Foreign secretary makes Kipling gaffe in Myanmar
Boris Johnson has been accused of “incredible insensitivity” after it emerged that he recited part of a colonial-era Rudyard Kipling poem in front of local dignitaries while on an official visit to Myanmar in January.
The foreign secretary was in the Shwedagon pagoda, the most sacred Buddhist site in Yangon, when he started uttering the opening verse to The Road to Mandalay, with the line: “The temple bells they say/ Come you back, you English soldier.” The poem tells of an ex-serviceman recalling his colonial days and a Burmese girl he kissed.
Johnson’s impromptu recital was so embarrassing that the UK ambassador to Myanmar, Andrew Patrick, had to stop him. The incident was captured by a film crew for Channel 4. The previously unbroadcast footage shows the diplomat halting Johnson before he could get to the line about a “Bloomin’ idol made o’ mud/ Wot they called the Great Gawd Budd” – a reference to the Buddha.
The gaffe came on the first visit to Myanmar by a British foreign secretary in five years. He had taken part in a ritual involving pouring water over a golden statue of what he described as “a very big guinea pig” when he spontaneously started reciting Kipling’s poem. A visibly tense Patrick reminded him: “You’re on mic,” adding: “Probably not a good idea …”
Mark Farmaner, director of the Burma Campaign UK, said: “It is stunning he would do this there. There is a sensitivity about British colonialism.”