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Boris Johnson was a long way from home… but he couldn’t escape these awkward questions

September 21, 2021


In New York, TV journalists were taking turns to interrogate Boris Johnson. Never the easiest of challenges. But at least one of them sounded happy with his answers. 

“That was such a well-rounded interview,” gushed NBC’s Hoda Kotb to her colleague Savannah Guthrie. “I learned a lot about Boris Johnson that I didn’t know!”

Strictly speaking, Mr Johnson had divulged only one item of new information. All the same, NBC could, if it wanted, declare that item to be a world exclusive. 

“You have six kids,” Ms Guthrie had said to him during their interview.

“Yes,” the Prime Minister had murmured.

It might not seem like the most eloquent, expansive or indeed interesting answer Mr Johnson has ever given, but it none the less represented a genuine scoop. Because, believe it or not, this was the first time in his entire political career that Mr Johnson had ever confirmed how many children he has. Until this moment, he’d always refused to say. Even the most innocuous questions relating to his family life had been awkwardly batted away. For a showman, he can sometimes be remarkably shy.

On this occasion, however, he was by his standards boldly forthcoming, informing America not only that having children in Downing Street was “fantastic, fantastic”, but that “I change a lot of nappies”. Just this once, questions about personal matters were not strictly off-limits.

Instead, it was questions about politics that seemed to discomfit him. Especially when they came from British journalists. His interviews with them proved rather tetchier.

Perhaps the problem was simply one of time. Having flown 3,500 miles to question the PM, the journalists from British TV – the BBC, Sky News and others – were granted only five minutes each with him. Not long, given the sheer number of crises they were desperate to interrogate him about: gas bills, carbon dioxide, food supplies, Universal Credit, a possible dearth of turkeys at Christmas…  

As a result, each interview was frantically rushed. No sooner had the PM begun to answer a question than his interviewer was cutting him short to ask the next. Normally, journalists struggle to get a word in edgeways with Mr Johnson; this time, he was struggling to get a word in edgeways with them. “Well, Laura, I… Look, Beth, I… If I may, Laura, I… Come on, Beth, I…” 

It was the same pattern every time. In due course, both interviewer and interviewee would be jabbering away simultaneously, determined to make themselves heard above the roar of the traffic (the interviews all took place on the balcony of a skyscraper) and, even more importantly, each other. 

For the viewer, it perhaps wasn’t tremendously enlightening. Given the setting, though, it felt oddly appropriate. This was, after all, New York: a city where everyone constantly talks over each other, at both top speed and top volume. 

They may only have arrived on Sunday, but already the British were blending in beautifully.

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