A former BBC producer has just exposed the Machiavellian cynicism behind Boris Johnson’s ‘bumbling idiot’ act. And we’d all do well to take note.
No matter how often Johnson makes racist and offensive statements, he seems to be able to sidestep any meaningful punishment by causing the British media to melt on first sighting. And according to BuzzFeed correspondent Jane Bradley, it’s because he has a secret weapon.
He messes up his famous blond hair… on purpose.
Journalist and author Zoe Margolis was one of the first on Twitter to point out the devious PR reasoning hiding behind Johnson’s wacky hairdo:
Someone in a green room once told me that Boris Johnson purposely messes up his hair if he knows he's about to encounter cameras or TV, so that he appears unkempt, and I've never got it out of my head how contrived his whole zany persona is – and how the press lap it up.
— Zoe Margolis (@girlonetrack) August 13, 2018
Then, former BBC producer Jane Bradley – who now works as an investigations correspondent for BuzzFeed UK – confirmed the rumour, recounting her first-hand experience of Johnson’s conceited hair-tousling:
Can confirm this is true from my time working as a producer for BBC London – he’d always ruffle it right before the camera started rolling. All part of his carefully calculated “loveable rogue” persona which things like that viral tea video let him play up to so well. https://t.co/Xo7ch8IqBu
— Jane Bradley (@jane__bradley) August 13, 2018
Critics like Owen Jones and Labour MP David Lammy have called out the former foreign secretary for hiding behind his public image of disarming toffery, also condemning the press for lapping up the act. Johnson hands out tea to journalists; he rugby-tackles children. To the fawning British media, it’s just Boris being Boris.
But who would have thought his hair would play such a vital role in deflecting criticism.
Several members of the ‘Twitterati’ were quick to pile in on Bradley’s thread, backing up reports of Johnson’s premeditated hair ruffling:
Yep I worked at the Palace of Westminster and have witnessed him doing it in a corridor just before a meeting.
— Jude (@ArtDecoFace) August 14, 2018
One commenter even alleged that the former foreign secretary said ‘Showtime!’ as he scruffed up his blond mop before meeting the press:
Yes, absolutely. He visited a friend’s business and was razor sharp on everything until he had to leave and knew the press was outside. His exact words as he ruffled his hair was “Showtime!” When will people realise he’s playing them for fools!
— Lynn #FBPE #MakeVotesMatter #PeoplesVote 🇪🇺🌈 (@Lynn_GT) August 14, 2018
Many journalists in the right-wing press have tried to convince their readers that Boris’s unkempt appearance is in line with his naturally bumbling personality. And his sister, Rachel Johnson, has gone on record saying that “We have uncontrollable hair! His hair doesn’t lie flat, it never has”.
But this hasn’t washed with social media users. On reading the reports, Twitter reacted to Johnson’s hair-ruffling not so much with astonishment but apathy. In fact, it looks like Johnson’s “fraudulent” public persona is starting to wear thin:
His public persona has always been so obviously fraudulent, I can't understand how so many people are still fooled by it. They must simply want to be.
— CatherINe N (@MissNortonC) August 14, 2018
Others described his personal brand as “amazingly obvious”:
This is one of those things I file under “amazingly obvious” and wonder how it’s possible that media types don’t know they’re being played.
Seriously, guys. How? It’s pathetically easy
— undeadbydawn (@undeadbydawn) August 14, 2018
But the real surprise on Twitter seemed to be caused exclusively by the British mainstream press and their constant fawning over such a cheap act:
Everything Johnson does is managed to boost the Boris brand and get the maximum publicity. We all need to stop referring to him as Boris because by so doing we make him appear convivial and harmless. He is not. He is a ruthless opportunist and politically dangerous
— Grahame Lucas #FBPE #ABTV #WATON #FBR (@GrahameLucas) August 14, 2018
Getting off scot free
Bradley’s revelation tells us what we should already know: Johnson has cultivated and weaponised his persona, right down to his haircut, to manipulate the press and gain public sympathy. The fact that so many journalists are happy to play his game is deeply worrying.
As Novara Media’s Ash Sarkar states, “Boris Johnson is just Tommy Robinson with a posh accent”. His haircut may be harmless, but the cynical politics that lurk beneath are certainly not, and we need to hold him to account.
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Featured image via Chatham House/Flickr