LONDON (AP) — Ringing a bell seemed a safe photo opportunity for Jeremy Hunt as he sought to show London was ready to host a problem-free Olympic Games in 2012. But the bell broke apart, its base flying into a group of onlookers, just missing one of them.
“My goodness me!” Hunt said, leaping into the crowd to make sure everyone was OK before telling stunned journalists, “You got a little more TV there than you were expecting!”
Hunt, who is now vying to become leader of Britain’s Conservative Party and the country’s next prime minister, took it well — tweeting the video to his followers.
The gaffe turned into a viral smash, typifying what many consider Hunt’s biggest strength: an ability to seem human when a camera is nearby. It’s a skill desperately needed by the Conservatives, whose current leader, Prime Minister Theresa May, is known for being wooden and occasionally robotic, sticking to message even if it means repeating a single sentence over and over again.
Hunt will need that ability to connect with voters if he is to win the leadership contest.
Hunt, 52, finished a distant second behind Boris Johnson in Thursday’s vote of Conservative Party lawmakers, but his 77 votes, to Johnson’s 160, were enough to get to the final round. The two men will now face the party’s 160,000 members, with pollsters forecasting Johnson is likely to win because of his uncompromising stance that Britain must leave the EU on Oct. 31.
Hunt, who backed the losing “remain” side during the 2016 referendum on EU membership, has a more nuanced position on Brexit. He says he will negotiate a better withdrawal deal and lead the U.K. out of the bloc.
Just before the final, he pledged to put his put his “heart & soul” into giving Johnson the contest of his life.
“In politics today,” he said on Twitter, “the unexpected often happens.”
Hunt has held a variety of Cabinet posts during his 14 years in Parliament and has been foreign secretary since Johnson resigned the post last July because of differences over Brexit. Regarded as well-versed in making the bureaucracy work, he managed to resolve a heated contract dispute with doctors in the National Health Service during his time as health secretary.
But despite his ability to get a message across, critics doubt he is flashy enough to excite the electorate.
A graduate of Oxford, Hunt was a businessman who co-founded Hotcourses, which produces guidebooks to help students looking to study abroad. The company was sold to Australia’s IDP Education for 30 million pounds ($37 billion) in 2017, making Hunt one of Britain’s wealthiest politicians. He also set up a charity to help AIDS orphans in Africa.
Elected to the House of Commons in 2005, Hunt first rose to national attention when he was appointed Secretary of Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport ahead of the 2012 London Olympics. The success of the Games earned him promotion to the politically fraught role of Health Secretary, where he successfully negotiated a contract with young doctors in the service after months of acrimony.
He met his wife, Lucia Guo, a native of China, while she was working for the University of Warwick to recruit students. They now have three children.
Her background became the subject of one of Hunt’s most embarrassing blunders in public office. When meeting a Chinese delegation, Hunt accidentally described her as being Japanese — embarrassing given the long rivalry between the two countries. Hunt again returned to self-effacing humor to dampen embarrassment afterward.
“Rule 1 as a new Foreign Sec: when reflecting in English with the Chinese on a conversation you had with them in Japanese about your Chinese wife, don’t get any of those mixed up!” he said on Twitter. “Apologies to the long-suffering Mrs H…!”
He later posted a picture of himself in a florist shop in Paris on his way home after the gaffe saying he was choosing a present for “Mrs. H.”
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