Colourful UKIP politician Neil Hamilton tells Hartlepool audience about his rollercoaster life

IMPECCABLY turned out - as ever - Neil Hamilton is all smiles as he makes his way around the room.

The branch meeting is yet to get underway yet the special guest makes a point of chatting to everyone and learning about their background - particularly the younger generations among those gathered.

Neil Hamilton speaks to the group

Neil Hamilton speaks to the group

“It’s always refreshing to see the young blood, the future,” he remarks.

As far as the turn-out goes, it’s impressive. Neil Hamilton, it seems, is quite the draw.

“There’s faces here we have never seen before, it’s fantastic,” beams the chairman of Hartlepool’s UK Independence Party (UKIP) branch Tom Hind.

And it isn’t just those who buy into UKIP’s beliefs who spend their evening in the guest’s company.

As well as the supporters of the party in which Mr Hamilton is now deputy chairman, others have come to catch a glimpse of one of Parliament’s most colourful characters of the last four decades.

This is a special guest speaker who certainly has a story to tell. A man who admits his life has certainly had its ups and downs.

The highs of being elected as MP for Tatton going on to become a whip in the Government ran by his close friend Margaret Thatcher and minister for deregulation and corporate affairs when John Major went on to become PM in the early 90s.

The lows of having his name and reputation dragged through the gutter throughout the long-rumbling political scandal of the 90s - Cash for Questions - which ultimately led to him declaring himself bankrupt in May 2001 as he fought to clear his name. Four months later Mr Hamilton and his wife, Christine, were wrongfully accused of a violet rape. But the case was dropped before any court case.

“I didn’t volunteer for it, it certainly wasn’t pleasant but life is a series of ups and downs,” says Mr Hamilton looking back on those turbulent times.

The branch meeting at Hartlepool Cricket Club has finished and, despite having to drive to Sheffield for an overnight stay before another appearance as a special guest at Worcester the following day - Mr Hamilton is in no rush to leave.

He chats openly to the Mail, not only about his hopes for UKIP, but about those testing times throughout Cash for Questions.

The 64-year-old was a member of the Government responsible for the closure of the coal mines in the 1980s - decisions many former miners in the East Durham pit villages still to this day deem unforgivable.

Mr Hamilton was born in a pit village, grew up with his family as coal miners and his first job was working for the National Coal Board.

Yet he stands by the decisions made by the Government.

“Margaret was a controversial figure, obviously,” he says.

“I’ve lived through the 1980s, I was part of it but Britain couldn’t continue being an industrial museum for ever because the cost of subsiding the falling industries that were no hopers fell upon the industries of the future.

“I know we could have had a coal industry. It would have been smaller than it had been, of course, but we could have still had a coal industry had it not been for those suicidal policies of the 1970s.”

Mr Hamilton said Margaret Thatcher and current Prime Minister David Cameron are like “chalk and cheese”.

But his focus now is purely on the future of UKIP - and ensuring the party continue to make inroads.

And to make an impact on a national scale, he is more than aware of the importance of getting representatives on the ground at a local level - in towns like Hartlepool which currently doesn’t have any party representatives sitting on the council.

“It’s always the first step which is the most difficult,” he insisted.

“Once you have got a toe hold you can make it a foothold and kick the door and before you know it you’re in charge.”

Mr Hamilton has always maintained his innocence in the Cash for Questions affair, the scandal in which a national newspaper alleged that two Conservative MPs - one being Mr Hamilton - took money in exchange for asking questions in Parliament on behalf of former owner of Harrods, Mohamed Al-Fayed.

But the headlines undoubtedly led to him to losing his seat in the 1997 General Election, leading to a five-year hiatus from politics before returning with UKIP in 2002, in which time he had appeared on a number of television shows along with his wife, Christine.

“My life has been very odd in many ways,” he said.

“I have lived it in the full glare of publicity, I have also had many false allegations thrown at me.

“We’ve managed to survive all of that.

“I suppose it’s all to do with attitude, I was determined not to be destroyed.

“I was determined to fight back and live the rest of my life in the same way I had lived early on, with opportunity and hope.

“And if you work hard and show a little bit of ingenuity you can usually manage to fight your way out of problems.

“Fortunately I was well equipped to do so, not financially, because I became bankrupt, but I have got an innate ingenuity and I have a happy disposition.

“At the end of your life you have to look back and ask yourself, are you proud of the way you lived and the way you have coped with the challenges that life throws at you.

“I think I can genuinely say, although I wouldn’t have said this at the time, that I wouldn’t have had it any other way because I was given a series of huge challenges and I passed the test I set for myself.

“I don’t think there’s any greater accolade you can give yourself than you live up to the expectations you set yourself.”