It started off as a gentle Sunday morning interview. Eddie Mair – standing in for Andrew Marr on the BBC’s flagship Sunday morning programme – was quizzing the Mayor of London about issues including economic migrants and the Olympic legacy. It was all quite well-mannered and sedate – until the whole encounter took quite a turn.
Out of nowhere, Mair decided to question Boris’ integrity. “The Times let you go after you made up a quote. Why did you make up a quote?” he asked. Immediately flummoxed, Boris wondered: “Are you sure your viewers wouldn’t want to hear more about housing in London?” Mair replied: “OK. But you made a quote up.”
Boris began to explain: “Well, what happened was that … I ascribed events that were supposed to have taken place before the death of Piers Gaveston to events that actually took place after the death of Piers Gaveston,” he said.
“Yes. You made something up,” Mair replied. Johnson said: “Well, I mean, I mildly sandpapered something somebody said, and yes it’s very embarrassing and I’m very sorry about it.”
After this revelation, it was clear that Mair smelled blood: “Let me ask you about a barefaced lie. When you were in Michael Howard’s team, you denied to him you were having an affair. It turned out you were and he sacked you for that. Why did you lie to your party leader?”
Boris was again clearly uncomfortable: “Well, I mean again, I’m … with great respect … on that, I never had any conversation with Michael Howard about that matter and, you know, I don’t propose …”
Mair interrupted: “You did lie to him.”
Johnson: “Well, you know, I don’t propose to go into all that again.”
Mair: “I don’t blame you.” He then went on the offensive again, determined to get Boris to admit that his ultimate ambition is to be Prime Minister. He said: “You could end it all just by saying what you know to be true. What should viewers make of your inability to give a straight answer to a straight question?”
Bozza, now on the ropes, replied: “They [the viewers] don’t care about phone conversations with my friends 20 years ago, they don’t care about some ludicrous, so-called made-up quote, and what’s the third accusation? I can’t remember …”
“Lying to Michael Howard,” Mair reminds him.
The Johnson family’s response to the remarkable interview has been mixed. Bozza has conceded that Mair did ‘a fantastic job’ while his father, Stanley, has slammed the BBC, calling the interview a ‘disgusting’ piece of journalism.
Johnson Sr told London talk radio station LBC on Monday: “I thought Eddie Mair’s interview was one of the most disgusting pieces of journalism I’ve listened to for a very long time. The BBC sank about as low as it could.”
However, Bozza was more generous. He said: “”Eddie Mair did a splendid job. There is no doubt that is what the BBC is for – holding us to account.
“I fully concede it wasn’t my most blistering performance, but that was basically because I was set to talk about the Olympics and housing in London and he wanted to talk about other things, some of them – my private life and so on – of quite some antiquity, the details of which I wasn’t brilliant on. He was perfectly within his rights to have a bash at me – in fact it would have been shocking if he hadn’t. If a BBC presenter can’t attack a nasty Tory politician what’s the world coming to?”
Did you watch the interview? Was it ‘disgusting’ journalism or did the BBC hold Boris to account?