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'He'll be absolutely gutted to be on his back,' says Boris Johnson's former advisor

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Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson   -   Copyright  Matt Dunham/AP
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He's one of the most colourful leaders the United Kingdom has seen in decades. He's brash, boastful, and unafraid to take on the Brexit file. Now, Boris Johnson is in intensive care at St Thomas' Hospital in London, battling COVID-19. Many of the people in Johnson's close circle have also been struck by the virus, including his pregnant fiancee Carrie Symonds, his aide Dominic Cummings, and UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

Johnson announced on 24 March he had contracted the disease, and had been self-isolating. On Sunday, his condition worsened and he was taken to hospital. Until the time he was moved to intensive care, he is said to have been running the government's response to the pandemic, receiving a so-called 'red box' of government papers to his hospital bed on Monday.

But now, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has taken on the role of chairing government meetings as Deputy Prime mInister. And according to those who know him, the Prime Minister would not have given over the reins of power easily.

"He'll be absolutely gutted to be on his back, in intensive care in hospital, not at the helm in Downing Street," Guto Harri, a former press advisor for Boris Johnson when he was mayor of London, told Euronews.

"Because of the obvious health concern, but [also] because he's a man who feels very passionately that, having been elected on a very personal mandate, that he has to be at the helm at a time like this, a time of great crisis where there are enormous judgement calls to be made, weighing up jobs, livelihoods and lives. And to be honest, that would be very frustrating for him."

Harri painted a picture of a very determined man, who lives life willing to be knocked down and with the strength to get back up again and keep going. He said he's never known Boris Johnson to be ill or to be tired.

"He has this sort of irrepressible energy and determination, as well as optimism that drives him on. So it would have taken a lot for him to let go."
Guto Harri
Former communications advisor to Boris Johnson

In the days before he was admitted to hospital, he had scaled back his working commitments according to Harri. He delegated some tasks to Cabinet ministers, and spoke to doctors every day to take advice on his condition. Until his admission to the ICU on Monday night, Downing Street communications staff were adamant that the Prime Minister's condition was good and his symptoms were mild.

Boris Johnson himself insisted that his symptoms were mild before his admission to hospital

Johnson himself said repeatedly that his symptoms were mild, giving a video update on 3 April in which he said he still had a temperature but was still working hard. Harri said this was a crucial time for the country and the pressure could have contributed to Johnson's condition.

"At the end of the day, when you make big judgement calls about lives and livelihoods, when you are weighing up whether you're doing too little or doing too much, then it's something that you lose sleep over at night, and I can imagine he slept very badly, he hasn't been very well, he's barely sort of switched off mentally over the last week and hasn't given his body the chance frankly to fight off this very virulent virus," said Harri.

In addition to the stress Johnson was undoubtedly dealing with, he is also a 55 year old man who does not live a particularly healthy lifestyle. According to Harri, Johnson's diet is not particularly healthy. When he was mayor of London, he had a habit of jogging most mornings and cycling to work and other places, which Harri characterised as 'mental down time' when Johnson was not looking at his phone, but he also admitted that healthy habit is likely much more difficult to keep up now that he is in the top job.

"I imagine that's been a lot harder to do, since he's gone into Number 10, and at a time when there's a crisis like this the temptation as always is sort of rely too much on chocolate and caffeine, not eat properly, not sleep properly, not get fresh air, and that's not great for any of us."

As for his temporary stand-in, Dominic Raab, Harri described him as a capable and intelligent lawyer of great ability, but someone who may struggle to pull together the government and the country.

"No doubt about his ability, but he's not the sort of, the national character, that is the person, sort of rally the troops and the people at a time like this, so I think it'll be a more minimalist role, he's not taking over as team captain as such. He's not the understudy, he's just going to hold it together."