David Cameron has told Andrew Marr that he is “desperately embarrassed” by the photo of himself looking imperious and arrogant in his £1,200 tailcoat as a member of Oxford’s Bullingdon Club. But he really should get used to it, for the story isn’t going to go away. Tomorrow night it crops up again in a 90-minute More4 drama-documentary about Dave Cameron, Boris Johnson, the Buller and that whole lost, mid-Eighties era of Brideshead-Revisited-revisited world of undergraduate hedonism. It’s called When Boris Met Dave and – at least for those of us who haven’t political careers to consider – its pastiche of the period’s wilder idiocies is both deeply blush-making and hilariously funny.
I say “us” because I was there, too, alongside Dave Cameron and Boris Johnson and all sorts of others who were just precocious teenagers at the time but have done quite well since, such as novelists Rachel Johnson and Rachel Cusk, war reporters Aidan Hartley and Sam Kiley, actor and Second World War voiceover king, Sam West, theatre director Katie Mitchell, Polish defence minister Radek Sikorski, film director Justin Hardy, political correspondent Nick Robinson and journalist Toby Young, plus a good many of the leading lights in Cameron’s Conservatives, such as shadow schools minister Michael Gove and influential touchy-feely Tory “moderniser” Nick Boles.
Not only was I there, but for some weird reason I still can’t fathom, I was actually at the very heart of political history in the making. You see, unlike 99.9 per cent of the 20,000 or so students who were there at the time, I was reasonably good friends with both Boris and Dave. That’s why I not only appear in the documentary as a talking head but, get this, I actually have my very own James Delingpole character, played by a beautiful and immensely talented actor called Christopher Leveaux.
If Leveaux weren’t so beautiful and immensely talented I might have been tempted to sue, for the impersonation he gives is the most outrageously inaccurate pastiche. No, I did not spend my time mincing gaily around Oxford’s quads dressed up as Sebastian Flyte from Brideshead and clutching a teddy bear. But I’m prepared to concede that I may have cut a mildly ridiculous figure: the minor public schoolboy from the Midlands striving desperately to pretend he was posher than he was – brogues, tweed jackets, strangled vowels – so as to get on in what he imagined was Upper Class Society.
What I didn’t quite appreciate at the time was that most of the genuine posh people were doing the opposite. I think perhaps it’s pushing it to suggest – as Rachel Johnson colourfully does at one point – that all the Old Etonians at the time talked like West Indians. But it’s certainly true that they didn’t feel the need to shout out their toff credentials quite as much as we smelly-oiky social climbers did.
Take Dave (and he really was known as Dave, even then). Though his accent at the time was considerably fruitier and more patrician (not unlike David Dimbleby’s) than the flat, Estuary tones he is given in the drama-doc, he definitely wasn’t one of those Evelyn Waugh style toffs stealing bowler hats from college porters and baying for broken glass. He dressed like a normal 19-year-old student. Did normal 19-year-old student things like watch too much daytime TV (Going For Gold, etc), chased (and got) attractive women, and drank lots of beer in the JCR. He was likeable and fun, with not an ounce of (apparent) political ambition in his bones. If it hadn’t been for that incriminating Buller photograph, his Oxford career might have gone completely unremarked, save for the First he got at the end.
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