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This is what happened when KentOnline met Prime Minister Boris Johnson as he visited Ramsgate's Saga vaccination centre


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When KentOnline heard Prime Minister Boris Johnson was due to appear at a vaccine centre in Kent this morning, they sent reporter Oliver Kemp to be part of the press huddle.

But what are these events really like to be at – and how much are reporters actually allowed to see?

Of all the moments in Boris Johnson's career, the prospect of a public appearance must surely be more uncomfortable than ever.

In the wake of multiple Downing Street party revelations over the past few weeks, not a single press briefing has gone by without the Prime Minister being asked whether a government which refuses to lead by example should even be in power.

Just hours before appearing at the Saga building vaccination centre, in Holmes Way, Ramsgate, he was deflecting those exact questions in a televised Covid-19 news briefing.

His response to one reporter on the subject of his waning public trust was: "I follow the rules. Everybody across politics should follow the rules."

It's a response that many would scoff at, when taking into account the photos and video of public officials gathering last December – gatherings which were banned under the government's own rules.

The Saga vaccine centre was taking walk-in appointments
The Saga vaccine centre was taking walk-in appointments

But today Mr Johnson doubled down on his push for more people to take up the booster as he wandered around the Thanet vaccine centre speaking with staff and clinical professionals – at least that's what I was told by his press officer.

Thinking I was going to be able to film the Prime Minister making his appearance this morning, I lugged a huge camera kit along to capture the moment.

But on my arrival I was instead ushered into a small side room with two other reporters, complete with plates of pastries and lukewarm orange juice.

When I tried to get out and see Mr Johnson interacting with staff at the vaccine centre, I was told by a visibly stressed press officer that I would not be allowed to see him until a specific allotted time.

"Are you sure I couldn't just take a picture?"

The selection of drinks on offer in our 'press chamber'
The selection of drinks on offer in our 'press chamber'

The answer was a firm "no", but she added apologetically: "We do have croissants."

There was an intense air of stage management about the entire experience. Instead of allowing reporters to see Mr Johnson interacting with people – surely the reason why these 'events' are organised in the first place – I had to take it on face value from a member of his team that he was indeed interacting with the public.

Meanwhile, I sat there staring at the plate of pastries, waiting for an opportunity to get visual confirmation he had actually turned up.

Another reporter in the room said to me: "It's a bit like waiting to see the headmaster, isn't it?"

After nearly half an hour waiting in the small room, the press officer finally returned to round us up and herd us into a much larger room in another part of the building.

Reporter Oliver Kemp waiting to speak to the PM
Reporter Oliver Kemp waiting to speak to the PM

Mr Johnson finally entered and was ushered to a table, flanked by two members of his team who were both furiously typing on their smartphones.

He greeted the three of us with his signature elbow bumps and we were asked to stand on the other side of the table for the interview.

Before we could utter the first question, the Prime Minister said: "Would you mind awfully if I took my mask off?"

Upon removing the face covering, his staff member next to him pointed at his mask and said he should put it back on.

"Oh right, ok," he murmured, quickly reattaching it.

Press interviews like this are a short, sharp shock that tend to be over as quickly as they begin.

Each reporter is bursting to get their own questions across to the public official before the timer runs out.

In this instance, the timer consisted of his press officer slowly rotating his finger in the air any time a question was longer than 10 seconds.

Towards the end of the 10 minutes allotted to us, the finger rotated more and more quickly as the impatience got greater and greater.

And just like that, it was over.

But before Mr Johnson was rushed out the open door and back to Downing Street, we asked one last time if we could get a photo.

Reporter Oliver Kemp with the Prime Minister
Reporter Oliver Kemp with the Prime Minister

"Of course!" he exclaimed, then asked if we wanted a photo with him too.

Kind of like a selfie, I suppose.

Standing in a line as a member of his staff took the pictures, Mr Johnson put his hands in the air and shouted "Kent journalism!", before mumbling something I couldn't quite catch through his face mask.

He thanked us and was gone 30 seconds later.

It is understandable in many ways that these events would be meticulously managed – let us not forget the interviewee in question holds one of the most important jobs in the world.

Mr Johnson making a swift exit
Mr Johnson making a swift exit

But it makes one wonder whether the intense stage management, the inability to take photos and the swiftness of the interview comes off the back of a series of embarrassing and difficult moments for the Prime Minister.

Do his staff want to limit the eyes and ears of several journalists watching him interacting with stretched NHS staff and volunteers?

In a recent KentOnline Twitter poll, 79% of those who voted said the Prime Minister should resign following the details of Downing Street Christmas parties against the government's own Covid-19 tier rules.

After the Prime Minister had left us for dust, I asked a few people queueing for their booster what they thought of his earlier appearance.

Kane from Dane Valley, Margate, was not very impressed by the PM
Kane from Dane Valley, Margate, was not very impressed by the PM

Kane, from Dane Valley, in Margate, was waiting outside for a friend after having his booster. He had little positive to say about Mr Johnson.

"I mean he's a Prime Minister who couldn't even give a straight answer to how many children he's got," he said. "So I don't know how people thought he would be any better when he actually go in to office."

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