You started to feel sorry for him - the poor guy has to earn a crust somehow - but things became more interesting when he began to talk about his family. Portillo's father, Luis, came to Britain as a refugee at the end of the Spanish civil war and married a Scottish girl who was studying Spanish at St Hilda's. Luis was (unlike his six brothers) a Republican, and though in exile, he was glad at least to be living in a democracy rather than under Franco's dictatorship. Luis' attitude towards his adopted land affected the young Portillo, we were told, in a nod towards his formative influences. And a nod was all we got, because then he went onto some material that could have been written for the Two Ronnies - election japes and capers - chickens stuffed down the shirt, that sort of thing. The party political broadcast was almost halfway through before we noticed that we were enjoying it. Then he began on his TV escapades "When Michael Portillo became a single mum", and it became clear that this guy really has talent as a performer - he spins a yarn so well that you forget the yarn spinner.
After the interval, Portillo answered questions from the audience: Would you still like to be Prime Minister? What do you think about energy security? Have you mellowed? And the best question, asked with a plaintive cry: "My MP is Boris Johnson, and before that I had Michael Heseltine. How would you feel if you were in my position?" At this Portillo launched into an anecdote about the rakish Boris as a Telegraph reporter, and you began to see that there was something of the Boris about Portillo. And as you looked into Portillo's beaming tan, it felt like the 90's were being re-run because of budget cuts. The horrible ghosts of Tory past began to congregate in the theatre - Hamilton, Aitkin, Widdecombe chasing Howard on a broomstick. Halloween had come late to the Theatre at Headington, and I fled in terror.