LONDON — It is not an easy task to hold Boris Johnson to account. Ask John Palmer, who tried to do it 30 years ago, when they were both reporters covering Europe for British newspapers.
Mr. Johnson, now 55 and on a glide path toward becoming prime minister, was then a rising star at The Daily Telegraph, cranking out front-page scoops that verged on satire, portraying European bureaucrats as absurd, overregulating control freaks. That the articles often proved to be overblown or inaccurate did not seem to bother him.
He was a posh eccentric out of a P.G. Wodehouse novel, absent-minded and chronically disorganized, fresh from studying classics at Eton and Oxford. His hair protruded from his head at surprising angles, and the doors of his red Alfa Romeo, his biographer writes, were sometimes secured with string. Mr. Palmer, who covered Europe for the left-wing Guardian newspaper and was Mr. Johnson’s father’s age, tried to warn him that his distortions had become dangerous. But nothing seemed to stick.
“He would say, ‘You’re taking it all too seriously, for God’s sake. Have a sense of proportion, old boy,’ ” Mr. Palmer said. “He would say, ‘It’s the underlying truth that you’re missing, the underlying truth.’ ”
“Everything I wrote from Brussels — I was sort of chucking these rocks over the garden wall, and I listened to this amazing crash from the greenhouse next door over in England,” he said. “Everything I wrote was having this amazing, explosive effect on the Tory party, and it really gave me this, I suppose, rather weird sense of power.”
But his rise, Mr. Gimson said, was stalled repeatedly by eruptions of his “anarchic side.”
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