“The baby’s been up all night with a fever,” he explains in his Dundee growl, “I overslept.” He mutters praise for Calpol and asks me to wait on the ground floor of his cavernous home while he freshens up.
Plenty of the firebrand’s fans would be weak-kneed to meet Galloway, 61, in a state of such undress. The father-of-four (including children of eight, four, and 15-month-old Toren, with his fourth wife Gayatri) was nicknamed “Gorgeous George” for his reputation with the ladies, although I gather he’s rather shy on the subject of “exes”.
Anyway, I’m here because the former Respect Party MP for Bradford West is currently polling third in the mayoral race — behind Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith and Labour’s Sadiq Khan — on what sounds like a flamboyant platform, proposing “to run Uber out of town” and “cause conflict with the bankers of the City”.
But then Galloway loves controversy. He declared Bradford “an Israel-free zone” and his campaign against Labour’s Naz Shah (who won by 11,420 votes) in May was so vicious each reported the other’s party to the police. Shah calls him a “Spandex cat” (referencing his appearance on Celebrity Big Brother) while Galloway accused Shah of lying about her marriage, saying she was 16 not 15 when it took place —arguably a minor detail as it was forced. At the time he announced he would challenge the result “with a Section 106 complaint under the Representation of the People Act”, but now claims that he is unable to talk about it because the police are still investigating.
Opponents describe him variously as “vitriolic, misogynist and very dangerous”, and a “gut politician” whose skill at rhetoric is “pure proletarian poetry”. But he also has a loyal fanbase.
A wall of his political heroes eye me up in his hall: Che Guevara, Fidel Castro, Ho Chi Minh; a bad portrait of Yasser Arafat hangs next to Winston Churchill. There’s a bust of Lenin.
A housekeeper lets herself in and makes me a cup of tea. Then Galloway is back — fedora on — rubbing his hands. He’s “always fancied the job of mayor”, he says. “I’m not going to get votes that would otherwise go to Zac Goldsmith. So it’s me verses Sadiq Khan for the Centre-Left vote.” He gets stuck into Khan, a “flip-flop merchant” and “product of the Blairite machine” who is “not the Zeitgeist”, but an “unprincipled, speak-your-weight machine” politician who “went into what can only be described as a swoon over kissing the Queen’s hand”.
Khan held the Koran “in his left hand” at their meeting (symbolically unclean, because it is traditionally reserved for bum-wiping) “which wasn’t missed by people who care about these things”.
He says Khan held the Koran “in his left hand” at their meeting (symbolically unclean, because it is traditionally reserved for bum-wiping) “which wasn’t missed by people who care about these things”
He’s outraged at Khan’s “brutal” criticism of Jeremy Corbyn in recent interviews: “And I know that it hasn’t been popular of Corbyn’s circle,” he adds. “He called their economic policy not just ‘rubbish’ but ‘ridiculous’ and accused John McDonnell [the shadow chancellor] and Corbyn of condoning terrorism in London. You can’t get a more serious charge from a mayoral candidate of his own leader than that.”
All this opens “a huge swathe of voters to me. Millions do not regard Palestinians as terrorists, or Corbyn’s stand on Ireland as encouraging terrorism, or Corbyn’s economic policy as ridiculous. And millions are not much into swooning in front of the Queen holding the Koran in your left hand. This man is beatable. And if I come ahead of him I can win because many of his voters will put me as their second preference.”
Galloway and Corbyn are old comrades. Forty years ago they were protégés of the late Tony Benn, “our political father. We sat next to each other for most of those years. He’s not a laugh-a-minute,” he says of Corbyn. “He’s a serious, earnest guy. But very lovable.”
There’s talk that Galloway would like to re-enter the Labour fold — he was expelled in 2003 for “bringing the party into disrepute” over his opposition to the Iraq war. Has he spoken to Corbyn? “I wouldn’t go public with what my communication has been with him,” he says, “but we’re in touch through others. I’ve no doubt my point of view is heard.”
One gripe is Corbyn’s appearance. “If I were dressing him he’d be a lot smarter,” Galloway says. “He’s scrubbed up a bit but the shorts were a fashion error.”
Clothes are important. “I try to look my best, notwithstanding this difficult early-morning start. My father was a factory worker but never went out not looking his best. People should put their best foot forward.”
Galloway spends a fortune on vintage clothes, buying from shops such as Victory in Whiteleys and Rokit in Covent Garden. The other day “an Arab admirer, a Saudi woman living in Holland Park” offered him £3,000 for his “trademark” fedora. He’s even bought the lease on his own vintage shop near Portobello (“which will open sometime” but is “a sore point” with his missus “because she didn’t want to”).
Zac Goldsmith dresses extremely well too,” he cackles, “and he’s very handsome and elegantly turned out, so we will be a fashion item in the election.”
He boasts about his eclectic political circle — friendships have included “Sir Peter Tapsell, the ex-[Tory] Father of the House — he was like a father to me. David Davis is like a brother and I’m very friendly with Andrew Mitchell.”
I didn’t expect him to be living like Gandhi exactly but his north London home is plush, with architectural glass doors and floating staircase. It’s rented from Willa Keswick, scion of the banking dynasty worth £1.75 billion, and I question whether this chimes with his view that bankers are evil “sharks” involved in “grand larceny”. He laughs: “Willa is a lovely girl despite being a socialite.”
Actually the whole set up is weirdly west London for a Marxist who spent years in Blackheath and Streatham protesting against the elite — and says he will stand in the Tooting parliamentary by-election if its MP Sadiq Khan wins the mayoral election. There’s a vintage Mercedes on the drive and two more cars in the road (“because with four young grandchildren we move around as 10. We’re a ‘table for 10, please’”).
He’s a regular at Soho House-owned Pizza East and a member of the Groucho Club. “I have been for 25 years — politicians were not technically allowed but Nigella Lawson and her late husband John Diamond were friends and as membership secretaries swung it for me I was the only politician there — probably still am”.
If his forthcoming film — The Killing of Tony Blair — makes money he hopes to buy a house in Camden, “a lovely area”.
“I don’t live a sackcloth and ashes life,” he says. “If you come from my background you appreciate nice things because you never had them. But I work for them.”