The television presenter Anne Robinson was approached by the Conservative Party to stand for them as London Mayor but turned down the offer, she reveals today in an interview in The Independent.
Ms Robinson, 64, known as the "queen of mean" for her insults to contestants on The Weakest Link , was asked to stand by the Conservatives' director of strategy, Steve Hilton, in 2007, before Boris Johnson had been approached.
"I don't think I've ever revealed this, but, before the Tories asked Boris to be their candidate for mayor of London, they asked me if I'd stand," Ms Robinson said. "Steve Hilton and I were walking on holiday in Switzerland and he asked if I'd consider it."
The Conservative leadership had been struggling to find high-profile candidates for the election, held in May 2008, and at one point interviewed the disc jockey Mike Read, a former presenter of Top of the Pops. He joined (the bottom of) an unofficial shortlist.
The Tory leader, David Cameron, was forced to announce a delay in August 2007 to an "X-Factor-style" selection contest in which Londoners would be able to vote for their favourite choice, after being turned down by a number of high-profile figures. Lord Coe and the former Metropolitan Police chief Lord Stevens were reported to have turned down approaches.
Ms Robinson quickly dismissed Mr Hilton's suggestion. "I wasn't interested," she said. "At the time, there was no candidate and they were obviously casting around. After me, they probably moved on to [Jeremy] Clarkson." Mr Johnson was officially confirmed as candidate a month later, after agonising about whether he should stand.
The Mayor responded to the claim with fighting talk yesterday. Mr Johnson's spokesman said that he would not have been afraid to compete against Ms Robinson for the candidacy. "Boris was the choice of ordinary Conservatives and people in London," he said. "The only thing he said at the time was 'I fear no man', and you can probably add woman to that. Even Anne Robinson."
Ms Robinson said she was also offered a political role by the Conservative MP Alan Clark over dinner – he proposed she be parachuted into a safe Tory seat and could eventually join the Cabinet – but she dismissed it as a chat-up line.
"It was a fabulously clever line," the former journalist said. "It was no use saying to me, 'You're fabulously beautiful, come to bed.' But if you could appeal to my vanity and my having a brain as well ..."
Conservative wish-list: Potential candidates
The ex-BBC director-general was asked by the Tories to stand but would only have done so as an independent. He says Ken Livingstone would have beaten him.
The DJ and television presenter, 62, was interviewed by the Conservative chairman, Francis Maude. His touting caused concern among senior Conservatives.
The former Met Police chief was reportedly favoured by David Cameron but he was not keen on the role.