Journalist who has become the story

When asked to choose a candidate for the
Today programme's "Listeners' Lord" competition last week, Simon Hoggart nominated Boris Johnson for a job in the upper chamber.

When asked to choose a candidate for the Today programme's "Listeners' Lord" competition last week, Simon Hoggart nominated Boris Johnson for a job in the upper chamber.

He is, said Hoggart of the former Tory arts spokesman recently forced to quit his post after lying over an alleged extramarital affair, "a national treasure".

It is a status that The Guardian columnist himself has been in danger of aspiring to.

With his regular appearances on Radio 4 and television, his newspaper and magazine columns and a prodigious output of books on subjects ranging from American culture to the scourge of round-robin Christmas letters, he has one of the highest profiles of any British journalist.

He is currently the longest-serving parliamentary sketch writer, admired among his tight-knit group of fellow professional political tomato throwers as perhaps the funniest of them all. But, according to those close to him, none of his barbs is intended to leave lasting damage. "What is unusual is to find a humorist who is not unkind. I don't know how that works at all," one said yesterday.

His favourite target is John Prescott, on whose mangling performances in the Commons and beyond he has based an entire book. Next comes the Tory MP Michael Fabricant, or more accurately his "hair", which he wears "rather as if Sherlock Holmes had acquired a bri-nylon deer stalker".

A veteran of The Guardian and The Observer newspapers, Hoggart's admission that he was the "third man" in the Kimberly Quinn-David Blunkett affair was greeted with surprised amusement at Westminster yesterday. While he enjoys a reputation as the bon vivant in the big jumper - witness The Spectator wine column - and is known to enjoy animated conversations in female company, friends said he had hitherto enjoyed an otherwise "blameless professional life".

He has steered largely clear of referring to the Blunkett affair in his recent columns, although he did once describe Kimberly Quinn as "the best-read non-academic I know".

He may, however, regret remarks made during a recent radio interview after Mr Johnson's affair at The Spectator became public. "Why aren't I getting some of this Sextator action?" Of Johnson, he said: "How he finds the time for an affair I don't know."

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