It was an Olympic mishap that saw his popularity soar, says Katy Balls.
In the golden summer of the London 2012 Olympics, everything seemed to go right. Team GB enjoyed its greatest performance of the modern era – but it wasn’t just the athletes on a winning streak. This was a time when the then London mayor Boris Johnson could do little wrong. A constant sight at the games, Boris was cheered wherever he went while fellow Tories were more likely to be booed (George Osborne and Theresa May were heckled at the London Paralympics ceremonies).
At a celebration event in East London’s Victoria Park, Boris agreed to ride down a 1,050ft zip wire – complete with a hard hat and two union flags. The stunt quickly went wrong and he was left hanging 20ft in the air for five minutes. Not that he, or the crowd, seemed bothered. ‘This is great fun but it needs to go faster,’ he joked.
It was clear this was a man not bound by the usual laws of political gravity. Rather than go down as a gaffe, the stunt only increased his It was clear this was a man not bound by the usual laws of political gravity. Rather than go down as a gaffe, the stunt only increased his popularity. As David Cameron – then prime minister – put it, ‘If any other politician anywhere in the world was stuck on a zip wire it would be a disaster. For Boris, it’s an absolute triumph.’ His buffoonery appeared to further endear him to voters, with polls that month among Tory activists finding him the preferred choice to succeed David Cameron.
Little did we know just how much things would change. In 2016 Boris went from lovable clown to one of the men responsible for leading the UK out of Europe after campaigning with Vote Leave during the EU referendum. His Brexiteer credentials have split his former fanbase into pro- and anti- camps.
With Theresa May expected to step down later this year, there’s once again chatter that Boris could be in line for the top job. He comes with more baggage than in 2012, but if Boris could capture the nation’s imagination as he did that summer, it’s possible.
Also that month…
- London hosted the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Team GB won a total of 65 Olympic medals – the most since 1908 – with cyclist Chris Hoy (right) taking two golds.
- Prince Harry was photographed playing strip billiards in a Las Vegas hotel suite.
- Three members of the Russian feminist activist group pussy riot were jailed for hooliganism.
- Wikileaks founder Julian Assange was granted political asylum by the Ecuadorian embassy in London.