Quentin Letts in The Times today calls Boris Johnson the “Sultan of Insouciance” – he is a “sated sultan, wafted by punkahs, his belly glistening.” For me it’s performance art and Johnson is very good at it. It reminds me of Tracey Emin (featuring elsewhere in today’s Times). Nobody did it remotely like Tracey. Nobody does it remotely like Boris who is his own walking, talking unmade bed – the visible, shambolic manifestation of all the girls he slept with.
Artists in all genres are often eccentrics and sometimes not very nice. Politicians are often not very nice as well but rarely as creative or eccentric as their famous arty equivalents. Johnson has the same affection for bizarre imagery as Gilbert and George. Where they are Smart Camp he is ruffled testosterone.
“He’s a character” is a common view of the Prime Minister. That’s less trite than it sounds. We know that the great fictional “characters” – from Falstaff to Basil Fawlty – weren’t real but that they revealed something in all of us. Do I sometimes reveal a bit of my inner Ted Hastings fired with indignation? It’s more Father Jack in my case actually – “Feck, Girls, Drink”.
The great clowns must never be out of character. So Johnson doesn’t comb his hair before PMQs , he ruffles it more. Is it all a facade? I think no more than Olivier as Othello was a facade. The Boris character is fictional and you’d think only he can play it. How could it be otherwise? It is clownish but like all clowns Johnson does tragic as well. His Unique Selling Proposition is fraudulent bonhomie tempered by faux-sincere patriotic reverence. And we all fall for it time and time again .
Kenneth Branagh will portray Boris Johnson in an upcoming drama “This Sceptred Isle”. If anyone can get into the character Ken is probably your man. Branagh was an excellent Archie Rice in John Osborne’s “The Entertainer” a few years ago. He played the failing Music Hall artist brilliantly. He should be able to play another.