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How ‘fantastic’ became Boris Johnson’s buzzword

TIM WALKER's Mandrake column explores the prime minister's repetitive use of the word 'fantastic'.

Gareth Southgate applauds fans after the England's penalty defeat at the hands of Italy - Credit: Getty Images

Their eventual defeat to Italy in the Euro final at Wembley notwithstanding, Boris Johnson said on Twitter that Gareth Southgate’s squad put in a “fantastic” performance.

Before the England manager lets it go to his head – unlikely, I know, for such a shrewd judge of character – he should be aware of one thing:

That Johnson has, over the past few weeks, also used the word “fantastic” to describe a youngster who sleeps in a tent to raise money for charity; a visit to a green energy provider; a Dutch electric vehicle manufacturer; a group of volunteers and NHS workers he met; a trip to Nissan’s Sunderland factory; the work of the Armed Forces…

I could go on, but it’s like Johnson’s Tweets are computer-generated and the same buzzwords – others he likes are “great” and “brilliant” – recur over and over again. 

The PR supremo Mark Borkowski tells me: “Johnson’s style of mass communication suggests he’s following the Donald Trump handbook. That’s the Trump who used the word “beautiful” 35 times over the course of 30 days.

“In an age of 280-character-tweets and 15-second soundbites, political leaders seem to be developing dialects of their own,” continues Borkowski. “Who has the time – or column space – for eloquence in a fast-paced news cycle? ‘Fantastic’, ‘huge’, ‘beautiful’ are all part of a new 21st century Morse code, ghastly to some, but readily recognisable and easily legible to most others.

“For such a supposedly great wordsmith, Johnson seems happy to use language that’s thin, insincere and patronising, but, if you believe the polls, it’s working. I suspect it’s like verbal junk food; when times are tough, we lap it up even knowing how little substance it offers.”

Cash cow

Andrew Neil’s paymasters at GB News could be forgiven for not offering their chairman holiday pay. 

The news veteran, who decided he needed a break two weeks after the right-wing news channel went live, is raking it in at his private company, Glenburn Enterprises.

Paperwork just in at Companies House disclose a £745,000 profit for him, taking the outfit’s net worth to an impressive £10.8m. 

Where the money is coming from are not, however, revealed, and its work is defined simply as “artistic creation”. 

The financial statements for Glenburn, set up by Neil in 1990, show its assets have been gaining sharply in value, with a £674,960 “revaluation of land and buildings and fixed asset investments”.

Retained earnings rose by a more modest £70,464. On December 31, 2020, Glenburn was sitting on £8.8m worth of listed investments. 

Johnson’s balls

Boris Johnson’s former colleagues at the Daily Telegraph have been left bewildered by his sudden passion for footie. 

“He regarded it as a yobs’ game,” one tells me. “People say he prefers rugby, but the only game I ever saw him get excited about – and I actually played against him – was croquet. It was a country house weekend – I’d better not say which one – and he won, but, needless to say, he cheated.”

By George

George Osborne’s new colleagues at the British Museum – he takes over as chair in October – must be hoping he will have more luck looking after its finances than he had at the Evening Standard.

The London freesheet ran up 

£74m in losses on his watch. Ongoing losses rising from £36.9m in 2016, the year before he became editor, to £111m in September last year. 

At least its owner Evgeny Lebedev has deep pockets: £20m in new shareholder loans granted last year was reported. 

Maybe Osborne will persuade his chum to find a few rubles for the British Museum.