A youthful flirtation comes back to haunt Boris

Henry Deedes
Monday 07 August 2006 00:00 BST

For many, Boris Johnson represents the authentic voice of British Conservatism. But for 20 years, he has been guarding a guilty secret.

During his time at Oxford, Boris touted himself as a supporter of the Social Democrats.

The accusation comes from the venerable American pollster Frank Luntz, a contemporary of Johnson's, who claims that Boris touted his SDP credentials while running for the Oxford Union presidency, reckoning it to be an easy vote spinner.

"I was critical of his political stagecraft. I felt at the time, as I do now, that you should be who you are, not what you think voters want you to be," Kuntz tells me.

"He embraced the SDP because they were the political power at Oxford at that time, and they helped him get elected.

"He was and is one of the most effective speakers I have ever heard, and he won the election on his merits.

"But I told him then - 20 years ago - that some day I would publicise the fact that he turned his back on the party he believed in.

"I guess that day is today."

Boris admits he was the preferred presidential choice of the Oxford SDPs, but denies ever trying to mould himself as a one of them.

"That isn't how I remember it at all, but Frank is a very great man and a political genius so I'll leave it at that," he tells me.

Irvine Welsh loses the plot

Despite reports that Irvine Welsh has mellowed since settling down to married life, I hear the former hell-raising novelist recently had what can best be described as a "McEnroe moment".

It occurred during the filming of a music video for the pop band Keane, which Welsh had been hired to direct.

During filming, a young girl, whom Welsh presumed to be an extra, accidentally walked in front of the camera, so that a whole scene had to be reshot.

"Irvine was understandably very frustrated and started swearing and shouting all over the place," said a friend of the author's at the launch of his new book, The Bedroom Secrets of the Masterchefs.

"Most of it was directed at this poor girl. When the band's singer, Tom Chaplin, came over and informed him it that was his girlfriend, Irvine was absolutely mortified."

A spot of light relief for Thandie

Thandie Newton is cock-a-hoop after landing a part in a new comedy alongside Eddie Murphy.

It's certainly a change of tack for the Cambridge-educated actress, who was last seen playing a traumatised victim of sexual harrassment in the Oscar-winning film Crash.

"I really needed to do something lighter," she told me at last week's premiere of Volver. "I generally play tough roles that are emotionally hard going.

"I just did this film with Will Smith, and typically the film lightened up once my character was no longer in it.

"So doing a film with Eddie is great, but I half expect the film police to come along and say, 'What are you doing? You're not supposed to be in comedies,' and take me away."

Beyond the grave

During the musical chairs that accompanied the Cabinet reshuffle last May, I hear that some ministers left their successors some unwanted relics.

Hilary Armstrong, who was moved on as Chief Whip to the office of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, inherited John Hutton's collection of war paintings.

Hutton has been writing a book on First World War veterans, and has apparently become quite engrossed in memorabilia of the era.

"The paintings are all graves and helmets, and are quite dark and depressing," says one visitor. "Some visitors have commented that they rather like them, but others find them a bit morbid."

Brunel's cracking up without a smoke

Beyond the grave, Isambard Brunel has delivered an upturned finger to the politically correct mandarins of modern academia.

Last month, Pandora reported that Brunel University had unveiled a statue in honour of the eminent Victorian engineer which did not show him smoking his trademark cigar.

While the university insists it was for practical reasons, Brunel fans reckoned the cheroot had been omitted on grounds of political correctness.

Whatever the explanation, the decision may have proved a costly one. Spookily, just several weeks after its unveiling, I'm told that the life-size bronze has developed a nasty "death crack" in its stone plinth.

"The university have put a hoarding around it for now and are seeing how serious the damage is," I'm told. "Perhaps they should have left Isambard to puff away in peace after all."

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