An unrepentant Kelvin MacKenzie has said Sun readers were “100-1 in my favour” over his column comparing footballer Ross Barkley – who has Nigerian heritage – with a gorilla in a zoo.
In a diary piece for the Spectator today, MacKenzie also revealed he had contacted Sun editor Tony Gallagher before his column with the newspaper was suspended.
He wrote: “During the height of the Rossgate furore I texted Tony Gallagher, the bloody good editor of the Sun.
“He replied: ‘In church. Will be free in a few minutes.’ How times have changed. In my more louche period as editor of that fine organ, I would reply: ‘In brothel. Will be free in a few seconds.’”
MacKenzie, who was editor of the Sun during its controversial coverage of the Hillsborough disaster,said he was unaware of Everton FC midfielder Barkley’s Nigerian heritage.
“Actually I and every football fan I had ever met believed Barkley to be white,” he wrote in the Spectator.
“Unluckily for me, but luckily for my enemies in the north-west, that was not entirely true. It emerged that although Barkley looked white, his grandfather was half-Nigerian.
“The reality is that had I known of his family tree I would never have made the comparison, but since I am a columnist and not a researcher on Who Do You Think You Are? I didn’t know, and have yet to meet anybody who did. Including the Sun sports editor.”
The Sun apologised to Barkley over the column, which was removed from its website after sparking public outrage and accusations of racism. Barkley is also understood to be taking legal action.
MacKenzie wrote the column after Barkley, 23, had been punched in a Liverpool bar the previous weekend.
He wrote: “Perhaps unfairly, I have always judged Ross Barkley as one of our dimmest footballers.
“There is something about the lack of reflection in his eyes which makes me certain not only are the lights not on, there is definitely nobody at home.
“I get a similar feeling when seeing a gorilla at the zoo. The physique is magnificent but it’s the eyes that tell the story.”
The Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), which regulates the Sun, received 219 complaints about the column.
MacKenzie wrote today: “The Sun did not see the joke and suspended my column.
“The readers didn’t agree and opinion was running 100-1 in my favour, with some threatening a boycott if I didn’t return. Boycott? That would never work, would it?”
Mackenzie stoked controversy last year when he used his Sun column to question whether it was appropriate for Channel 4 News journalist Fatima Manji to present the news of the Nice terrorist attack in a hijab.
That piece resulted in 2,000 complaints to IPSO.