The video was, according to former Ukip leader Henry Bolton, evidence of the declining quality of MPs. Anthony Grayling, the philosopher, described her as a “bald-faced emetic” and Philip Pullman, the author, said he was “aghast”.
Their collective outrage was directed at the words of Rosie Holt who, asked by an interviewer whether she attended any of the Downing Street parties, said that until Sue Gray completes her report “your guess is as good as mine: I don’t know whether I attended the party”.
Holt added: “If there was a party in lockdown when we told everyone they couldn’t even attend funerals, but no one knew about it, was there a party?”
At a glance, Holt may be hard to distinguish from the declining number of Tory MPs prepared to stand up for the prime minister, but she is in fact a satirist – an actor and comedian with a strong line in parodies of the political speech that veers into drivel. This video sketch has taken off – 6 million views on Twitter so far – partly because “an awful lot of people” think it’s real, she said.
“I don’t go in there to hoodwink people,” she told the Observer. “I get a bit unnerved when lots of people think it’s real because that’s not what I’m trying to do.
“But there’s also an awful lot of people who do get it. And I’m quite good at screening out the negative stuff. Some people say ‘oh, you shouldn’t joke about things like this – it’s a serious subject’.
“But I’m a big believer in laughing at things that make you sad and angry. And there’s so many things happening with this government at the moment there is always just so much material.”
This particular video was created by splicing Holt’s footage with questions from ain which he dodged questions about whether he had gone to the 20 May 2020 garden party. Others have featured Holt as a disingenuous columnist or online commentator, putting forward arguments about issues such as Shamima Begum or the Edward Colston statue.
Social media has beensince partygate began. After Johnson’s claim that he “believed implicitly that it was a work event”, people posted pictures of other “work events”: people dancing at festivals, in bars, at pool parties, and England football fans lighting flares between their buttocks. When news emerged that Downing Street staff had taken a suitcase to a supermarket to fill it with booze, supermarket wine shelves were Photoshopped under an “office supplies” notice.
Holt’s first sketch appeared in June 2020 during the Black Lives Matter protests. The 30-something actor, who trained at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, had been about to go on tour in, a parody of the Netflix series, when the first lockdown began. “I moved back with my parents for lockdown one in Somerset and, like a lot of creators, was going a bit mad,” she says.
Her first video was prompted by comments by people outraged that Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, planned tofrom outside the Museum of London Docklands.
“All these people were saying ‘you’re trying to destroy history’, ‘this is against democracy’. There was so much rage. It was extraordinary – this visceral reaction of people wanting to protect the statues of slave traders. I had the idea of taking someone who is following those ideas through to their logical conclusion. So I put up a sketch where this character says, ‘oh, it’s terrible, they’re erasing history. Just like Stalin did. Who, incidentally, I have a statue of in my garden’.” Another video about Colston features Holt’s rightwing commentator asking if things have gone too far – will people start demonising men from the past for beating their wives, for burning witches or for Victorian child labour?
Holt was nervous about her early videos, and did detailed research on the news to make sure she didn’t make mistakes.
“When I started reading the Telegraph and [online magazine] Spiked, they’ll put forward an argument while omitting huge gaps. One issue that keeps getting put forward again and again is that ‘slavery was all right, everyone was doing it’ but there was still a really strong abolitionist movement. They put forward these really strong opinions without evidence to back them up any more, and I find that quite worrying.”
Holt’s agent, Hatch Talent, is negotiating various offers that have come her way. Why does she think things have taken off for her now? “I think people are really angry about the parties. So it has hit a nerve,” she says.
“I find this government in general quite abhorrent. And I think the problem is that when Boris came to power, he seemed to prize loyalty over competence. So he got rid of a lot of the competent Tories.
“And as a result, you’ve got this cabinet of people who are largely, well, morons, really. They are incompetent morons. And so, if Boris does go, who are we going to get instead? Liz Truss? Oh God. How awful.”