David Cameron’s reputation for “chillaxing” has come back to haunt him after a friend claimed he declined to take a phone call from Barack Obama because he was finishing a game of tennis.
By Christopher Hope, Senior Political Correspondent
4:15PM BST 27 Sep 2012
The claim was made by Charlie Brooks, an old friend who knew the Prime Minister at Eton and lives near him in Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire.
However Downing Street questioned the claims, insisting that official records show the pair had only played tennis once at Chequers, and no phone call was logged during that time from Mr Obama.
Mr Brooks – who with his wife former tabloid editor Rebekah Brooks has become embroiled in the phone hacking scandal – claimed he was playing tennis at the Prime Minister’s official residence in Chequers when the American president called.
He said: “I played tennis with him at Chequers one day. I won the first set easily, then he won the second set, and then someone came up to him and said ‘er ... Mr Obama is on the phone for you, Prime Minister’.
“I thought ‘okay, we’ll have to leave it there’. But he said ‘I think we’ve got time for a third set - tell Mr Obama I'll ring him back’. He obviously thought he had me on the ropes. And I beat him two sets to one.”
Mr Cameron has had to steer a wide berth from Mr Brooks and his wife Rebekah since their friendship came under scrutiny because of the phone hacking scandal.
In the interview with the Racing Post, Mr Brooks expressed the hope that he would remain friends with Mr Cameron – who he said was known as the “fat, noisy one” when the pair briefly overlapped during their school days at Eton.
He said: “He’s not bad - not as good as me, though; he can’t beat me. We’re pretty good friends; we can’t see each other now of course, but I’m sure that will pass.”
The story will stir uncomfortable memories of claims in Mr Cameron’s recent biography that he was very fond of playing tennis and “chillaxing”.
One “ally” of Mr Cameron told authors James Hanning and Francis Elliott: “If there was an Olympic gold medal for ‘chillaxing’, the Prime Minister would win it.”
He is known to take on a machine - nicknamed the Clegger - that fires tennis balls at him at high velocity at him.
Downing Street questioned Mr Brooks’ memory of the story, insisting that the pair only played tennis once in the three times Mr Brooks came to Chequers since the Coalition was formed.
The tennis match, on a Saturday morning in August 2010, did not coincide with a phone call from Mr Obama, sources said.One aide said “we are scratching our heads” over Mr Brooks’ recollection of the match and Mr Obama’s intervention.
Damian McBride, a former press adviser to Gordon Brown, wrote on Twitter, the micro-blogging social website, that it was likely that the official’s interruption was a ruse designed to get the Prime Minister out of the tennis match.
He tweeted: “I’m guessing Obama wasn’t really on the phone & that’s just the pre-agreed ‘out’ the clerks always give Cam once a meeting has run an hour.