HENRY DEEDES: Are you REALLY a Jilly Cooper fan? Rishi Sunak’s neck tightened like an oyster to a squirt of lemon on the This Morning sofa
So this was it. The big one. The interview all prime ministers dread most. No, not an encounter with Andrew Neil (though I don’t doubt for a minute the old rottweiler gets their innards churning).
I refer of course to the This Morning sofa, home of the oh-so-cosy ‘so tell us about yerself’ chit-chat.
It may seem like a merry breeze but, believe me, those chummy, soft soap interviews are a PR minefield.
Rishi Sunak was scheduled right at the top of today’s show, shortly after 10am, squeezed in before a feature on camping equipment and the merits of portable urinals, and Gok Wan’s body confidence makeover.
We were treated to an early shot of the Prime Minister perched awkwardly on the sofa, his face arranged in a tight little smile, possibly wondering what on earth he’d let himself in for and why.
Unusually for someone so dapper, his collar and tie ensemble were skew-whiff.
In the absence of the Dream Team that was once Holly and Phil, Rishi’s interrogators were Alison Hammond and Craig Doyle
Rishi Sunak was scheduled right at the top of today’s This Morning show, shortly after 10am
He looked about as comfortable as a man waiting for an appointment with the proctologist about his haemorrhoids.
And Mr Sunak had good cause to be nervous. ITV’s mid-morning audience is made up of the chocolate digestive-dunking class. If you’re a hit – especially with the nation’s housewives – they will take you to their bosom. Bomb and they never quite look at you the same way again.
In the absence of the Dream Team that was once Holly and Phil – a little bust-up that you may have heard about – Rishi’s interrogators were Alison Hammond and Craig Doyle.
Alison is the bubbly one with the laugh louder than the engine on a Harrier jump jet and no stranger to that sofa. She’s an absolute hoot. Alison Hammond and Craig Doyle asked Rishi Sunak about immigration, Suella Braverman’s speeding row – and his favourite bonkbusters
No wonder Holly’s said to be keen for her to take Phil’s place permanently.
Craig, I must admit, I wasn’t familiar with. Presents rugby, apparently. Lotsa hair gel. Ever so slightly over-familiar.
Alison kicked off by noting the show had a long history of welcoming prime ministers.
We were treated to an early shot of the Prime Minister perched awkwardly on the sofa, his face arranged in a tight little smile, possibly wondering what on earth he’d let himself in for and why
‘Well, it’s great to be here,’ said Rishi. Yeah right. First porkie! Craig grilled him on the immigration figures, which the PM conceded were too high. ‘What’s the dream number?’ asked Craig, sounding a bit like the voice in the Lotto ads. Rishi wasn’t playing that game. ‘We need to bring them down,’ he said firmly.
Talk then turned to Suella Braverman and the brouhaha over her attempt to wangle a private speeding awareness course. ‘Ya know what Rishi,’ said Alison in her sleeves-up, matter-of-fact manner. ‘You’ve let her off the hook, haven’t ya?’
We learned Alison attended two speeding awareness courses in the past. It’s possible one would not wish to be in the passenger seat when Ms Hammond is behind the wheel.
Craig was worried about NHS waiting times. Rishi insisted they were coming down.
He demonstrated how the NHS app was helping patients choose where they could get appointments. Craig remained unimpressed.
‘He’s got a hard job to do,’ interjected Alison sympathetically, pulling a puppy dog frown. I think the PM was starting to grow on her.
After a hesitant start, Rishi was starting to loosen up. Then came the dread words. ‘We want to know about you,’ said Craig.
‘Well, it’s great to be here,’ said Rishi. Yeah right. First porkie! Craig grilled him on the immigration figures, which the PM conceded were too high
Was it true he was a fan of bonkbuster novelist Jilly Cooper? ‘Yes that’s true. It’s unclear how that has emerged,’ Rishi replied nervously
Quick as a flash, Rishi’s neck tightened like an oyster to a squirt of lemon. Uh oh. Here we go.
Was it true he was a fan of bonkbuster novelist Jilly Cooper? ‘Yes that’s true. It’s unclear how that has emerged,’ Rishi replied nervously.
Turned out Alison too was a big Jilly fan. ‘Just the sexy bits,’ she deadpanned.
Rishi, keen to show it was more than an attention-grabbing soundbite, then name-checked some of Jilly’s oeuvre: Riders, Rivals, Polo, The Man Who Made Husbands Jealous and Appassionata were his faves. Cripes. All the filthy ones in other words.
Alison’s eyes suddenly performed a giant pirouette in their sockets. ‘Yass, Prime Minista!!’ she yelled, bringing her hands together with a loud ‘thwack’. For a moment, I thought she was about to give Rishi a big, wet smacker.
Then came the real googlies. ‘What’s your biggest regret?’ asked Alison. Probably discussing those Jilly Cooper books, joked Rishi. Not bad.
‘When did you last cry?’ asked Craig. Not all that long ago. It was to do with one of his daughters.
‘A difficult time,’ Rishi muttered awkwardly. Which rather killed that line of questioning stone dead.
It was time for that segment on camping gear. ‘Prime Minister Rishi, thank you so much,’ gushed Alison.
The past week has seen a worrying drift in government’s fortunes, what with higher than expected inflation and immigration numbers.
But after that interview, my suspicion is the PM will have done his personal prospects no harm whatsoever.
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