New Times,
New Thinking.

The real Boris Johnson

The BBC’s Adam Fleming discusses what he learned when making his new podcast series about the UK’s “all vibe” prime minister.

By Rachel Cunliffe

You might think you know Boris Johnson. Adam Fleming, the chief political correspondent at the BBC, certainly thought so. But it turns out there’s a lot that even avid politicos might not know about the man who has run the country for the past three years – and how he fought his way to that position.

Fleming’s eight-part series for BBC Sounds, entitled simply Boris, starts at the very beginning – the birth of Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, in Sixties New York – and takes us to the present day. In each episode, a panel of guests are invited to recount their experiences of knowing, observing or working with Johnson: biographers, journalists, politicians, aides. They might rehash some well-worn ground – Johnson’s old school reports, perhaps, or maybe his fabricated quotes on the front page of the Times, or the two opposing columns he wrote to resolve his own internal battle over Brexit – but the net effect is a much fuller, more detailed picture of the man than headlines and soundbites usually provide.

What really comes across is the extent to which Johnson’s character has been integral to every role he has ever had. One guest who knew him when he worked in Brussels recalls his penchant for “blurring the line between information and entertainment” in the articles he filed about the more farcical elements of the EU. That sometimes creative relationship with the truth comes up again and again throughout Johnson’s career, culminating in the tangle of misleading statements on partygate and the Christopher Pincher affair that sparked his eventual downfall as PM. Similarly, his ability to make people laugh and feel at ease is a skill that has helped him all the way from the classroom at Eton to the hallway of No 10. Understanding that is crucial to making sense of how Johnson was able to achieve his childhood dream of becoming prime minister. The British political system, Fleming tells me, “works a lot on vibes”. And “vibes” are what Boris Johnson does best.

As for recent events, Fleming calls this series “the second draft of history”. At the time, journalists were reporting furiously on the daily goings-on at Downing Street, and in years to come historians will no doubt write countless books on the 2019 election, Johnson’s fight to get Brexit done, Britain’s response to the Covid pandemic, and the partygate scandal that eventually brought him down. This podcast series falls somewhere in between: a chance to pause for breath and take stock of where we are and how we got here, before a new prime minister takes over and the whole frenzy starts again.

BBC Radio 4’s “Boris” is available now on BBC Sounds.

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

[See also: How Boris Johnson comes back]

Content from our partners
An innovative approach to regional equity
ADHD in the criminal justice system: a case for change – with Takeda
The power of place in tackling climate change

Topics in this article : , ,