on my face and bonked the noggin. Woke up with a curious vision. Can’t remember a jot of it now, but before the head cleared, I’d signed up as a candidate.”
Before I leave his museum to Little England, I ask him for his thoughts on the UKIP leader Nigel Farage. “He’s a barrel of balls. There’ll be a coup soon, you mark my words, and it won’t be a bloodless one. At the next party meeting, my guest will be the blunderbuss.”