Meet the cat that got the cream

LIKE a Chinese meal, a grapple with Boris Becker in a broom-cupboard and the Scotland football team's new-found omnipotence, reality television's best moments tend not to endure. You watch these shows and, yes, at the time the high points make you laugh/cry/cancel the papers and the milk because civilisation as we know it has just ended. But mere weeks later they're forgotten about.

Not George, though. Not George Galloway the noted anti-war politician on Celebrity Big Brother. We began the year talking about it, before the Hogmanay hangovers had subsided (though not for Galloway himself because he doesn't drink). And it's a pretty safe bet that at the year's end Galloway will still be on the agenda.

I know a lot of really big, important stuff has happened in 2006, but any Sunday supplement review of the 12-month worth its salt will be duty bound to feature a fuzzy screen-grab from the Channel 4 show of Galloway on all fours, lapping imaginary milk from Rula Lenska's hands, getting his whiskers cleaned, then purring words in the haughty actress's ear which, as she confessed later, made her "bottom jump and tighten excitedly".

If any of these reviews decide that 2006 wasn't the Year of the Cat, then it will only be because they've opted for another image to sum up the bonkers brilliance of CBB: that is, Galloway and scabrous scally pop queen Pete Burns in a dance contest, in leotards, gamely accepting the challenge of using only robotic movements to "convey the emotion of bewilderment when a small puppy refuses to come to heel".

Galloway, 52, was dressed in spray-on scarlet polyester that January night, but here in October, with the leaves turning and Parliament returning, and in his third-floor office in Portcullis House at Westminster, it must be said that one of Giorgio Armani's finest black wool-mix suits looks much better on him.

Giorgio Galloway, chief cook and bottle-washer of the Respect Party, is in disgustingly good health. He's been topping up the tan on the Algarve, at the villa which comes with knobs on if it's being described by his critics but which its owner unfailingly terms "modest and mortgaged".

He's also lost a few pounds since we glimpsed him in the CBB gym, lolloping across the treadmilled plain like a tubby lion. Fellow housemate Dennis Rodman, the basketball hulk, gave him some fitness tips and you imagine not smoking a cigar while running was one of them.

He's puffing today - a Montecristo No 2, the old faithful. He admits he's a bit of a cigar snob. It has to be Cuban or he won't smoke it. A No 2 costs 16 in the shops here, double that in restaurants, so he gets his duty-free for as little as 2 each when he's travelling. He says Beirut is a good place to go, for cigars.

But there's something else that's different about Galloway, and a glance at the noticeboard above his desk confirms what it is. Next to a picture of Pele's embrace with Bobby Moore at the 1970 World Cup, there's a shot of Fidel Castro. Galloway is letting those whiskers grow and, side on, is starting to bear a slight resemblance to the ailing Cuban leader.

This is apt because he's just written The Fidel Castro Handbook, a pocket-sized tome which would nevertheless spoil the lining of your suit because it's thick with Galloway's fan-love and lots of previously unpublished photographs. It's a hagiography and its author makes no apologies for this. "He's a friend, I'm partisan towards him and his country, so you'll have to look elsewhere to find criticism of him."

Castro is 80 and, according to US intelligence reports, dying of cancer, so the book may turn out to be an obituary. "It's an ill wind that blows nobody any good," says Galloway. "No doubt his poor health will help sales. But I would rather sell no copies and have him remain with us."

To the cynic, and there are lots of them where Galloway is concerned, the book might appear an attempt to remind us he is a serious politician after his entertaining buffoonery on Celebrity Big Brother.

"Well, that's clearly not the case because I started writing it two years ago. I think you have to see everything in the round: Big Brother and Big Fidel. And as regards Big Brother, every goal I set myself was realised, and then some."

With the money he raised Galloway says he was able to feed starving Palestinians and staff up his parliamentary office. And as a consequence of his TV exposure - though he insists this wasn't part of the original plan - he got himself radio slots on talkSPORT and its Edinburgh sister station talk107. Now, instead of just the public-meeting grind, he can engage with six million listeners every weekend and chat about Tony Blair, George Bush, Iraq and, oh, anything else that might crop up.

Galloway went on Celebrity Big Brother hoping to get his message across to the politically disaffected young. "If you were to come with me you would see I achieved this," he says. "At a motorway service station last weekend, a whole bus-load of youngsters took pictures of me with them on their mobile phones."

Fair enough, but what about the young housemates on CBB? He didn't exactly win hearts and minds among the likes of Samuel Dylan Murray Preston (though there was cheering in our house when Galloway outed the posh popster as a "mockney"). And what about Chantelle Houghton? After taking on Tony Blair and winning a seat in Parliament, after taking on a US Senate committee and emerging victorious, how come he lost the contest to the fake celebrity, a Paris Hilton lookalike?

He reveals he could only recently bring himself to watch tapes of the show and admits he made a plonker of himself. Was he a bully? "This 'bullying' is a complete bollocks word that's crept into popular discourse. So having an argument with someone means you're bullying them? Please, save us from this... Americana!

"Look, there are some bits of footage I can't bring myself to watch, even now. I know that at times I was excruciating. I went in there fully intending to write an epic novel in my head about the Spanish Civil War. By the end I was falling out with Preston over ownership of a bun, or with Michael [Barrymore] over bloody cigarettes. 'Where did he get them? He didn't have them this morning!' That's Big Brother, though: it gets everyone in the end."

All in all, it's been quite a year for Galloway. After Celebrity Big Brother he was welcomed back to reality by the Sun headline 'The Most Hated Man In Britain' and learned that the Serious Fraud Office was investigating his alleged involvement in the oil-for-food scandal.

What of that now? "Nothing. From the day I left the Senate 16 months ago, when I challenged them to 'put up or shut up', I've heard nothing from America, from anywhere."

Has he bumped into Tony Blair since the GQ interview when he claimed it would be morally justifiable for a suicide bomber to murder the Prime Minister? "I haven't seen him for three years." Does he regret the remarks? "No. What I said was if I were an Iraqi whose country had been illegally invaded and occupied, who had seen his family killed, then I would of course be able to construct a moral case for the assassination of Tony Blair." Then, with a wicked smile: "Who could dispute it?"

So, no Christmas card from No 10 then, or from recovering alcoholic Michael Barrymore ("Poor me, poor me, pour me a drink") or the Z-list Jodi Marsh ("You are a wicked person"). But maybe one from David Cameron.

"He's pretty impressive," says Galloway. "Looked at objectively, I would have to say I can see his appeal. It will play, it is playing right now. He is doing and saying the right things. His job is to slay the ghost of Margaret Thatcher. The more [Norman] Tebbit and Co attack him, the better. That just demonstrates to the public there's something new about the Tories. I don't myself think there is anything new, but Cameron is at least providing the illusion of change."

The chat drifts back to the Dundee of his youth. It was there that he started on the cigars ("I was 18, a waiter at the Angus Hotel, and I used to pinch the stubs from rich people's tables") and vowed never to allow alcohol to pass his lips ("My father didn't drink and told me it was the curse of the working class. I've never been remotely curious about it").

Two Montecristos, he says, are his only vice. Then that smile re-appears: "...nowadays." Galloway has been married twice, and at the start of 2006 was reported to be in a relationship with a woman 16 years his junior working for him in his East London constituency. Now he says he's single, but that's all he says. "I've decided not to speak about my private life again, it just causes trouble."

The Sun's jibes don't bother him. "If I was a woolly-jumpered, sandal-wearing Leftie of no importance, the Sun would ignore me. They hate me because I'm good at what I do." So what scares him? "I fear God and Judgment Day. I've done a lot of things wrong in my life." Politically? "No, personally."

He doesn't mean Celebrity Big Brother; no regrets there. He's still in touch with Rodman and Burns. "Both cross-dressers. I'm quite conservative on these matters but they were the only real men on the show." When Burns got into a scrape recently, Galloway even offered to stand him 3,000 bail.

He never got his Spanish Civil War saga mapped out in the house, but has since put down 25,000 words. Already there has been some film interest in the project, although Galloway admits he's still only a quarter of the way through and is experiencing problems with "dialogue".

Who would have thought it, eh?

• The Fidel Castro Handbook is published by MQP, 14.99