Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson will this evening receive the Holy Father in Terminal 4’s Royal Suite at Heathrow Airport.
You couldn’t make it up. When I worked for Boris at the Spectator I would have been prepared to believe that he might one day star opposite Jennifer Aniston in a Hollywood romcom, but never that he would end up as the politician charged with welcoming the Pope to England.
But is it really so surprising, so inappropriate? Boris is a Catholic, after all. True he is not quite what the newspapers call a “devout Catholic” – by which they mean anyone who has been to Mass more than twice in the past year – but he was baptised according to the rites of Holy Mother Church.
There are two other points: first, Boris speaks Latin (and German and Italian), so there will be no language issues; second, he is keenly aware of the importance of the visit. He knows that it will make history, but also sees an element of inevitability in it. A couple of months ago he put it like this to me: “With his customary infallibility, the Pope has chosen to visit the greatest city on earth.”
If I still had access to Boris, what advice might I give him? First, genuflect and kiss the papal ring. You know it makes sense, Boris. If a job’s worth doing at all, it is worth doing in style. Second, quote from the Fathers, perhaps St Augustine, but not “Da mihi castitatem et continentiam, sed noli modo.” We do not want any more sniggering about continence and chastity. Think what the Sun would make of it. Third, make sure your shoelaces are tied. The last thing you need at this stage in your career is to stumble at the feet of the Holy Father and send him flying.
At any rate, I for one am looking forward to the television coverage. God bless our Pope.