Now, dear reader, bear with. This blogpost is really about Michael Wolff, but it takes a little time before we get to him…
Back in June 2004, when I was Conservative candidate in North Norfolk I remember telling my good friend Keith Simpson, MP for the neighbouring constituency, that Boris Johnson was coming to North Norfolk to do a fundraiser for me. He chuckled and asked if I had a backup plan and suggested that Boris might not know which station to go to to get to Norwich. Sure enough, at a quarter to nine on the morning of the visit the phone rings at my house in Swanton Abbott. “Boris here, now look here old boy, it is King’s Cross isn’t it?” As he was supposed to be on the 9am train from Liverpool Street this was not a promising start to my day. I remained as calm as I could while inwardly cursing and suggested he got a train from Kings Cross to King’s Lynn. “Ok, no probs,” he said. Five minutes later the phone rings again. “No luck old bean, no train till 9.45, gets in at 11.30”. At 11.30 we were due in Stody for an interview on North Norfolk Radio. Aha. More cursing. Silently, naturellement. Thinking quickly I dialled up the trains website and found a 9am train to Peterborough. “Excellent,” trills Boris.
Three minutes later the phone goes again. “Damn and blast,” says Boris, “we missed it”. Luckily there was another one 5 minutes later. Which left me with the small problem of how to get to Peterborough from Swanton Abbott in 15 minutes. I might be a fast driver but I’m not that fast. In the end Boris got a taxi from Peterborough and I picked him up on a rather nasty industrial estate in Wisbech. We arrived at North Norfolk Radio 15 minutes late. Then on to Langham Glass where Boris made a pig. Next stop Pinewoods Leisure Centre for Boris to speak at a Conservative fundraiser. We auctioned a glass pig signed (or rather etched) by Boris. Some farmers gave him an excellnt briefing on sugar beet and everyone seemed happy. Except for me. I was supposed to have him safely delivered in Great Yarmouth where he was speaking for their PPC, Mark Fox, by 4pm. At 3.20 we still hadn’t left.
Then came the journey from hell. We got stuck behind every lorry and tractor in Norfolk and eventually got there at about 4.30. So having driven about 150 miles and been driven to the verge of a nervous breakdown I made my way home to Swanton Abbott looking forward to a trip to Sainsbury’s. Back to reality after a day on Planet Boris. What a superstar he is!
Now accompanying Boris on that day was Vanity Fair journalist Michael Wolff. He was writing a lengthy profile of Boris for the magazine, having spotted him as a rising star in the Tory Party. Quite what he made of Boris’s characteristic travel chaos I do not know. What I do know, though, is that I spent the best part of four or five hours with him that day, chatting to him about his job, British politics and Boris. I observed how he would question Boris, I would earwig his conversations with my party workers when he wanted to get their views on the great man. I spent quite some time talking to Wolff myself and found that he had that irritating knack of asking you all the questions you’d rather not be asked. That’s the mark of an excellent journalist.
Over the course of the next few weeks I received several calls from Michael Wolff (pic right). He wanted to check details. He wanted to read out paragraphs of his profile to see what I thought of them. Had he really ‘got’ Boris? Had he made any mistakes? Like many forensic journalists, I didn’t find Wolff especially likeable. He wasn’t there to be liked, though. He was there to do a job, and to my mind the entire experience showed me what a great journalist he is. I’ve since followed his work in Vanity Fair, GQ and The Guardian. Never once have I found his work anything but highly readable and very informative.
The attempts by the Trump White House to trash his reputation is understandable, but it won’t wash. I’ve written this piece to illustrate the professionalism Michael Wolff showed on the only occasions I have met him or talked to him.
You can read Wolff’s profile of Boris in Vanity Fair HERE.