British prime ministerial hopeful Boris Johnson prompted puzzlement, amusement -- and some skepticism -- with the unexpected admission that he makes model buses by painting up wooden wine boxes.
The former London mayor, battling with Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt to be the next Conservative Party leader and prime minister, said he partakes in the pastime to relax.
“I make things, the 55-year-old told TalkRadio in an interview on Tuesday when asked how he winds down.
“I get old wooden crates, right? And I paint them,” the former foreign secretary added, noting the boxes would have typically contained two wine bottles.
“It will have a dividing thing, and I turn it into a bus and... I paint the passengers enjoying themselves on the wonderful bus.”
The unusual hobby produced an immediate outpouring of global reaction on the internet and among politicos -- ranging from the bemused to the belittling.
US political scientist Brian Klaas called it “truly weird” and “so bizarre that it’s mesmerizing”, while Australian broadcaster Matt Bevan said “this is exactly how my (three-year-old) son would answer this question”.
Opposition Labour MP Owen Smith cast doubt on the veracity of Johnson’s claimed hobby.
“Is there anyone out there who believes that Boris spends his spare time relaxing by ‘making model buses out of crates and then painting model happy people enjoying the bus’?” he asked on Twitter.
But others pointed out the gaffe-prone politician has a track record of sketching and painting.
His mother is an artist and Johnson became an accomplished painter at a young age.
A doodle of a bus he made recently raised £1,000 (1,117 euros/$1,270) at a charity auction.
Women’s rights campaigner Nimko Ali, a friend of Johnson and his 31-year-old girlfriend Carrie Symonds, told Channel 4 television she had even seen “what he was talking about”.
“That shows how down to earth he is,” she said of the pastime.
Leading Brexit advocate Johnson has another, controversial, connection to buses: the campaign coach he used to tour the country in the run-up to the 2016 referendum.
It was emblazoned with the claim that Britain sends the EU £350 million a week, which was widely criticized as misleading because it represented its gross contribution to the bloc and excluded a budget rebate and other payouts from Brussels.
The link was not lost on BBC television news anchor Simon McCoy, who -- with a heavily furrowed brow -- he quipped of Johnson’s crafty bus hobby: “wonder what he writes on the side of it?”
However Christopher Hope, political correspondent for The Daily Telegraph newspaper -- which publishes a weekly column by Johnson -- predicted it would sit well with the roughly 160,000 registered Conservatives choosing the party’s next leader in July.
“I think his rather whimsical hobby will make more Tory members vote for him,” he said on Twitter.
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