An hour later than he was expected, his aides and security men elbowing a path through a thicket of camera crews and photographers, Nigel Farage swept into Southampton Civic Centre like a rock star, a grin on his face that he wasn't taking much trouble to suppress.
How was his promised electoral earthquake going? "Pretty well I think, but we'll find out in a moment." His aides were predicting Ukip taking four or five of the 10 MEP seats up for grabs in South East England, did he agree? He wouldn't be making any predictions. Oh, OK then. "I still think we're going to win [the overall vote]. Now, where's the bar?"
Ukip had gone into Thursday's European poll with one representative - Farage - in the huge constituency which takes in nine counties and 8 million voters and stretches from the Cotswolds to Margate, and from the Isle of Wight to the southern suburbs of Milton Keynes. There had been two until last year, when Marta Andreasen, the Argentinian-born Spanish former party treasurer, defected to the Conservatives, calling Farage "Stalinist". (He retaliated by saying: "The woman is impossible.")
This looked certain to be a very different night, and the faces of most of the other party activists told their own tale. Grim Lib Dem activists leaning quietly at the bar talked of faint hopes of holding on to one of their two seats, while the Green party MEP Keith Taylor sat on his own on a folding chair at the front of the art deco Guildhall, waiting to learn if he was newly unemployed.
Nirj Deva, number two on the Conservative list, was confident he had kept his own seat along with party colleague and Tory Eurosceptic torchbearer Daniel Hannan, but wouldn't be drawn any further on how many of its five MEPs the party could salvage. He had been talking for 15 years about the need to reform Europe, he said. "It's a message that I have been hearing [on doorsteps] for a long time and I have repeated it ad nauseam to whoever cares to listen."
Did that mean that the party HQ had been slow or resistant to hear it? An emphatic nod. "Every party in government is slow to hear a message that doesn't come from the centre."
The others may have been chewing their nails, but Farage had enjoyed a lovely afternoon, thanks for asking. "Do you know, I went to the cricket. I went to Tunbridge Wells to watch Kent v Worcester." And how was that? "Lunch was great, cricket was nice, it was a very English scene. I thoroughly enjoyed myself."
Yes, yes. "Do you have a message for Denmark?" asked one TV reporter, one of 100 or so accredited media who had come from as far afield as Japan, France and Russia. He did, expressing satisfaction that Eurosceptic parties had done well there too. Ukip had also topped the poll in Newark, he noted, scene of a crucial parliamentary byelection in less than a fortnight."Once we get this out of the way, the people's army is on the move."His party colleague and new fellow MEP Janice Atkinson said her own mantra in Brussels would be "No and no and no." "I promise you we will vote against everything, because whatever they propose it is wrong."
Daniel Hannan, long the Conservatives' Eurosceptic torchbearer, said the results showed that there was "a clear majority for independence" in Britain. "The question is how we translate that into policy."Acknowledging the loss of her party colleagues from the European parliament, Liberal Democrat Catherine Bearden acknowledged that it would be "a big ask" for her to carry the party's torch in the parliament. "Europe is not going to go away. Europe is still there. The EU will still be funcitoning. And we need MEPS who are there, standing up for this country in the debates, in the votes. And that is what I will be doing."
Nigel Farage in victorious mood at the Southampton Civic Centre last night