As Boris Johnson arrived in Delhi today to lead his first overseas trade mission he announced he hoped to slip into the type of “blissful anonymity” that usually evades him.
There was a brief moment when it looked as though the team at the British High Commission – masters in dealing with Indian bureaucracy – had succeeded.
Britain’s biggest celebrity politician was whisked through passport control with the minimum fuss to a chauffeur-driven car which sped off to his luxury hotel in the pre-dawn traffic.
But it was likely to be the final time on his six-day tour, also taking in Hyderabad and Mumbai, that he will avoid the frenzied crowds that he is used to dealing with at home.
The fact that his visit was covered by the Sunday Times of India, The Economic Times and the Hindustan Times – some of the country’s biggest papers – should have offered a clue of what was to come.
The Mayor is in India to help London businesses establish trade links, confront the problems of the UK visa system that is limiting Indian students coming to British universities and pick up tips on infrastructure development.
But while he has denied that the trip is a prime ministerial-style venture better suited to David Cameron, who is expected to visit India himself next year, he received a reception usually reserved for foreign heads of state.
At the Akshardham Hindu temple – his first visit of the day - dozens of pilgrims, tourists and schoolchildren crowded round as he was greeted by saffron-robed monks with a garland of rose petals and the traditional red kanku daubed on his forehead.
Although visitors were banned from taking cameras into the holy site, the curious crowd grew in size as he wandered around the intricately carved Rajasthan pink stone temple. He was even granted access to holy relics – a privilege usually just enjoyed by royalty.
But for all the attention, it seems not many knew who the Mayor of London actually was, with confused locals mistaking him for the King of England and the tennis legend Boris Becker.
Akash Bharadia, 18, who is spending his gap year volunteering at the temple, told reporters: “One of the locals shouted out it was Boris Becker while some people asked whether he was the King of England. They know it’s Boris, that’s the main thing.”
Just one lone American tourist successfully identified him as “that guy on the zip line” – a reference to him getting stuck during the Olympics.
“He’s very jolly, isn’t he?” said Rajeev Tyagi, a photographer for the Mumbai newspaper Midday. “But really only the media and the upper classes know who he his.”
That didn’t stop a crowd of Indians gathering round to have their picture taken with him at the India Gate in central Delhi.
The business delegation travelling the Mayor – including the chairmen of Standard Life, Berkeley Homes and John Lewis – looked on bemused as Indian security guards shooed away children trying to sell him sweets and jewellery.
Mr Johnson took the frenzied attention – and the cases of mistaken identity - in his stride, looking deeply relieved he hadn’t slipped into anonymity after all. “I reckon I could give Boris Becker a run around on the tennis court if I was asked to,” he quipped, before reminding the assembled crowd he was there to champion London.Reuse content