David Cameron denied today that he envies Boris Johnson's “rock star status” after the London Mayor was mobbed on his arrival at the Conservative conference in Birmingham.
Mr Johnson was greeted by ranks of cameras and passers-by chanting "Boris! Boris!" as he arrived in Birmingham yesterday, while a 1,000-strong audience hung on his every word at a rally last night.
The conference has been dominated by gossip in the corridors and bars over whether Mr Johnson could succeed Mr Cameron as leader, following polls which suggest he would give the party a big boost in the polls, where the Tories currently trail Labour by up to 10 points.
The Mayor's platform address to delegates today, followed by a round of media interviews, is expected to win him even more attention.
Mr Cameron said he is resigned to the fact that other people will be more popular than him while he is Prime Minister in difficult times for the country.
Asked by ITV1's Daybreak whether he was worried by the "hero-worship" of Mr Johnson, he replied: "No. I think it is great that we have got someone with rock star status in the Tory Party.
"I think it's fantastic that he can come to Birmingham, he is a very successful Mayor of London, he is doing a great job.
"I have got the opposite of tall poppy syndrome. I want to have big stars in the Conservative Party that can carry our message to the country, and Boris is definitely one of those."
He said he was unconcerned by polls suggesting that Mr Johnson is more popular than him with voters.
"There are lots of people that are more popular than me in this world, because I have to be the one who takes the difficult decisions on behalf of the country to recover us from the dreadful state that Labour left us in.
"That's just life, but in politics what matters is you do your duty, you do the right thing for your country."
On Sunday Mr Johnson declined an opportunity in a radio interview to say that Mr Cameron was a better Prime Minister than he would be, describing the question as "unverifiable".
Mr Cameron was asked the same question on BBC Radio 5 Live this morning, and answered: "I think Boris has got an enormous amount of talent, he does a great job as Mayor of London.
"I've always said to him, 'Once you've finished being Mayor, don't rule out trying to serve the country in other ways. You've got a lot to give'.
"If you believe like I do that public service is important and doing your duty is important, I hope Boris will continue in public service."
Mr Johnson is expected to use his keynote address this morning to insist he is completely loyal to Mr Cameron, praising the Prime Minister for taking "difficult decisions in difficult times".
He told activists last night he would continue to speak his mind on key policy issues, such as Heathrow Airport expansion, where he differs from the Government.
But he stressed that such tensions did not mean he wanted to take the Prime Minister's job.
"It is sometimes inevitable that the mayor of a great city will find himself saying things that do seem at variance with national policies," he said.
"Of course I am going to continue to lobby for a long-term solution to our aviation capacity problem. No one as a result should have any cause to doubt my admiration for David Cameron."
He stressed he was one of the first "Cameroons" in the 2005 Tory leadership contest.
"I believe that in tough circumstances he, George Osborne and the rest of the Government are doing exactly what is needed for this country and to clear up the mess that Labour left."
The ConservativeHome.com event was given the tagline "Re-elected and Olympotastic", and began with a video describing his poll victory this year as "Mission Imborisable".
He was greeted with a standing ovation, and repeatedly drew cheers with a joke-laden speech.
Answering questions from the audience, he contradicted party policy by indicating he wants a return to a grammar school-style education system.
"I personally have no objection to selective admission at some stage in a child's development," he said. "Thankfully, I suppose, for the party policy I'm not in a position to do this."
Mr Cameron says he is relaxed about the rivalry, which dates from Eton days. But the Mayor's keynote address will be keenly scrutinised for evidence of his intentions.
Mr Johnson is expected to focus on his successes in London this morning, and offer strong support for Mr Cameron's efforts to clear up Labour's "mess" and tackle the deficit.
The prospect of him taking over as party leader was given short shrift by veteran Cabinet minister Ken Clarke yesterday.
Mr Clarke told fringe events Mr Johnson needed to "settle down and demonstrate he can seriously deliver on some complicated subjects", urging him to "calm down".
"My advice to Boris is get back to the day job and demonstrate you can be a serious leader of a local large city government and a serious deliverer of policy," he added.
Asked last night if he was flattered by all the leadership speculation, the Mayor said it was "very, very bad for my ego" and a "distraction".
"I think Ken Clarke was on the money earlier on when he said that it was a distraction and it needs to end," he said.