PM’s former aide, the ‘Gazelle of Downing Street’ Cleo Watson lifts the lid on Boris inside No. 10: ‘He’s had karma returned with interest’

So I left No 10 – without a leaving party, contrary to what has been reported. What actually happened is that we agreed to go our separate ways and I went to the press team to say goodbye. The PM, unable to see a group of people and not orate, gave a painful, off-the-cuff speech to a bewildered clutch of advisers and I left shortly after.

I was asked to work on the COP26 climate change summit (quite cleansing for the brand after Vote Leave and Johnson’s No 10), which took place in Glasgow in November 2021. It was a brutal year, no less dogged by Covid than the previous one , and I was lucky enough to top it off with a recovery holiday in Barbados in December.

The sun, the sea, the cocktail bar… Welcome to paradise. Except something was off. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but whenever I was indoors at Cobblers Cove, the lovely hotel my husband, Tom, and I were staying at, I had a strange, uneasy feeling that I’d been there before. Where had I seen muted green print on jolly green print on rattan before? The place had been revamped by none other than Lulu Lytle, of the Downing Street flat fame. Is there such a thing as interiors-induced PTSD?

What has been extremely cathartic on the stress front is writing my first novel, hopefully out next spring, which is about sex and skulduggery in Westminster, set during a leadership contest. I like telling people it is the ‘Matt Hancock arse-grab’ of debut novels, which is to say truly cringeworthy, but nonetheless gripping.

It’s often the way that looking at a period of your life later on can frame it as much happier than it really was. It’s like remembering the good times with an ex. You’ll smell or hear something that nearly knocks you over with a wave of nostalgia and before you know it, you’re thinking: ‘I wonder what they’re doing now…’

I’m very fortunate in that I know exactly what they’re doing and what I’m missing out on. Yes, you get the chance to serve the country and on an individual level you can change people’s lives. But there is also the constant work that gets gobbled up by the news cycle. The gut-busting effort behind every speech that flops. The policy that gets torn to shreds. The constant lurk of an MP rebellion. From the moment you’re awake, you’re on your phone(s).

These days I’ll be walking my dog ​​(far too big to be used as a handheld prop now) and delighted – literally delighted – to be picking up after him rather than dealing with the latest catastrophe I can see playing out just a couple of thousands away.

I’ve weaned myself off my phone, canceled my newspaper subscriptions and studiously avoided social media. I’ve really understood what burnout means. It has taken months to recover, long Covid or not, and I feel we all deserve some decent telly, so I look forward to watching This England – albeit with trepidation.

Whips! by Cleo Watson will be published by Corsair in May 2023.

This article was first published in the September issue, on sale 4 August. subscribe now to get 3 issues for just £1, plus free home delivery and free instant access to the digital editions.

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