The day Boris met his political role model

'The Thick Of It' star Rebecca Front gets a taste of the real thing with the Tory Mayor

Boris Johnson is working the crowd in front of an Ealing hairdresser's shop, apparently unaware that the sign above his trademark tousle reads Sheer Hair. I take a snap on my mobile phone and post it on Twitter.

Since playing a cabinet minister in the BBC2 series The Thick of It, I've been asked to do many things not commonly within an actor's remit: appearing on Question Time, a part in a Labour Party political broadcast (Have they not seen how hopeless my character is?) and now following Boris as he tours Ealing in west London, drumming up support for the Conservative candidate, Angie Bray.

The Tories have kept London's Mayor out of the spotlight for much of the campaign, possibly to deprive the electorate of the opportunity to get a winning hand in a game of Bullingdon rummy, but more probably because of his wilful refusal to speak like a party apparatchik.

Boris, whose second anniversary as the most powerful Conservative in public office falls today, is referred to as "gaffe-prone". But aside from the odd moment of slapstick (who can forget him falling in the canal he was helping to clean?) I suspect most Borisisms are more canny than careless. Inside that Bertie Wooster exterior is a Jeeves-sized intellect.

When the Mayor publicly berated David Cameron for not making his flagship idea for a national citizen service compulsory, I don't suppose he did it by accident. So it looked as if he'd been locked in an attic, like the first Mrs Rochester, but been allowed out for such light buffoonery duties as his speech in praise of England, custard and St George.

Now he's in west London, glad-handing all comers. He looks baffled at my presence in the entourage of political journalists and party activists. "You're an actress," he says, peering at me through narrowed eyes. I tell him I'm in The Thick of It, and he announces to the assembled press, surprisingly, that my character is his political role model. "Inspiring people out of poverty" he quotes from one of the episodes. "Marvellous." The episode to which he refers concerns a nonsensical social affairs initiative called The Fourth Sector. I tell Boris many people have drawn comparisons between its vague, do-gooder lack of definition and Cameron's Big Society agenda. He laughs, and claps me on the arm in a clubbable fashion.

He seems happy for me to trot alongside eavesdropping, although when he slips into a shifty-sounding conversation with a stall-holder about the best kind of tobacco for a shisha pipe, and I tell him I'm going to put it in the article, he squints at me again and says: "I'm worried about your article."

You may not share his views, be a fan of his mayoral achievements or his tendency to throw political correctness to the four winds if he thinks it will improve his rhetoric (remember the furore over his use of the word "piccaninny"?) but he's got something.

Sometimes, on TV, he exhibits a slightly superior smirk, as if he can't be bothered to take anything seriously. But in person he slips seamlessly from snatched Oxbridge banter with one man – "Were you at Trinity?" "No, but I had a girlfriend who was ..." – to a carefully worded answer about immigration. When a passer-by accosts him about parking laws in Kensington, Boris asks: "May I ask where you're from?" "I'm Italian," the man replies. "Buongiorno," the Mayor beams. "Now let me introduce you to my colleague. He knows about parcheggio in Kensington."

An employee of a phone shop emerges with a present for the Mayor, a replacement for his "knackered Nokia". Boris explains that he can't accept the gift, so the man suggests he might like to buy the phone from him instead. Boris seems delighted by the man's "entrepreneurial spirit".

After a fleeting visit to a café where the manager has, implausibly, adorned his walls with pictures of James Dean, Al Pacino and Boris, he finishes his walkabout and I mention that one bookie has him at 3-1 to be the next Tory leader. He claims not to know this.

I can't see it happening, but if it ever does, it will be because of his cavalier disregard for saying what politicians are supposed to.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
New Articles
tvDownton Abbey Christmas special
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
art
News
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashion
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all