Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Oh Lord! Deliver Us From The Danczuks!

Karen and Simon Danczuk are Labour’s most colourful couple. She is a selfie-obsessed former councillor, he is an outspoken MP and scourge of establishment paedophiles. Camilla Long puts them in the frame:

KAREN Danczuk actually nekkid? When I arrive at her bungalow in Rochdale, “the most embarrassing wife in Westminster”, as some people describe her, has just stepped out of the shower. She is flipping her mermaid hair and shimmying across her front room in a towel, slipping into the miniest of minidresses preparing for — well, what? The Sydney Mardi Gras? The swimsuit section of a beauty pageant? Slinking up to racers as a podium girl? Actually, just a cricket match, for which Karen apparently requires neon pink pants and lashings of make-up, applied over the course of our conversation. I’ve never interviewed anyone who spends at least a third of the allocated time staring at themselves in a mirror. But then I’ve never interviewed a couple like Karen and Simon Danczuk before.
Once in a blue moon, politics blesses us with a seriously bonkers couple, a pair so comprehensively and wildly up for the lolz that they cannot resist getting tangled up in a sea of silliness and boobs. The Labour MP for Rochdale and his giggly wife are as flash as they are brash, living life in and out of the tabloids and on Twitter. I’m not sure they’re even politicians — more reality-show contestants with rosettes.
I first became aware of backbencher Simon, for example, when he said that voters thought Ed Miliband was a “f****** knob”, just before the election. Miliband was “aloof” and a hypocrite, he thundered, “more of a toff than David Cameron”. He was the only Labour politician to question Miliband at the time. He said Miliband’s stupid tactics were costing him votes on the doorstep, rightly predicting chaos.
Since he arrived in parliament in 2010, Danczuk has gained a reputation for this kind of outburst: he reported Chris Huhne to the police when he read in the papers that the former Lib Dem cabinet minister had asked someone to take his points on their licence. He exposed one of his predecessors in Rochdale, Cyril Smith, as a violent paedophile. He is currently spearheading a campaign against other high-profile alleged paedophiles, including Lord Janner.
So what is he doing with someone as flirty as Karen? It is one of Westminster’s hottest and most puzzling questions. She is — although my research is not entirely exhausted — the first MP’s wife to openly make a living out of posting pictures of her breasts on the internet, snapping endless suggestive pictures while out campaigning and “volunteering” during the election — bending over, say, a car, while three firemen help her wash it (“thanks for washing my beast”); also drinking champagne naked in the bath and juicing both of them up with suntanning oil by a pool on holiday in Spain.
He is definitely thrilled to be her husband, but can she do something as mature as love?  Surfing Karen’s selfies on Twitter is the least political experience I have ever had — the 32-year-old has recently been selling prints of the signed and “scented” selfies for £10 each on eBay, apparently putting the proceeds towards a white Range Rover.
The 4x4 dwarfs their modest bungalow, a constant hulking reminder that the loidy of the house is “famous for her breast pictures”. Inside, parliament’s Queen of Selfies twirls vacantly and takes pictures with her two sons, Milton, 7, and Maurice, 5 (Simon has another two children with his first wife, Sonia). I have never met a family so chaotic. (During the interview she cries and then Simon cries, both swear and loudly slag other people off and everyone behaves as if this is a perfectly normal Sunday morning.)
Karen was, until recently, a quiet Labour wife, a shy local councillor, who met her future husband as a volunteer at Rochdale Labour Club while he was still married, about 10 years ago. Karen, then a compliance officer, would go to the club after work to hang out. She became Simon’s assistant, eventually rising to councillor, before marrying him. (Sonia divorced Simon in 2010 on grounds of adultery.)
Only last summer she suddenly decided to ditch everything — she won’t be a councillor again. “I’ve got the T-shirt, it’s a ticked box,” she says — in order to concentrate full time on her boobs, or “ding-dongs” as she calls them, hiring a shiny London PR to cook up an endless supply of tabloid stories and help her attract 50,000 followers on Twitter.
She now takes selfies constantly. Does she feel the pictures don’t actually exist if she doesn’t show her honkers? She claims “there’s not that many [pictures] that show boobs”, but after a forensic search I can confirm they amount to at least three-quarters of her postings. And what does Simon, 48, make of her pictures? “I do get asked,” he says, snugly sipping a brew on the sofa in the sitting room, as Karen crosses and uncrosses her knickers like a contestant on Blind Date, “what attracted me to the 36DD Karen Danczuk?” (Sometimes when he tells this story, the figure is as high as a bra-churning 34E.) He gives a roar of laughter. She gives a roar of laughter. “My personality!” she squeaks.
Grin up north: Simon and Karen discover the “portrait” — it’s a bit like a selfie, but no iPhone (Steve Morgan)Do they ever have time for politics, I wonder? Simon spends much of his time defending Karen on Twitter, attacked by “feminists!” and “Labour people!” telling him to tell her to “rein it in”. He has endless “rude remarks. You know, ‘he’s punching above his weight’.”
“This perception that Simon’s got loads and loads of money and he’s my sugar daddy,” gobbles Karen. “Well actually, we didn’t back then. We lived in a two-up, two-down terrace on an estate.”
“We’re a team,” nods Simon.
But it is true that Simon’s otherwise successful career as an MP is in danger of being drowned by a tide of sportswear and nipples. He even suffered his own porn shame when his phone — he claims accidentally — started favouriting explicit material on Twitter a few months ago (he blamed a faulty phone charger). He may have spent the past four years unearthing the true horrors inflicted on “dozens upon dozens” of children by his predecessor in Rochdale, Cyril Smith, but in the face of Karen’s high spirits he, too, seems to have gone a bit Joey Essex. Even today he struggles to maintain a line of rational argument over Karen, who takes five, six, seven selfies. (I’m afraid two are with me.)
He knew Labour was heading for trouble, he explains, when he’d been out knocking on doors during the election, so he wasn’t “completely shocked by the result”. What shocks him now are the problems facing the party, terrible months of bloodletting in which everyone will blame the unions, or as Karen howls, “the London elite”. It is inevitable that the party “has to change a heck of a lot”, he says. “People need to accept we got it wholly and completely wrong.”
At one point he was intending to stand for deputy leader, but couldn’t get the votes (“Too early”, he says). He is now backing Liz Kendall for leader, a politician who, like him, is to the right of the party and interested in business, rather than the “wishy-washy” leftism that has not worked, says Karen. “You’ve got to appeal to everyone, haven’t you?”
Neither of them is afraid to admit they like making and spending money. People should listen to businessmen “because they’re successful,” shrugs Simon. “It’s not like the mill owners saying you’ve got to vote in a certain way.” No one should listen to someone like Russell Brand — a “disgrace” and a “pillock”, says Simon — who performed a misguided interview with Miliband. “And then they roll out that bloody whatsisname… who was it?” He means Eddie Izzard. “I don’t really know who Eddie Izzard is,” says Karen.
No one in Rochdale does. Looking around, the Danczuks’ house could not be less glitzy, with its pen on the walls, flimsy doors and plywood fittings, barely any possessions apart from a huge bank of DVDs and political books like Brown at 10 and other self-help manuals. Karen, who grew up six miles away in Middleton, comes from a family so poor her mother has never left England. “Never been on an aeroplane,” she says. “Never worked in her life. Just had loads of kids.” Her sister “has never been to Spain. She’s never gone to a restaurant on her own. She went to a pub not long ago, like Christmas Day. But she can’t order food. She doesn’t have the social skills.”
Even Karen struggles: she had only been to London “three times” before Simon became an MP. She recently ate in a pub on her own, and it “didn’t faze me”. “You’ve grown in confidence,” nods Simon. I am quite shocked, and touched, when she tells me that before she gave birth to her sons, she had no idea she needed to go to the doctor or about pre-natal classes. She just turned up at the hospital like a dairy cow waiting to be milked.
Simon himself grew up with “quite literally holes in my shoes”, leaving school at 16 with no qualifications. His English father was adopted by Ukrainians after the war. Apparently there are lots of Ukrainians in Burnley and Rochdale; the name is pronounced Dan-shook. Simon followed the classic factory-night school-government officer trajectory of the Labour MP. He began as a worker making gas fires, before studying for a degree from Lancaster University, then becoming a public-affairs consultant and then an MP.
He got further “brownie points” a year or so after his election, after he made a speech in parliament following the grooming scandal in Rochdale. Everyone told him to shut up about the sex-trafficking operation, which, in 2012, saw nine Asian men convicted of offences against at least 47 white girls. “Many said, don’t mention ethnicity,” he says. Even his neighbouring MP, Jim Dobbin, now deceased, told him: “Don’t talk about race. You know, we don’t do it like that.”
But Danczuk ignored him. He made a speech about Rochdale and felt he had to mention Cyril Smith. “And that kicked everything off.”  The Liberals around Rochdale were furious. “ ‘You mentioning Smith, how dare you?  You’re a disgrace.’ Blah, blah, blah. But then many more victims and police officers came forward.”  By 2014, Danczuk had enough material to publish a well-received book revealing the extent of Smith’s terrible crimes.  The cover-up, he later said, “reached from Rochdale all the way to the very top of the establishment”.
Indeed: a few months after the book came out, three senior police officers from Leicestershire police asked to come and see him.  The policemen wanted to know if Smith had ever been connected to Lord Janner, a former Labour politician also accused of terrible crimes in children’s homes and more. They wanted to know the “political fallout” of arresting someone like Janner.  During the meeting they told him about the allegations against the peer, “which were, you know…”  His eyes fill with tears. “I get upset about this stuff.” “Do you want a hanky?” says Karen.
Simon goes outside with the hanky. When he comes back, he says the allegations against Janner are “much worse” than Smith.  He claims that both Janner and Smith came as a bit of a surprise — he had never really been interested in child abuse, but somehow he arrived in Rochdale, “and then, out of all the families I could have married into,” laughs Simon.
Because the most dreadful part of the entire Danczuk saga is Karen’s claim that she is a victim of abuse herself.  Last February, she said she was raped and sexually abused “hundreds of times” by someone close to her family as a child.  A few weeks later, her brother was arrested for abusing her between the ages of six and 11 (he is five years older).
Her mother has dismissed the allegations as “bullshit”, saying that Karen is an “attention-seeker” and a fantasist. Her brother said he felt like he was in some kind of X-Factor soap opera in which Karen is using the abuse allegations for column inches. Karen claims that, as a professional sex object, “mixing yourself up with child abuse is not naturally what you’d do to make yourself famous”.
She nevertheless also says that taking selfies is her way of medicating the pain: “I can’t remember which newspaper it was,” she says, “[but] I said I do selfies to cope with my past life.”  Her mother, she adds, is bitter and jealous.  “I am the only one of the five of [her children] who has succeeded in life.”
As a little girl she was “ugly and skinny with massive teeth”.  “Scary,” nods Simon.  “So if someone says, ‘Karen, don’t do selfies,’ ” she adds, “I rebel. I’m going to do it twice as much. That little kid who wouldn’t say boo to a goose — she’s captured Twitter by storm. I just think it’s overwhelming. Like, woo! So that other night we were in the Great Hall [for the election], it was like, oh my God, you deserved to win…”  She’s crying now. “I’m filling up… When I tweet something I get all these replies, like ‘Oh my gosh, Karen, you’re absolutely gorgeous.’ ”
I don’t know what to make of it all: the troubled family background or the survival via tweeting, the endless jiggly stories of how Tristram Hunt begged for a photo or how she once got in a lift with Miliband, pressed her boobs on him and poor Ed “didn’t know where to look”.  Simon worries about not using Twitter enough, not using it right; Karen is simply unable to stop talking about it or indeed anything, including Simon’s ex-wife, Sonia, bringing the total number of people in their immediate family that Karen and Simon aren’t speaking to up to nearly everyone (including, sadly, Simon’s other children).
Sonia, snaps Karen, “is an irrelevance. That’s why we don’t speak about her. Obviously you need to report he’s married, but I mean I would ask…”
She sighs. “But we had the drugs thing not that long ago that came out of nowhere.” 
What drugs thing?  Suddenly I realise: their tabloid reality is moving way faster than mine.  The last time I had this, I was interviewing Katie Price, who had recently been dumped by someone and was determined to leak the name of her new target.  I sat in her white Range Rover, desperately guessing, like the audience on Jeremy Kyle.  But there is no such fan dance with Karen.  She comes straight out with the truth.
“She told this story, yeah,” she rasps, “that Simon used to take drugs.”
“I did take drugs,” interjects Simon. Cripes. “Ecstasy once or twice. And that’s what’s in the piece.” I look it up:  “Boob Pics MP: I took Ecstasy”.  Simon would smoke dope and go out clubbing with his wife in Manchester.
“Yeah,” says Karen. “In your twenties. But you’re approaching 50 now, and as David Cameron says, who hasn’t done it?”
I’m not sure this is what David Cameron does say, but who cares when there are photoshoots and appearances on Loose Women to be done?  Karen has a fervent tabloid imagination:  “Like, right now we’re sat here,” she breathes, “and this is how I always think: some poor kid is being raped.” Nothing is too grim, too awful, too terrible, too thrillingly dingy. It is the Monty Python northerners sketch, but with tits.
What next for the Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe of Rochdale?  Simon says politics inevitably puts “a strain” on wives “or husbands”.  He is determined to continue his work as a paedophile hunter.  Karen has not entirely abandoned politics, or at least, is currently an outside bet to become the Boris of the north in Manchester’s mayoral elections in November.
As I leave, I take a selfie with her in the mirror.  She is curiously timid when the camera snaps on, delicate and peering.  I look at her little eyes, like a sexy woodland vole’s.  What does she think when she looks in the mirror?  “I don’t know.”
She turns to Simon. “I don’t think anything, do I?”

As reported in the SUNDAY TIMES MAGAZINE.

No comments: