Boris Johnson’s highwire act | Eyewitness 2012

1 August: London mayor Boris Johnson finds himself hanging midair – but still manages to turn it into a PR coup

Perhaps not even Boris Johnson could have guessed that images of him dangling 20m above the ground on a zip wire would have quite such an impact. Trussed up in a ball-crushing safety harness and waving union flags, the besuited London mayor was stuck in mid-air over Victoria Park for all of five minutes, but the resulting footage still led the national news bulletins.

As his biographer, I remember how my phone started ringing madly with journalists from around the world wanting to know more about “your Boris”. A writer from the Washington Post said his editors were so amused that they wanted him as mayor in DC to make living there “more fun”. David Cameron, with barely concealed envy, noted how such an indignity would have been disastrous for any other politician and yet was “an absolute triumph” for Boris.

Indeed, it was. It was the typically eye-catching launch of his hugely successful campaign to become the face of the Olympics, and underlined his invigorating optimism and genius for self-promotion. He repeatedly eclipsed Cameron during the Games, not least by dissing Mitt Romney in Hyde Park, and talking up the sex life of the nation outside Buckingham Palace to the sound of cheering crowds.

People began talking, quite seriously, of a calculated assault on Downing Street. And all this followed his winning a second term as mayor in May, when the Tories had been 19 points behind in the polls.

It really has been an extraordinary year for a man whose political career was once all but washed up by a series of tabloid sex stories, for a figure who had failed so badly exactly 12 months before the Olympics when London was ablaze and he had floundered. But then as the zip-wire incident demonstrated, Boris possesses an alchemic brilliance at turning ashes into gold.

Sonia Purnell is the author of Just Boris: A Tale of Blond Ambition © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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