Boris Johnson and Lorraine Kelly: Och, the wee clot! PM says he's never heard of her... – Aidan Smith

It was typical of her, the kind of biteback you’d expect from Scotland’s Queen of Daytime TV.

“Hello!” trilled Lorraine Kelly at the Baftas on Sunday night, “and a special hello to Boris! Lovely to see you!”

Boris is Boris Johnson. I’m sure you knew that. You’ll be cognisant with the fact he’s the Prime Minister, for now, and, because you’re smart and tuned into the cultural zeitgeist, you’ll be familiar with Kelly, too.

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Boris, though, isn’t. “Who’s Lorraine?” is bound to figure in his political obituaries when it’s time for them to be written. (Of course, nifty newspapers will already have them, to borrow one of his favourite phrases, “oven-ready” – and all set to go just as soon as he does).

Lorraine Kelly at the Baftas where she got back at Boris Johnson in her own sweet way (Picture: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images)

Scots could have felt slighted by “Who’s Lorraine?” and probably were. Everyone here knows Kelly. Everyone here can impersonate her. “Och, the wee soul!” (Variations: “Och, the wee lamb!… Och, the wee sweetheart!… Och, the wee tumshie!”).

Och, she’s a wee icon! A national treasure right up there with Mary Marquis (and every further up there, Mary’s amazing tower of hair). As well-loved as Jane Franchi and her choker and Selina Scott and her Diana fringe and Carol Smillie and her lit-up staircase twirls and Viv “Lang may yer Lumsden reek” and Kirsty Young, she of the honeyed purr which brought a confusing erotic charge to Crimewatch reconstructions of invaded homes.

I haven’t been surprised, in articles written in defence of Kelly, to see her likened to Her Majesty. One sits on a throne, the other a sofa, but both display serenity, longevity and if the Royal motto is “Never complain, never explain” then Lorraine’s must be the similar “Dinnae fash”.

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She did not stick the boot into Johnson on Sunday; that’s not her style. Since his gaffe on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, she’d been letting everyone else do it. A performer less sure of herself – less accomplished in mixing up a mid-morning melange of soap star kiss ’n’ tells, soft furnishing tips, embarrassing health issues and advice on how make a sponge rise while keeping the flame of marriage burning – might have spent the past week reminding us who she is. Lorraine – no surname necessary, just like Madonna – doesn’t need to do this.

So what came over Johnson? Was it forgetfulness? Had the interview left him frazzled? Was he, after a hard time on the cost-of-living crisis, being snide? Was it his idea of a joke? Or was he genuinely clueless about a woman who’s barely been off our screens for almost 40 years?

Perhaps he was concentrating so hard on the name of the pensioner offered up as an example of the crisis’s victims, reduced to riding around on a bus because it’s warmer than the home she cannot afford to heat. Perhaps this notoriously light-on-detail PM had been cautioned by his media men: “If you’re told about the case of some poor unfortunate, which you almost certainly will, remember what they’re called. Chant it to yourself over and over and over again.”

Thus after several minutes of solemnly intoning “Elsie, Elsie, Elsie” – which possibly turned into a song, the one featuring the name’s most notable reference in popular music: Elvis Costello’s “(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea” – there was simply no more room in his head for any other name.

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This kind of by-rote PR instruction isn’t so far-fetched. In 1983 on the old Nationwide programme Margaret Thatcher took calls from the public. Diana Gould, a schoolteacher, challenged the PM over the sinking of the Argentinian battleship General Belgrano during the Falklands War. Thatcher was left so flustered by Gould’s persistence and naval knowhow that at one point she was forced to admit: “I’m sorry, I’ve forgot your name…”

Thatcher was always very suspicious of viewer phone-ins after that, and highly suspicious of the BBC. Immediately, she wondered about abolishing the Corporation while her husband Denis dubbed it “a nest of long-haired Trots and wooftahs”.

Immediately, too, politicians began writing down the names of the electorate they would encounter on the likes of Question Time so as not to make the same blunder. This has become standard on that show, although the day after the Johnson interview, his Environment minister George Eustice was taking up the cause of Elsie but unfortunately calling her Elsa. I suppose Tories may not know many Elsies. And maybe they sing: “I don’t want to go to Chel-sah.”

You imagine that if we’re already counting down to a General Election then spin-doctors will have begun hammering into governmental grey matter: “Do not – repeat not – forget the names of ordinary folk who have the power to boot you from office.”

But does it matter, if this was a case of genuine ignorance, that the Prime Minister has no knowledge of a TV presenter watched and liked by millions? Of course it does.

Johnson can insist that there’s a war ongoing and it’s big and important and he’s Churchilling it to the max. But given recent behaviour closer to home – actually in his home of a party-thronged evening – he cannot afford to be seen to be so out of touch and unknowing. Or indeed giving off a whiff of superiority, as if he regards tuning in to Lorraine Kelly as being for plebs.

And here he should be careful: the show’s audience may include some of those WFH civil servants who’re currently so reluctant to get back to the office.

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David Cameron when he was PM used to carry around a “cheat sheet” detailing up-to-the-minute ciggie and beer prices after coming unstuck over the cost of a loaf bread. Maybe Conservatives should adopt the same cribbing technique for celebs so they don’t mix up Ant and Dec, or assume they’re short for “antediluvian” and “decorum”.



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