Boris Johnson failed Tuesday to shift the subject away from his private life and back to Britain's pending departure from the European Union as a round of media appearances served only to bog him down further in questions about character and trust.
Johnson, who is running to be the next leader for both the Conservative Party and the nation, has refused to address personal questions despite an ongoing clamor to face public scrutiny amid the fallout from a reported quarrel with his girlfriend last week that prompted a police visit. In break from his previous strategy, the front-runner took part in three interviews in less than 24 hours, responding to challenger Jeremy Hunt's criticism that he was a "coward" and needed to face greater public scrutiny if he is to become prime minister.
But if he hoped to move on, it didn't work out.
Speaking Tuesday on LBC radio, Johnson was questioned over a picture showing him and girlfriend Carrie Symonds in the leafy Sussex countryside amid speculation that it was staged and released by his campaign. Symonds, a former Conservative Party press officer, has remained firmly out of the public eye since the reported quarrel Friday.
"The difficulty is that the minute you say one thing you obviously are bringing people, your loved ones, your family, into the public domain in a way that is not fair," Johnson said.
Asked where the photograph had come from and when it was taken, Johnson said "the longer we spend on things extraneous to what I want to do ... the bigger the waste of time."
LBC host Nick Ferrari pressed on. He said the picture showed Johnson with a hairstyle he no longer wears and suggested it was an old image. Johnson simply refused to answer.
"This conversation is now descending into farce," he declared.
Johnson is the favorite in the race against Hunt but has failed to appear at debates and has shunned the media before changing tack. He granted the BBC an interview that was broadcast Monday evening and took on two other appearances by midmorning Tuesday.
Concerns about his lack of interest in participation in debates had been heightened by his refusal to comment on the incident that brought officers to his door early Friday, when a neighbor reported hearing shouting, screaming and banging from the home that Johnson shares with Symonds.
In all the interviews, the former mayor of London sought to turn the conversation back to his wish to bring Britain out of the EU by Oct. 31 — with or without a deal. He told talkRADIO that he would succeed where Prime Minister Theresa May had failed by force of will, describing it as a "do or die" proposition.
"I think a bit of positive energy would help, frankly. I've never seen such morosity and gloom from a government," he said. "For three years, we've been sitting around wrapped in defeatism, telling the British public that they can't do this or that. It is pathetic, it's absolutely pathetic."
The winner of the contest will replace May, who stepped down as party leader after failing to secure Parliament's approval for her Brexit deal.