I always thought of Michael Portillo, the polician, as an arrogant and self-important man, but in this programme, Portillo comes across as being very different. Very modest, very friendly, very approachable. All in all, very likeable. He had a lot to learn in his week as a single mum, not least how to live on a tight budget of 80 pounds to pay for all the family’s day-to-day living expenses. He had problems, and he wasn’t afraid to admit it, but he never lost his sense of humour – and he even seemed to be enjoying himself at times.
At one point, Tasha, the eldest of the children, is having a karaoke party for her friends and Portillo is obviously having a really good time. Tasha’s friends are impressed by him and think he looks like George Clooney! It is one of the high points of his week.
In another clip, Portillo is working behind the cash till at the supermarket. He doesn’t pretend to enjoy the work, but he says that the atmosphere and his
colleagues are much nicer than in the Houses of Parliament.
His second job, in the primary school, is more difficult and, at the beginning, it looks as if he’s bitten off more than he can chew. Will he be able to cope? We see him in the classroom where he is working as a classroom assistant. At one point, he’s having problems with some eight-year-olds. He’s trying, and failing, to explain a mathematics problem to them. But he listens carefully and patiently to the teacher and by the middle of the week he’s doing much better.
His other great challenge – in fact, by far his biggest challenge – is little Ellie, the youngest child. She’s eight years old and very stubborn, and she’s going through a very rebellious phase. She flatly refuses to listen to him and at times you can see that all his people skills and lessons in political diplomacy will get him nowhere. In one typical situation, Portillo is trying to persuade Ellie that it’s bedtime, but she’s being particularly difficult. Although you can see she’s really tired and really wants to go to sleep, she’s refusing to go.
I think in the end Ellie is my favorite character in the programme – but Portillo came a close second. I don’t know if Portillo is thinking about changing his politics, but I’ve certainly changed my opinion of him. Though I’m still not thinking of voting for him at the next election! So, if you missed it, and you too want to see the human side of Michael Portillo, watch out for a repeat, because this programme is sure to become a classic in the BBC archive.