There are some jobs, no matter how good they seem, which no one wants to do when first suggested. Getting up at the crack of sparrow’s to follow Boris Johnson as he cycles to work through the capital’s traffic, and trying at the same time to get usable pictures, is one of them. Not least because the only way to do the job is to get on a bike yourself and pedal furiously after the blond-haired new Mayor, praying he stops at a red light so you can catch your breath.
But it had to be done, and, as the only photographer with a bike and a functioning pair of lungs, I got the vote. So I dusted off my old Eighties racer and bought a helmet which my race technician – fellow snapper Steve Bainbridge – taped a camera to.
‘HelmetCam’was a discreet bit of kit: 10cm long and only 2cm wide, and sat just above my ear. The cable and its live feed went down my back to a hard drive in a courier bag slung over my shoulder.
After a couple of tests it all seemed to be working fine and we settled down to wait for Boris – who came out of his house in Holloway and walked straight on to the Tube.
Day one was a write-off, but unperturbed me and Steve were back on the job next day. This time we got lucky. The pack of photographers which normally sits on Boris’s doorstep was absent and he had decided to cycle to work on the South Bank. I set off in hot pursuit with Bainbridge behind in the support car. Within minutes, Boris had breezed through two red lights and it looked like the story would work. So long as I and my rusty old racer, with its one working brake and 20-year-old cereal-packet spokies, survived the journey.
Luckily, Boris was not going too fast and I managed to stick with him for 20 minutes to see him pitch up at the GLA building, having watched him mount a pavement, chat to a cabbie at St Paul’s and cut up a white van. On his way home that evening, the Mayor zipped through another four red lights, and powered on through a zebra crossing while a pedestrian was on it. All the while wearing the same suit he’d had on that morning, which must have been pretty sweaty by then.
Once the footage was back in The Sunday Mirror office, we found out HelmetCam was even better than we had thought. It had excellent sound quality too, and when we turned up the volume we could quite clearly hear London’s new Mayor of less than a week asking that cabbie for directions to London Bridge.
On Saturday, it was time for reporter Susie Boniface to ring Boris’s people for a comment. She spoke to Boris’s new spokesman Gito Harri, who said that although he had not officially started yet he would be happy to help. In fact he had already spoken to Boris about our story.
He told her: ‘Boris was very surprised because he’s extremely careful about always stopping at red lights and obeying the Highway Code. In fact he makes a big point of it. So what evidence, exactly, have you got?’
She told him we had video footage of Boris to and from work, and he had jumped six red lights, mounted the pavement and ploughed through a zebra crossing while someone was on it.
‘Oh,’said Gito. ‘In that case Boris is very, very sorry.”