The UK’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has been caught on camera in an awkward moment as he tried to recite a colonial-era poem by Rudyard Kipling during a visit to Shwedagon Pagoda, Myanmar’s most sacred Buddhist site. What was regarded as a display of “incredible insensitivity” was captured in the video (above) by Channel 4 while filming a documentary on Johnson titled Blond Ambition.
“The temple bells they say,” recited Johnson after striking a bell at the temple in Yangon, “Come you back, you British soldier.”
Johnson continued to recite the poem, The Road to Mandalay, which captures the nostalgia of a retired serviceman looking back on his service and a love affair with a local Burmese woman during Britain’s colonial rule. Britain colonised Burma from 1824 to 1948 – a matter still of grave sensitivity in the country.
Britain’s ambassador to Myanmar managed to stop Johnson before he could get to the part of the poem that says, “Bloomin’ idol made o’ mud, Wot they called the Great Gawd Budd”, a reference to the Buddha.
The ambassador, Andrew Patrick, turned visibly tense, as the video shows, and reminded Johnson that he was on a microphone. “Probably not a good idea,” he told Johnson, reiterating that it was not appropriate, to which Johnson replied with “good stuff” and continued to take pictures with his mobile phone camera.