RACHEL JOHNSON on hobnobbing with the high priests of remain. And getting a screen break from Brexit.
I try to say yes if I possibly can. It’s more positive-sounding. More dynamic than no. It also helps explain why Leave won the referendum. Brexit and Leave sound propulsive but ‘Remain’ sounds inert. Static.
Because I always say yes I ended up spending three hours – arguably three too many – broadcasting on Brexit last Thursday.
OK, the first hour doesn’t count as it was my regular spot on Sky News called The Pledge. A note on The Pledge before we crack on…
I am very proud of being one of the panellists of this exciting topical debate show, but when I bumped into a Sky nabob at Roland Rudd’s party at Tate Britain on Wednesday last week, and we were throwing back our sparkling flutes of Bollinger as if it was going out of fashion, he said: ‘Haha, oh yes, I saw Lynton Crosby this week… he’s still working for your brother isn’t he?’ I get into terrible trouble if I ever say anything about any of my brothers so I said nothing. ‘And Amber Rudd,’ my valued colleague continued. ‘Isn’t he?’
Again I looked blank while trying to work out how much the party cost. (I wonder how much everything costs these days since I was sacked before I could resign, like the rest of my family, and the white wine was a Puligny Montrachet and highly drinkable.)
As he carried on, my eye wandered over the high priests of Remain clotted in the middle of the atrium: Hugo Dixon, Caroline Criado Perez, Jess Phillips, Stella Creasy, Nicky Morgan…
The Sky man said: ‘Oh yes and Lynton also said… (at this point he put on a stagey Aussie accent)… ‘The Plidge. What’s thet about? Where on earth do they foind these people?”
Yes, the Wizard of Oz meant me, and fellow regulars Nick Ferrari, Afua Hirsch, Greg Dyke et al. I roared with laughter.
My other principle is to take all insults as implied compliments (and vice versa – ‘have you lost weight?’ means you were fat before, etc).
The Pledge took the whole morning to record, as it is a highly slick and produced show. It normally goes out at 8pm – repeated on Saturday and Sunday – but this was not a normal Thursday. Ministers were tumbling like skittles, rats were leaving the sinking ship, and poor TM was on her hind legs for most of the day pretending Nothing Had Changed and she was strong and stable and – most hilarious of all – we were still on course for a ‘smooth and orderly’ Brexit.
As the day progressed, I took calls from panicky broadcast assistants trying to book their shows. Then Kirsty Wark called me on my mobile.
When presenters bother to do this, I am invariably fluffed into submission. Wark explained they were doing a special extended feature on the day’s tumult. Would I come on Newsnight to talk about the People’s Vote?
Look, she had me before she even said People’s Vote.
I worked out this would dovetail with my hour with Iain Dale of LBC from 8pm to 9pm. At Leicester Square, LBC was getting into a lather of excitement that the PM was coming in to do half an hour’s live with Nick Ferrari the following morning.
‘You’re sitting in the VERY CHAIR the prime minister is going to be sitting in eleven hours’ time!’ I was told.
Fast forward to 10pm. I am in the Green Room at Newsnight. It turns out that there is no People’s Vote disco after all, and so my earlier conversations with Henry Porter, Eloise Todd, and Tom Baldwin, all troupers putting in 16-hour days trying to make it happen, are wasted on the desert air.
Instead there is a panel: Toby Young, the Telegraph’s Camilla Tominey, Sir Craig Oliver, and I’m not sure what I’m there for. Wark was candid and charming. She leant over me when I was in make-up to put on her lippy. ‘Still no word about Question Time,’ she said (she’s auditioned to be the next host). ‘Ah well, it’s only been nine weeks.’
As I’m in the taxi on the way back I take an executive decision not to look at Twitter. If going on Newsnight is the first sign of madness, then looking at Twitter is the second, third, and fourth. My Sky show never went out (rolling news bumped it) and I went home without supper.
The next day I tweeded-up for Countryside Day at Cheltenham as the guest of the Jockey Club. In the first race – the 12.40 – I put 20 quid on Young Master ridden by Sam Waley Cohen and he romped home. I drank Ruinart all day and gave out a trophy in a flat cap. I didn’t talk politics once, either on or off screen. It was a bloody great day.
Rachel Johnson is a panellist on Sky News’ The Pledge