OK,old Bean, Here's the Bad News YOU'RE FIRED... Now the Good News YOU'RE HIRED; Maverick Tory MP Boris Johnson Has Resigned as Editor of the Spectator to Concentrate on Politics. Here, as the Magazine Awaits the Arrival of Its New Chief, an Insider Describes the Bizarre World of 'The Sextator'., REVIEW

Article excerpt


Hi, old bean. Boris here. Got a wheeze for you.' It was August 1999 and Boris Johnson was phoning me from The Spectator, where he'd just been appointed editor. We'd been pals at Oxford in the Eighties and, like everyone who met him, I liked Boris; he had that rare quality of being able to instil affection without attracting envy or malice.

In our student days it was obvious he was destined for higher things. It wasn't just his intellect and charisma, there was a vital extra quality too: his looks. He was someone you noticed immediately, with those pale and slightly mad blue eyes, the great hayrick of electrocuted hair, and the booming Duke of Wellington voice that made him sound like an expensively educated donkey.

After leaving Oxford, I watched his rapid ascent from jobbing journalist to media star and was delighted when he wanted me to join his team. The first 'wheeze' he cooked up was a typically weird Boris plan. He'd been incensed by unscrupulous tabloid journalists who ensnared celebrities by offering them Class A drugs. His friend the Earl of Hardwicke had been ruined in this way and the England rugby union star Lawrence Dallaglio was forced to resign the captaincy after telling undercover hacks he had snorted cocaine.

Boris decided to catch them out at their own game, and my role was to sell false information to the tabloids. Our first 'revelation' was that Boris led a secret life as a crooked art dealer, smuggling antiquities around the world on jets owned by The Spectator's then proprietor, Conrad Black. Of course there wasn't a shred of truth in it and no newspaper took the bait.

So Boris raised the stakes, offering The Spectator itself as a hotbed of cocaine abuse.

This time I got plenty of interest. I met a journalist from the News Of The World in an East End pub and, using my real Christian name, David, I signed a contract guaranteeing to tell the newspaper my story 'with particular reference to Boris Johnson dealing/taking drugs'. The fee was [pounds sterling]5,000.

We went to a payphone and I rang Boris: 'Hi Boris, it's David here,' I said with the News Of The World contact listening in. Boris and I had arranged that I would use my Christian name as a signal our conversation was being taped.

'Er, yuh ... er, David. Hi,' stammered Boris, acting very badly. We had a rather stilted conversation in which he offered to sell me a gram of 'Prince Charles' for [pounds sterling]80. I said I'd come over to collect it right away.

Convinced it had taped evidence of Boris dealing Class A drugs, the newspaper mobilised its troops. A blacked-out van full of photographers was sent to The Spectator and a video camera was hidden in the handbag of a female reporter posing as my girlfriend. They even dispatched their chief investigator, Mazher Mahmood (better known as the 'fake sheikh'), to meet me and double-check my story.

While Boris prepared for the next stage of the sting by stuffing a plastic bag full of baking soda into one of his old rugby trophies at The Spectator, I was being greeted at The Hilton by a short, nondescript fellow who introduced himself as Mahmood. He was rather sceptical, then suddenly announced: 'We can't go any further, it's entrapment.' He delivered a brief sermon on his newspaper's rigorous ethical policy and bade me a sardonic farewell: 'Good luck in journalism.' We'd been rumbled. I sloped back to The Spectator's plush Georgian offices. Boris was dismayed all our hard work had gone for nothing. He was particularly miffed when he saw the contract I'd signed: 'Five thousand? My scalp's

got to be worth more than that. We should have asked for a hundred grand. OK, listen old bean. I've got another wheeze ... ' For the next six years Boris would phone me every fortnight with some new Mad Hatter scheme. One week I was interviewing the Serbian royal family, the next I was infiltrating gangs of animal rights terrorists. …