Bluff, blustering and bombastic Boris Johnson seems to have been consigned to the bin.

The Covid inquiry has seen the divisive former Prime Minister appear to ditch the trademarks which fuelled his TV career and swept him into the highest office of the land.

Sure, the artfully tousled mop was as blowsy as ever, while the smart blue suit he’d been shoehorned into couldn’t completely hide the sense of the rumpled rake we know so well. But gone was the bleary-eyed bonhomie. Missing were the jabbing and jerky hand movements. Absent was the cocksure sense of humour, so often deployed in cutting put downs.

For those expecting the wisecracking, unapologetic Johnson who zig-zagged chaotically through Downing Street for three tumultuous years, there was only disappointment. Instead, we were treated to Boris 2.0:  sober, subdued and – gasp – almost statesmanlike.

The Herald:  Boris Johnson makes second appearance at the UK Covid Inquiry Boris Johnson makes second appearance at the UK Covid Inquiry (Image: PA)

This was quite a transformation for a man who never says sorry and who pursued political power with the same naked appetites with which he conducted his private life.

Here is a politician who was drilled to within an inch of his life – and that in itself is stupendously surprising. Despite his towering intellect the sheer effort required for sticking to this – any! - particular script must have tested every fibre of his considerable being.

Doing what he is told is so totally contrary to Johnson’s wild, wilful nature and mighty sense of self-assurance, that it’s worth asking if it has ever happened before? After all, what does it take to corral a man who has spent his life refusing to be roped or reined, who is anaphylactically allergic to conformity and who vehemently veers in the opposite direction from what might be expected?

Critics have long painted Johnson as lazy-yet-vainglorious. A man whose surpassing self-belief saw him ignore briefings, avoid detail and body swerve the hard work, instead convinced that he was destined for greatness. Who can forget the story of his Eton teacher despairing of his “effortless superiority”?

Likewise, Boris is the man who thought nothing of penning two articles – one supporting Brexit, the other opposing it – just hours before deciding to campaign for Leave. The same fella who was nicknamed the “trolley” by Downing Street staff because his direction of travel was more difficult to predict than a shopping cart with a wonky wheel.

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Lesser politicians rely on highly structured media training and well-rehearsed answers to navigate tricky situations. Johnson has breezed through challenge after challenge armed only with his biting wit, feverish brainpower and a Rumpelstiltskin-like ability to transform over-privilege into everyman gold.

The Herald: Chris Fairbairn, Associate Director at Edinburgh communications agency, Holyrood PRChris Fairbairn, Associate Director at Edinburgh communications agency, Holyrood PR (Image: Holyrood PR)


There is only one thing with the power to take unregulated, unruly and unpredictable Boris Johnson and put him in a box – the looming judgment of history. The former PM is renowned for his hero worship of Winston Churchill and wants his own legacy to be Churchillian in scope and scale.

That the former PM believed every word of his Covid enquiry performance goes without saying but will a sceptical public be quite so easily convinced? Only history will tell.

Chris Fairbairn is Associate Director at Edinburgh communications agency, Holyrood PR