It was a subdued, thinner and washed out Boris Johnson who stepped out from behind the world’s most prominent front door – the Prime Minister is back following his very real skirmish with death, and his priority was to give a hurriedly, orchestrated televised speech as a real display he had recovered and was very much in charge.
His two weeks in rural recuperation at Chequers in the Buckinghamshire countryside may have revived him mentally, but he looked like he was making a Monday morning effort as he greeted the country from a podium in Downing Street.
This was a contrast from the typically rambunctious and enthusiastic figure who has always seemed fired up and enthusiastic, and with who we have become so accustomed over the past decade.
Frantic to communicate an air of authority, the Prime Minister’s wooden podium bore the Government seal rather than a hazard labelled “Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives” slogan which has been radiated into our living rooms for the last month.
“Good morning, I am sorry I’ve been away from my desk for much longer than I would’ve liked,” he stated, looking straight into the camera in his first public words for 15 days since a Twitter video following his Easter Sunday release from St Thomas’ Hospital, London.
There were flashes of the old, pre-COVID 19 campaigners, as he attempted to use strong imagery to communicate a pressing point.
“If this virus were a physical assailant, an unexpected, invisible mugger – which I can tell you from personal experience it is – then this is the moment when we have begun together to wrestle it to the floor,” he explained.
But it seemed constructed and forced rather than the friendly, cracker-barrel manner on which he prides himself and behind the Prime Minister’s left stood a policeman, much more than the necessary two-metre range.
And in the Downing Street windows were displayed children’s portraits of spectra, a logo of the support which has supported the country at these most challenging, unfamiliar and unusual times.
Boris Johnson’s idol is supposed to be Winston Churchill, the leader who led Britain through the Second World War.
Conscious of the modern-day parallels that the country is locked in the fight of a generation, it will have been no accident that Boris Johnson adopted from Winston Churchill for a segment of his eight-minute, 23-second speech.
Talking to the Commons after victory at El Alamein in November 1942, Winston Churchill told MPs: “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
Boris Johnson told viewers: “I believe we are coming to the end of the first phase of this conflict, and despite all the suffering we have so nearly succeeded.”
Boris Johnson had three aims in his address, to thank the country for its efforts so far, to convince people to stick with the lockdown for a while longer, and to offer them support.
He further wanted to face down commentators and critics demanding an exit plan, promising “maximum transparency” as the Government charted a course out of the shutdown.
But the prevailing message was to keep going: “I know it is tough – and I want to get this economy moving as fast as I can, but I refuse to throw away all the effort and the sacrifice of the British people and to risk a second major outbreak and huge loss of life and the overwhelming of the NHS.”
It’s great that he’s back, but now comes the laborious work, and it starts now and let’s hope that Boris Johnson is well enough to carry on with what he was doing before he became unwell.