Boris Johnson has abandoned his “submarine strategy” after being called a coward.
The Tory leadership frontrunner had been avoiding the media spotlight, deigning to appear at only one of four hustings so far, and refusing journalists’ requests for interviews and information.
But the Vote Leave leader has suddenly resurfaced with a surge of TV and radio appearances, starting late on Monday night.
A major drop in the polls following negative coverage of police being called to his home after a late-night row appears to have prompted his press officers to switch their phones back on.
It had seemed the race was Mr Johnson’s to lose, having started the leadership campaign with vastly more support than anyone else and eventually gathering the support of roughly half all MPs to go through to the final two.
The selection of Jeremy Hunt by his colleagues then appeared to set up a deliberately non-confrontational contest, with the Foreign Secretary insisting he would avoid “blue on blue” attacks on his rival.
Knowing their man had a history of blunders and seemingly-inadvertent insults, his strategists appeared set on a course of dodging media scrutiny until the Conservative was safely ensconced in no 10.
Critics pointed out this was very similar to the coronation of Theresa May in the last leadership contest, which avoided testing her weaknesses in the glare of publicity.
But the media vacuum meant a tape recording of his partner Carrie Symonds screaming and shouting “get off me” during a spat in the early hours of Friday morning exploded across the front pages of the nation.
Supporters attacked the “curtain-twitching Corbynistas” who called the police as Mr Johnson remained quiet over the weekend, while the gap between him and his competitor for the premiership narrowed in the polls.
This left the door open for Mr Hunt to write a newspaper column on Monday challenging him not to “be a coward” and demanding he “show the nation you can cope with the intense scrutiny” in a debate.
Mr Johnson’s team continued to refuse, leading to Sky cancelling plans for a head-to-head on Tuesday night.
Meanwhile, an odd photo of Mr Johnson and Ms Symonds together in a garden – apparently taken secretly from nearby bushes – emerged.
But even this seemed to backfire when there were widespread claims it had been staged and no photographer or agency claimed credit or asked for payment.
With Mr Johnson’s odds of becoming prime minister continuing to drift, he finally resurfaced in an exclusive interview with Laura Kuennsberg late on Monday night.
This kicked off a frantic round of media interviews on Tuesday morning as his team attempts to recover lost ground and regain the momentum that previously looked almost certain to open the gates to Downing Street.