Skip to main content

From the archives

Boris on Berlusconi: “the fizziest old dog you have ever seen”

Berlusconi in Corfu, 1994. Getty

In 2003, when Boris Johnson was editor of The Spectator, he interviewed Silvio Berlusconi, then the Italian PM

“It is twilight in Sardinia”, and the richest man in Europe is gripping me by the upper arm. “Look at the strength of that tree,” Silvio Berlusconi tells me, pointing a flashlight towards an olive “of seemingly Jurassic antiquity”, which “like some patient wooden python” has grown through a huge grey boulder, splitting it in two. Maybe he is hoping a metaphor forms in my head, with the tree standing for his own “outrageous” life force. And the cracked stone? “You could try the Italian political establishment; or the European liberal elite; or just civilised Western opinion: all things which Silvio has scandalised and divided.”

For three hours, I sit with Berlusconi in his drawing room, “nipples showing through his white Marlon Brando pyjama suit”, and drink pints of iced tea. He praises Thatcher, Blair and Bush, and damns Italy’s magistrates as “anthropologically diverse from the rest of humanity”. “Facciamo un giro,” he then suggests – “let’s go for a ride”. So he takes the wheel of a golf buggy, tearing round the paths of his estate “like Niki Lauda on the Monza hairpin”. He shows me a museum of cacti, comprising 400 species from seven countries. “This is the brain of my finance minister,” says Silvio, pointing to one prickly plant. “And this,” he says, gesturing at another villainous set of spines, “is the mother-in-law’s cushion.” For a man who had a brush with cancer a couple of years ago, his energy is irresistible. “He is the fizziest old dog you have ever seen.”