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It’s just an illusion: the day I met Boris Johnson

“I’ve come to wish you an unhappy birthday

I’ve come to wish you an unhappy birthday

Cos you’re evil

And you lie

And if you should die

I may feel slightly sad

But I won’t cry”

The Smiths, Unhappy Birthday (lyrics by Morrissey, 1987)

Yes, Prime Minister of the ‘United’ Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, you and I celebrate our birthdays exactly a week apart.

No, Prime Minister. That’s where the similarity ends. I hope

How does Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson do it, eh? The wriggling out of things, I mean. The not getting fatally snagged or nabbed. So many of us are all scratching our heads with incessant bewilderment.

We all want to know, only not really because that would mean peeking behind the iron curtains and ruining the carefully constructed illusion.

Because that is what the BoJo show is. The heaviest employer of smoke and mirrors in Westminster, he is nothing but a fat façade with more front than Blackpool.

A liar, a cheat and a charlatan with no direction and no conviction other than power for power’s sake.

And no, I refuse to call him Boris. Don’t you have to vaguely like someone to want to refer to them by their first name?

In 2013, I was houseguest at an old friend’s new house in Bath, the palatial Georgian splendour of Richmond Hill to be exact. The road name tickled me a glorious shade of pink, as I was living at the other Richmond Hill at the time — the better known one on the London and Surrey border where Pete Townsend, Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall were my immediate neighbours (and local legend David Attenborough bringing up the rear), but I digress.

Lance and I had known each other since we met très impromptu at a Pet Shop Boys event at Virgin Megastore in Oxford Street a good decade prior. But this was the first time I’d met his new partner Paul, who, bizarrely, was a month older than my own father.

Paul Buckley was a card-carrying Conservative, and you could tell just from his quaint dress sense: you know the sort, cravats, handkerchiefs and blazers, that kind of slightly insufferable Tory type. 

I say insufferable because rabid fixed-view party political types on both sides of the fence just leave me utterly cold.

I’m your stereotypical floating voter. Well, I was when I felt inclined to vote, which I did until I left the UK in 2014.

Back in the 1990s, my mother encouraged me to follow my father (a dyed in the wool Labour man until Iraq and Corbyn) into local politics, and after giving it some serious thought I decided that the main reason not to pursue that path was that I felt uneasy about nailing my colours to the mast of any one political party.

Lance and I, Havana, 2019

Lance’s much older partner Paul was a local councillor and a slightly musty big cheese at the Conservative Party’s association office in Bath, the largest city in the West Country county of Somerset.

One evening Paul told me with some pride how they’d recently had the then Mayor of London down to the constituency to give a speech, putting in the work on the so-called “rubber chicken” circuit of Tory fundraisers and constituency dinners if he wanted to get people onside for an eventual leadership bid.

“Boris was as you would expect. Funny, charming, dishevelled and disorganised. Just before he got out of the car he deliberately ruffled his hair up and then as he shook my hand said in his slightly apologetic, shambling way, ‘The speech? I haven’t got a fucking clue what I’m going to say but here I am anyway. Hello to you. How do you do?”

This is the thing about Johnson. It’s said that his blatantly manufactured charisma lifts people; that he’s a brilliant campaigner for the party, and he wins you over because he’s so desperate to be liked that he lays on the charm thicker than clotted cream on a plate of scones.

And you don’t need me to remind you that charm in itself is, of course, an inauthentic quality usually employed because that person wants something from you.

I’ve encountered Johnson twice in the flesh, both times when he was Mayor of London and I a mere resident that refused to vote for him and his interminable publicity stunts and egowank vanity projects like the so-called “Boris Bikes’.

One time on a dusky early evening in the autumn of 2010 I was leaving the National Portrait Gallery when I saw a slightly murky figure on a silver bicycle trundling up Charing Cross Road wearing a red beanie and I can’t remember what else. He was clothed though, thank god.

I waited for the man to pass me so I could cross the road into Covent Garden, my birthplace, and it was only as the bike’s rear wheel continued up towards Leicster Square did I realise who it was.

As someone who never gave him the time of day in any capacity I could have given him a piece of my mind — you know I’m very much the type — and yet in the fading light I was so startled it was Johnson all I could do was let out as massive raspberry.

He turned his head round in my direction though kept his slow pace going north. It was “rush hour” after all. Thought I was struck by how his eyes bore into me, his expression was kind of blank but slightly insecure.

It was as if he couldn’t understand why anyone would do that to him, but didn’t want to give me any further ammunition by reacting in a way that would have guaranteed an unfavourable front page on the Evening Standard the next day.

The second encounter a year later was even more unnerving.

In September 2011 I attended the opening of East London’s brand new Westfield shopping centre in Stratford, not far from the yet to be completed Olympic Village.

As I made my way up an exterior escalator to the press pen I looked up and saw about half a dozen paparazzi photographers rush to the top of said moving staircase.

“What on earth do they want with me?,” I thought to myself, getting slightly concerned.

I needn’t have worried. I looked around and three steps below me was Johnson, still the Mayor and still sporting that deliberately dishevelled Milky Bar-coloured, Shockheaded Peter-style thatch.

“Good morning!” he said to me, with a coquettish uncertain smile revealing a horribly crooked set of fangs as I felt those hawk eyes literally burning into my soul. This time I kept the raspberries in their punnet and kept my mouth well and truly shut.

Again, with no end of local and national press there I could have seized the opportunity to lambast him for any number of things I dislike about the BoJo show: his devious double-dealing, his tardiness and untrustworthiness and the number of times he’s been sacked for lying, of course. He has no moral compass because he is arrogant enough to think the laws that the rest of us try and observe shouldn’t apply to him, the man who would be World King.

Anyway, as I let the crooked charlatan pass me and enter the building I saw grown adults metaphorically pinching themselves at having seen Boris Johnson in the flesh. And there’s certainly plenty of that.

I just didn’t get it, and I still don’t. People grinning to each other like Cheshire cats as they frantically attempted to bag a selfie with this Albino asshole as if he was a major celebrity. You know, as if he were someone who might make movies or records, remember them?

Lest we forget, Boris Johnson is just a politician, albeit one that’s got away with so much already. Essentially, he’s an arsonist that came back as a fireman.

Defendants come to his aid and say they support him because, and I quote, “He’s a loveable rogue. He’s a character.”

Sounds to me like policies, conviction and personal integrity are about as in as rock music. Margaret Thatcher must be spinning in her grave. Well she would be had she not been cremated.

Love her or loathe her, now there was a politician with a sense of purpose and conviction, with drive, with direction, with principles and most importantly, with more balls than the rest of them put together. It feels pertinent to recall a quote she was happy to give when asked about doing the right thing rather than the popular thing.

“If you just set out to be liked, you will be prepared to compromise on anything at anytime, and would achieve nothing,” 

How terribly sad, Britain. Try and do better next time.

Friends and political allies think Johnson a slippery, elusive, hard-to-pin-down so-and-so that is too obsessed with the limelight to care about minor trifles like honesty. To draw on another well-worn quip, he is ruthless and truthless.

Johnson once told political commentator and another former Bullingdon Clubber, Harry Mount, that his favourite oratorical device is a thing called imbecilio. In other words, pretending to be a fool.

It works, doesn’t it? Sure, many who knew him at Eton and Oxford and who don’t appear to have ulterior motives say he is as sharp as a tack. But the rest of the planet thinks he’s an idiot. Job done then.

The wacky thumbs aloft mateyness? As authentic as the signature hair he calculates gets people talking. 

And yet for an old Etonian, this slippery piglet has the class and demeanour of a sour-faced ditch rat. His body language is more akin to a chav bruiser than a person from an eminently privileged background.

But hold the front pages, because the man who’s been obsessed with political superstardom all his life is in a spot of bother. Again.

But what of this, well, (cue litany of arch stereotypes) Machiavellian monster? The Fat Controller, First Lard of the Treasury, Herr Heifer, and so on and so forth.

King Alexander is dead.

Make no mistake, Johnson is on his last legs, however hollow they may be.

Fasten your seatbelts, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride. Though hopefully the journey won’t be a long one.

See, I got through a political thought piece without even mentioning Brexit once. And he even managed to botch that.

Mea culpa.

Steve Pafford

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