Boris Johnson still greets fellow members of the Bullingdon Club, the notorious Oxford drinking society whose alumni include David Cameron and George Osborne, with a cry of “Buller, Buller, Buller!”, the Mayor of London has revealed.
Johnson breaks the strict code of “omerta” surrounding the Club, which is dominated by Etonians and only open to the wealthy and well-connected, in a new BBC profile, which explores his Prime Ministerial ambitions.
Writing in Radio Times, Michael Cockerell, the veteran political film-maker, reveals that the documentary includes a scene in which Johnson examines a famous photograph of himself, Cameron and other members of the “Buller” in their blue tailcoats with white silk facings, mustard waistcoats and gold buttons.
“This is a truly shameful vignette of almost superhuman undergraduate arrogance, toffishness and twittishness,” admits Johnson. “But at the time you felt it was wonderful to be going round swanking it up. Or was it? Actually I remember the dinners being incredibly drunken.”
He is reminded that one riotous Bullingdon dinner ended with a restaurant being smashed up and Boris and other members spending a night in a police cell. “Yes. And the abiding memory is of deep, deep self-loathing.”
Does Johnson, 46, still greet other Club members in public with the traditional greeting: “Buller, Buller, Buller!” “It may be that I do – in a satirical way,” he said.
During the film, Boris Johnson: The Irresistible Rise, its subject adds to the elaborate verbal constructions he employs to downplay his transparent desire to succeed David Cameron as Prime Minister.
“I think it’s a very tough job being Prime Minister,” he said. “Obviously, if the ball came loose from the back of a scrum – which it won’t – it would be a great, great thing to have a crack at. But it’s not going to happen.”
Previously Johnson had said he had as much chance of becoming Prime Minister as being decapitated by a Frisbee or reincarnated as an olive, or Elvis Presley.
Johnson admits that during arguments with Cameron “a lot of plaster comes off the ceiling” but this is all in the service of “trying to get a better deal for London, and to make sure that the Government doesn’t make a mistake.”
The film, broadcast next week, reveals that beneath his blustering, comical persona, Johnson is concealing artistic skills. At the age of 12 he painted a self-portrait resembling a Grecian demi-god.
His sister Rachel Johnson, the journalist and author, discloses that Boris’ always harboured imperial ambitions. She said: “As Boris was growing up whenever anyone asked him what he wanted to be, he would answer: ‘World King’.”
The roots of the competitive tension underlying the Johnson / Cameron relationship lie in their experience as Eton College contemporaries. Johnson was Captain of the School and elected to Eton’s elite group, known as Pop. David Cameron, two years younger, achieved neither distinction and is teasingly reminded of this by his rival to this day. “It gives Boris a sense of continuing superiority because he was Captain of the School,” Rachel Johnson says.
“I do remember Dave,” said Boris. “Someone said to me once, ‘That’s Cameron mi (minor)’ and there was this tiny chap, I dimly remember.”
The Mayor discloses that his “bumbling” persona may not always, as is often assumed, be a convenient disguise for a razor-sharp political intellect.
Johnson says: “It is often useful to give the slight impression that you are deliberately pretending not to know what’s going on – because the reality may be that you don’t know what’s going on, but people won’t be able to tell the difference.”
Boris Johnson: The Irresistible Rise - Monday 25 March, 9pm, BBC Two