Having achieved his political ambition of a Brexit vote, Nigel Farage will leave the UK Independence Party (UKIP) that he co-founded in 1993 in a precarious position when he hands over the reins tomorrow (16 September).
Britain’s departure from the European Union had been the 52-year-old former trader’s dream ever since setting up the party after leaving the Conservatives in 1992 following the signing of the Maastricht Treaty, which deepened European integration.
“Everything I’ve done in politics revolves around the referendum, absolutely everything,” he told AFP during the campaign.
Farage spent the last 24 years undermining European institutions and mocking its leading lights, a mission that culminated with the June 23 vote that saw Britain vote to leave the EU.
He announced his decision to step down as party leader – a position he has held almost uninterruptedly since 2006 – a week later, explaining that “my political ambition has been achieved.”
Farage was born in 1964 to an affluent family in Kent, southeast England. His father was a stockbroker and an alcoholic and his parents divorced when he was five.
He was educated at one of England’s top private schools, Dulwich College in London, before becoming a commodities trader.
Farage’s first brush with death came in 1985 when he was hit by a car after a night out, suffered serious head and leg injuries and had a cancerous testicle removed months later.
Once recovered, he married his nurse, and the couple had two sons. Following their divorce in 1997, Farage married second wife Kirsten Mehr, a German, with whom he has two daughters.
His most recent scare came in May 2010 when a light aircraft in which he was campaigning on election day crashed on take-off after a banner got caught in a propeller, but he escaped with broken bones and a punctured lung.
Farage’s political destiny was cast with the co-founding of UKIP in 1993, and with his election to the European Parliament in 1999, aged 35.
He became UKIP’s leader in 2006 before standing down in 2009 and then being re-elected the following year, stamping his charisma and anti-establishment humour on the party as it soared in popularity.
With the party’s image and Farage becoming intertwined, and with the Brexit vote achieved, UKIP now faces a vacuum of leadership and identity.
Despite his high profile, Farage failed in six bids to become an MP in Britain’s parliament, dogged by accusations he was an ill-tempered populist who appealed to racists.
Failure to win election to the House of Commons allowed Farage to spend more time behind enemy lines in the European Parliament, railing against the “corrupt” and “undemocratic” EU.
‘Smokes and drinks too much’
Much of Farage’s appeal lies with his “everyman” image, the result of many hours spent swilling pints of ale down the pub, cigarette in hand.
Voted “Briton of 2014” by the Times as UKIP swept the board in European Parliament elections, Farage maintained a high-profile before the referendum, but he was kept out of the official campaign, which feared his brand was too divisive.
Only Boris Johnson in the official “Leave” campaign was able to command such media attention, while Farage hammered away at the issue of immigration, a cause of concern to more moderate Brexit supporters.
Criticism peaked when he unveiled a poster of refugees under the phrase “Breaking Point”.
The Brexit vote helped vindicate some of Farage’s methods, but they came at a price.
“He smokes and he drinks too much,” his wife complained.
“During the referendum I said I wanted my country back … now I want my life back.” Farage said in his resignation speech.
Although withdrawing from front-line politics, Farage vowed to watch Brexit negotiations “like a hawk”.
He also hinted at another career as an international speaker after addressing a Donald Trump rally in the United States, where he called Brexit a victory for “the little people, for the real people”.