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Boris Johnson like a ‘great unruly golden retriever, howling for attention’, former aide says

Written by on 29 July 2022

Boris Johnson has “temper tantrums” and is like a “great unruly golden retriever, howling for attention”, a former aide has said.

Cleo Watson, who worked in Number 10 as deputy chief of staff, has also described her role as that of a “nanny” who had to take the PM’s temperature during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic and ask him whether he had washed his hands.

When he insisted on working downstairs after being “pinged”, a barrier was set up between his office and the adjacent one because he “couldn’t resist stepping over the threshold”, Ms Watson said.

She added: “So the prime ministerial ‘puppy gate’ was created,” as part of a “fair amount of house-training”.

Ms Watson continued: “He’d kneel on the seats, his elbows propped over the top, like a great unruly golden retriever, howling for attention.”

While taking his temperature, “brandishing an oral, digital thermometer”, Ms Watson found that the PM, “never willing to miss a good slapstick opportunity, dutifully feigned bending over”.

During Mr Johnson’s recovery from a serious bout of COVID, when he spent a period in intensive care, Ms Watson said she encouraged him to drink “vitamin-filled green juices instead of his usual Diet Coke” and find time in his diary for “naps or very gradual exercise”.

She even forced him to “have a sit-down once he got to the top of the famous yellow Downing Street staircase to catch his breath before a meeting”.

Referring to that period, she said: “I alternated between stern finger-wagging and soothing words in response to his regular, ‘I hate COVID now. I want everything to go back to normal. Why does everything happen to meeeeeee?’ temper tantrums.”

Cleo Watson with Dominic Cummings in Downing Street in October 2019 Image: Cleo Watson with Dominic Cummings in Downing Street in October 2019

In an article for Tatler magazine, Ms Watson refers to a forthcoming drama being made by Sky about the early stages of the government’s response to the pandemic.

She writes: “If they’re able to capture even half of the horrific out-of-body experience of standing outside the PM’s office, watching live news footage of stretcher-filled car parks in Lombardy hospitals, or the sheer bravery of Carrie heavily pregnant and reckoning with the possibility that she might be about to lose the father of her imminent firstborn child as a nation watched on, then it should be a fruitful awards season for all concerned.”

Mr Johnson is played by Sir Kenneth Branagh, whose transformation is “uncanny” Ms Watson said, referring to the “posture, the hair, the beaky nose and the basset-hound-like cheeks”.

Ms Watson started in Downing Street in 2019 after being brought in by Mr Johnson’s chief adviser, Dominic Cummings.

She left in November 2020, about two weeks after Mr Cummings’ own departure.

In the Tatler article, Ms Watson refers to a conversation she had with Mr Johnson before she left.

“He said a lot of things, the most succinct being ‘I can’t look at you any more because it reminds me of Dom. It’s like a marriage has ended, we’ve divided up our things and I’ve kept an ugly old lamp. But every time I look at that lamp, it reminds me of the person I was with. You’re that lamp’.”

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