Think your boss is bad? Try being Cleo Watson, a former aide to Boris Johnson who spent much of the early pandemic having to take the PM’s temperature to check for symptoms, and being greeted by the same tired gag each day where he “dutifully feigned bending over” whenever she brandished the oral thermometer.
This was only one instance where her duties resembled something more akin to a child’s nanny, according to an exclusive written by Watson for Tatler. Her days at 10 Downing Street were spent asking the Prime Minister if he had washed his hands, scolding him for making inappropriate gags such as “Kung-Flu” and “Aye! Corona!”, and trying to encourage him to drink green juice instead of diet coke.
Yes, this is the man who was leading our country through a global health crisis.
Watson — apparently also known as the “gazelle” of 10 Downing Street — has written the piece ahead of the upcoming Sky Drama, This England, about the early stage of the government’s Covid response and to publicise Whips, her debut novel, a fictionalised account of Westminister.
When she isn’t describing him as a petulant child throwing tantrums about Covid, Watson seems to enjoy comparing her former boss to a dog. She notes the similarities between Boris and her bulldog — “near-identical hunched, potato-sack posture and a jowly, grumpy tolerance”, describes him as looking “hangdog” and explains how aides had to construct a “prime ministerial ‘puppy gate’” to enforce isolation when the PM had been pinged by test and trace but refused to stay in his designated office. “He’d kneel on the seats, his elbows propped over the top, like a great unruly golden retriever,” she writes.
Dominic Cummings, who tapped Cleo Watson for the job in the first place, doesn’t get off lightly either. Describing their shared commute in a car she hired each morning she writes, “It was my first experience of what it must be like driving a grumpy teenager to school: I’d sit in the front, trying to make conversation or tapping my fingers against the wheel to Heart FM. Dom sat in the back, headphones on, laptop open.”
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When the Cummings-Johnson relationship fell apart, Watson found herself caught up in the messy split. Two weeks after Cummings’ departure, the Prime Minister told his aide “I’m not sure this is working any more,” adding that he can’t look at her anymore because she reminds him too much of Dom.
Ever the charmer he then told Cleo Watson, “It’s like a marriage has ended, we’ve divided up our things and I’ve kept an ugly old lamp. But every time I look at that lamp, it reminds me of the person I was with. You’re that lamp.”
Perhaps the dog metaphors aren’t so cruel after all.