Boris Johnson has never wanted to be treated like a normal person. "I think he honestly believes it is churlish of us not to regard him as an exception," a schoolteacher once wrote on his report, "one who should be free of the network of obligation which binds everyone else."
When I interviewed him as a backbench MP in 2004, he ended our conversation by saying: "I hope you've got enough quotes there, but if you don't then just make it up. Make it up! Write the whole thing in blank verse or something, I don't mind."
In recent days Johnson has battled against an enemy that could not care less about his status, charm or intelligence. Last Sunday evening, Britons were concerned to learn that their prime minister's Covid-19 symptoms had worsened significantly and he was being admitted to St Thomas' Hospital. One day later, that concern turned to outright fear as the 55-year-old was moved into intensive care.
Johnson received messages of support from around the world, with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar wishing him "a speedy recovery" and Tánaiste Simon Coveney tweeting: "He's in our prayers."
In Britain, however, a number of awkward questions are also being asked. Did Johnson partly bring this on himself by reacting too slowly to the coronavirus threat? Was Downing Street completely upfront about the seriousness of his condition? Most importantly, who was to take over from him if he proved unable to resume his duties?
When Covid-19 first reared its ugly head, Johnson's response was apparently based on the World War II slogan 'Keep calm and carry on'.
"I'm shaking hands continuously," he declared at a press briefing on March 3. "I was at a hospital the other night where I think there were a few coronavirus patients and I shook hands with everybody, you'll be pleased to know… I want to stress that the vast majority of people should be going about our business as usual."
Even after Johnson tested positive for Covid-19 on March 27 and went into self-isolation, his spokesman kept insisting for a full week that the prime minister's symptoms were "mild". This contradicted other government sources who reported him "coughing and spluttering" through conference calls. On April 5, health secretary Matt Hancock (who has also had the disease, but recovered) maintained: "He's OK… he's very much got his hand on the tiller." Later that day, Johnson entered St Thomas's Hospital.
With the prime minister out of action, Britain's struggle against Covid-19 was being led by foreign secretary Dominic Raab. The son of a Czech immigrant who fled the Nazis, he has a black belt in karate and a difficult history with Ireland. Last year, the former Brexit secretary publicly accused Leo Varadkar of leaking inaccurate information about their negotiations, a claim that was dismissed by Simon Coveney's chief adviser as "pure spoof".
Raab's wooden media performances this week suggested he is severely lacking in his boss's charisma and communication skills.
If Johnson were forced to step down, Queen Elizabeth would appoint a temporary PM while the Tory Party held a leadership election.
The turnaround in Johnson's personal fortunes is remarkable. Just four months ago, he led his party to its biggest general election victory since Margaret Thatcher's heyday in 1987. On January 31, Britain formally left the EU, fulfilling his mantra-like pledge to "Get Brexit done." Johnson's turbulent private life seemed to be looking up too, with the announcement on March 1 that his partner Carrie Symonds (who has since contracted Covid-19 herself) was pregnant and would marry him later this year.
Of course, Johnson has always been upfront about his own prime ministerial role model. "On June 5, 1953 Winston Churchill sustained a serious stroke," he wrote in The Churchill Factor, his reverential biography of Britain's iconic wartime leader. "His doctor thought he would die - and yet through sheer force of will he carried on." In fact, Churchill remained prime minister for two more years, which his successor describes as "a story of unbelievable courage and willpower".
Boris Johnson has needed both those qualities in abundance to see him through his own darkest hour.