ELECTION 2001: ON THE TRAIL OF ... Boris Johnson: Hair Apparent Turns Eccentricity into Gravitas for Nice Riverside Seat
Moreton, Cole, The Independent (London, England)
Every star needs a gimmick, something to be remembered by. Madonna has her conical breasts, Victoria Beckham her husband, and the Conservative candidate for Henley-on-Thames his hair. Straw- coloured, unruly, moppish and foppish, like a bleached Beatles wig.
"Good morning," he says in a plummy voice rich with irony, puffing the fringe out of his eyes. "I am Boris Johnson."
The people of Henley know that. "I recognise you," say those he approaches on the street, one after another. Some have seen him on the television, playing up his image as a self-deprecating toff on Have I Got News For You. Others know that he is the editor of the Spectator, a Conservative magazine with influence far greater than its sales figures. Most know his picture byline in the Daily Telegraph, for which the young Old Etonian has been polemicist-in- chief these past few years.
"Oh good," says Boris. "Wonderful. Splendid. Cheerio then. Good to see you." Canvassing in this prosperous, lovely-looking Tory town is a piece of cake. Those few voters who want to bend his ear do so in polite terms, usually about Europe. If they go on too long, holding up the stately progress, he ushers them on to the lurking Daniel Hannan, a clean-cut old sidekick from Fleet Street who is now MEP for the area. Otherwise, it's more a question of wandering around in the sun for a bit.
"Can I interest you in a leaflet?" Boris asks a man of military bearing in a cravat. "You can always throw it away later." Even those who just smile and walk past will remember that they have seen the Hair.
"It is his great advantage," says Mr Hannan, whose own thatch is thinning fast. "Ninety-nine per cent of candidates can go out on the streets as much as they want but people will still say they have never seen them. That won't happen with Boris."
Hair is big in Henley-on-Thames. The Friday morning streets are full of ladies of a certain age whose glorious confections have been teased out with lacquer, rinse, and rollers. The retiring MP, Michael Heseltine, was famous for his own blond mane, of course.
Nobody really thinks that Boris, as everyone calls him, can lose the 11,167 majority he has inherited. As long as he keeps the local grandees happy, doesn't run off with any young boys, and can stand the rest of the party, the 36-year-old Boris will have a job for life. One of the safest seats in the country, a sound platform from which to become a big noise among Conservatives, if he can turn cute eccentricity into gravitas.
"Ripper!" he booms as we enter a jumble sale, the aisles between musty clothes racks thronged with captive voters. …