A cocksure grin, but the cheeky chappie of old was gone: HENRY DEEDES sees the Farage funfair hit the ground running in Essex

His entourage entered the Moon and Starfish public house in Clacton-on-Sea just after 11.30am with such a stampede that they caused the foam to spill on late morning pint pots.

Doof. Doof.

It was that same ominous quake, a slow rumble that builds to a lumbering crescendo, which greets the arrival of a ravenous T-Rex in the Jurassic Park movies.

Doof. Doof. Doof.

Around the saloon bar, as early tipplers soaked up the last of their soggy fry-ups, the hushed sound of incredulous gasps at these spivvy-dressed newcomers soon gave way to light applause.

The object of their adulation soon became clear.

Nigel Farage with Aileen Kelly, 74, share a laugh at the Moon and Starfish pub in Clacton as he enjoys a pint while campaigning in the town

Mr Farage is expected to give the Tories a bloody nose in the European elections – and Theresa May is scrambling to get her Brexit deal through to avoid going to the polls

That bounderish swagger, that cocksure grin, that homey golf-club charm: Nigel Farage had arrived.

Latecomers to the ensuing melee looked on with confusion: ‘Gawwwwwden Bennett!’, blurted one elderly gentleman. ‘Tell me this isn’t the queue for the gents…’

Farage had rolled into town half an hour earlier with his newly-formed Brexit Party colleagues atop a turquoise double-decker bus.

‘We shouldn’t be here, should we?’ He barked from the upper tier through a rusty megaphone. ‘But our Remainer Parliament has let us down. It’s time to take back control. And let’s start in Clacton!’

For the next two hours, this sleepy seaside town, previously one of Ukip’s two parliamentary seats, again fell under the spell of the Nigel Farage phenomenon.

Not since crooner Engelbert Humperdinck last held residency in Las Vegas has a perma-tanned quinquagenarian prompted such fevered excitement.

Speaking to announce three new European election candidates for the east of England, he described Clacton as ‘the most patriotic and the most Eurosceptic town in the whole of this country’

Large crowds came out to hear him speak at the rally held on the Essex town’s famous piers where he hailed the success of his new party

Message to Conservative Party HQ ahead of next month’s EU elections: The threat of the Brexit Party is real. Very, very real.

While on walkabout, Alicia Kelly, 74, a Clacton resident for 30 years, lunged at Farage for a full-on smooch. ‘He’s my boy,’ she grinned, clasping him by the lapels of his blue checked suit. ‘We need you here,’ cried Debra Henry, previously loyal to Ukip.

Her husband Terry said of the town’s devotion to him: ‘He tells it like it is.’

Another local was more forthright: ‘The rest of them politicians just speak b****cks. Not Nige.’

A truck driver delivering butane gas pulled over to the side of the road to shake Farage by the hand. ‘Give ‘em hell Nigel!’ he yelled.

Back in the boozer and Farage was in his element.

And yet. And yet. Something seemed missing. A midday ale was placed in front of him for the sake of the photographers, but uncharacteristically it remained untouched. And if he afforded himself a puff on a cheeky gasper he did so firmly out of sight.

Gone was the chirpy chappie of old. Conversing with his aides he appeared strained, twitchy. He was not without detractors either. ‘Useless!’ screamed a man in a high-vis jacket at a neighbouring table. ‘Couldn’t run a picnic.’

Though judging by the collection of empty bottles on the table in front of him, this heckler would have been ready to lay a bunch of fives on anyone, even Mahatma Gandhi.

As Farage made his way down to the town pier, van drivers honked their horns and flicked thumbs-up signs.

Around a platform, a large crowd swelled, clutching Brexit Party placards and fizzy yellow beer. By my estimates, the audience was 2,000 strong.

‘Helllllo Clacton!’ screamed the headline act, wearing one of those J-Lo style microphone headpieces.

Clacton Pier suddenly took on the atmosphere of one of those folksy Radio One summer roadshows of yesteryear.

Rousing the crowd, he took aim at the usual Westminster villains.

George Osborne (cue boos). Theresa May (louder boos). Anna Soubry (treble boos).

‘Sovereignty lies with us, the people,’ he bellowed. ‘We are the masters. They are the servants. And on the 23rd of May, we are going to make sure they remember!’

Further roars.

As the main seaside attraction of the day exited stage left, his adoring audience broke into a chorus of ‘Nigel! Nigel! Nigel!’

Then, at 1.15pm, the seaside folk of Clacton-on-Sea slowly returned to their everyday business and a light smattering of rain began to fall. But nothing enough to dampen Nigel’s parade.

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