High-profile London mayor Boris Johnson's hopes of becoming Britain's next prime minister have suffered a setback after he floundered through a television interview.
Known for his blunt, colourful language and unruly mop of blond hair, Mr Johnson is widely tipped as a front-runner to succeed Prime Minister David Cameron as at the helm of the Conservatives if Mr Cameron loses the next general election in 2015 or is ousted as party leader before then.
Despite his famous self-confidence the 48-year-old mayor lost his composure in a BBC TV interview on Sunday, when faced with a series of difficult questions about his past.
Instead of displaying his trademark self-assurance, Mr Johnson struggled to respond, stammered, and asked the presenter more than once whether they could talk about something else.
"You're a nasty piece of work, aren't you?" presenter Eddie Mair said, after alleging Mr Johnson had once made up a quote when working as a journalist, lied about his personal life, and been complicit in plans to physically assault a journalist.
"Interpretations you're putting on those things aren't wholly fair," a visibly shell-shocked Mr Johnson retorted.
Voters "don't care about phone conversations with my friends 20 years ago, they don't care about some ludicrous so-called made-up quote," he said.
He said he disputed the allegations, but appeared not to be able to find the words to defend himself.
Mr Johnson later told the media: "Fair play to Eddie, he landed a good one".
Allies and detractors said Mr Johnson's leadership hopes had suffered a setback and local media described the exchange as a "car crash" and as his worst ever interview.
Mr Cameron has often laughed off suggestions that Mr Johnson could replace him, but on Monday defended the mayor. "Never attempt to limit Boris's ability to get out of a tight spot," he said.