During the 2007 Conservative party conference the affable member of Parliament Boris Johnson was giving his usual lively speech whilst the governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, was waiting to link up to address the meeting. Schwarzenegger was heard to describe Johnson as 'fumbling all over the place.'
More recently, on 2 November 2009, filmmaker Franny Armstrong was walking home when she was attacked by a group of young girls brandishing an iron bar. She called for a passing cyclist to help. The cyclist chased the attackers, picking up the iron bar they had dropped and calling them 'oiks.' He disappeared after them but reappeared a short time later and gallantly escorted Ms Armstrong home. The cyclist was Boris Johnson, her "knight on a shining bicycle" as she put it.
These are just two incidents in the fascinating career of former Member of Parliament and now Mayor of London Boris Johnson.
Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson was born on 19 June 1964, interestingly in New York. At the age of five his family moved to London and Boris was educated at primary school in Camden and at the European School in Brussels. He then moved on to the prestigious Eton College before reading classics at Balliol College, Oxford. During his time at Oxford he came to know a fellow scholar by the name of David Cameron, joined the Oxford debating society and become the president of the prestigious Oxford Union. He became a journalist working for the Wolverhampton Express and Star, the Daily Telegraph (for which he still writes) and the Spectator. In 1999 Boris became the editor of the Spectator, a job he held until 2005, and in 2001 became the Member of Parliament for Henley on Thames. He has become a popular author and television personality and in May 2008 he surprised some by becoming mayor of London with over one million votes.
Johnson's speeches and articles demonstrate his remarkable ability to communicate. After the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008 it was Johnson who took the handover on behalf of the London 2012 Olympics. His acceptance speech was a classic example of his style. Appearing bearing the Olympic flag, Johnson asked loudly "Where do I put this thing?" Once someone had taken the banner away, the mayor proceeded to deliver one of his characteristically rambling addresses, explaining that Britain had invented or codified most of the world's sports, including table tennis, which started out as 'whiff waff.' As table tennis is an Olympic sport, Johnson was able to state the memorable line 'ping pong is coming home.'
Boris Johnson is a master of the media. He has a strong presence online, using the social media such as Facebook extensively, and provides the worlds press with extensive photo opportunities and quotes. To support the cleaning of the capital's waterways, Johnson climbed into a river to help and promptly fell in. The resulting videos and photographs gave more publicity than a more sober approach would have provided. Characteristically, the mayor told reporters 'the water was very refreshing and I thoroughly recommend it.' He understands a faux pas or accident gets more exposure than a staged photo opportunity.' In many ways, Boris Johnson is a modern Winston Churchill as Churchill was also keen to exploit the available media.
There is another parallel between Johnson and Churchill. Whenever Boris Johnson gives a speech everyone is keen to hear what he has to say as his style is so easy to listen to and is always witty and entertaining. This is precisely how Churchill's speeches were received. He would even allow some deliberate dithering into his address, although perhaps not as much as Boris Johnson does.
It is fascinating to note that when the blond tousled haired Boris Johnson fell in the river the normally hard-hearted press could be heard saying 'oh no' and when he gives a speech the audience reaction is warm and friendly. During those rambling speeches, does he get his point across? Yes, emphatically.
Of course such skills with publicity would be pointless if Boris Johnson did not deliver as a serious administrator behind the scenes. In reality he is the mayor of a multi-ethnic city of more than 8 million people as we enter a period of austerity and social change with the 2012 Olympic Games taking place in the city. By chance the next mayoral elections take place in 2012. He needs to be a good administrator. For the first few months of his tenure, the new mayor looked a little shaky but since then he has started to make an impression. Under his leadership, the Greater London Authority has made Â£100 million savings, achieved the lowest murder rate since 1948, put more policemen on the streets and started to replace the city's unloved 'bendy-buses' with a modern version of the traditional and iconic red double-decker Routemaster buses. Ever the keen cyclist, Johnson has also recently introduced a bicycle hire scheme for the capital. In the light of the past scandal of the expenses claimed by Members of Parliament, he has been quick to make his financial position as transparent as possible. He himself admits he has had to change to adapt to the role of mayor but said in a recent interview with the Mail On Sunday "I take my job seriously but wouldn't want to lose the glint in my eye."
At times however, his glint in the eye has been a weakness, and embroiled him in scandal. In the past he has fallen foul of extra-marital affairs and faces a possible paternity claim very soon. However having built such a strong persona, he seems able to even overcome these challenges.
It is important to understand Johnson's background to understand the man. His style is to portray a bumbling eccentric with a relaxed method of speech making and yet underneath it all is an erudite and adept politician. In an age of polished and uninteresting politicians his style is refreshingly honest.
As a result of his skills in communications and politics, Boris Johnson is being suggested as a future Prime Minister in some quarters. On the whole, I think Mr Churchill would have approved.