Boris Johnson defies political gravity.
Britain's prime minister has failed to deliver on his core promise - to take the country out of the European Union by October 31.
He has repeatedly been caught lying. He has used offensive and racist language, and most voters don't trust him.
Yet polls make him the favourite to win Thursday's UK election.
If Johnson secures a parliamentary majority and a mandate to "Get Brexit Done" it will be a triumph for a 55-year-old politician who has been written off more than once.
"He does seem to defy the odds," said Victoria Honeyman, senior lecturer in politics at the University of Leeds.
"I'm trying to think of another politician in Britain that's like him, in that we're willing to forgive their mistakes to such a degree. Nobody is coming to mind."
Johnson has built a career playing the rumpled, Latin-spouting clown who doesn't take himself too seriously.
But his bumbling exterior masks a steel core of ambition.
Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson was born in New York in 1964, the eldest of four children in an affluent, boisterous British family with German, Russian and Turkish roots.
His childhood ambition, according to sister Rachel Johnson, was to be "world king." At the elite private school Eton he was clever, though not diligent; one teacher complained about his "disgracefully cavalier attitude."
At Oxford University, Johnson was president of the Oxford Union debating society, and a member of the Bullingdon Club, a posh, raucous drinking-and-dining society notorious for drunken vandalism.
As a young journalist for The Daily Telegraph in Brussels, he delighted his editors with exaggerated stories of European Union waste and ridiculous red tape - tales that had an enduring political impact in Britain.
"He created a narrative, which was that poor old defenceless Britain was being ganged up on by all these scheming Europeans who are out to destroy our ancient liberties and our way of life," said Martin Fletcher, former foreign editor of The Times.
"And that narrative took hold."
Johnson spent the following decades becoming steadily more famous. He was a magazine editor, a backbench lawmaker, a self-satirising guest on TV comedy quiz shows. In 2008, he was elected mayor of London, serving until 2016.
His path wasn't smooth. Johnson was fired from The Times for fabricating a quote. He was recorded promising to give a friend the address of a journalist that the friend wanted beaten up. He was sacked from a senior Conservative post for lying about an extra-marital affair. He always bounced back.
His words often landed him in trouble. Johnson has called Papua New Guineans cannibals, claimed that "part Kenyan" Barack Obama had an ancestral dislike of Britain, called the children of single mothers "ignorant, aggressive and illegitimate" and compared Muslim women who wear face-covering veils to "letter boxes."
Johnson claimed he was joking, or accused journalists of distorting his words and raking up long-ago articles. Critics allege his quips are deliberate dog-whistles to bigots - a populist tactic straight out of the Donald Trump playbook.
Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London, said Johnson's celebrity status means his untruths don't harm him the way they would most politicians.
"His reputation as someone who, let's say, plays fast and loose with the truth is almost kind of priced in or baked in," Bale said. "People just accept that that's who he is. And they think, 'Well, that's Boris.'"
Johnson's energy and popular appeal helped the "leave" side win in Britain's 2016 referendum on membership of the EU.
Critics say the campaign was built on lies, such as the false claim that Britain sends STG350 million ($A675 million) a week to the EU, money that could be spent on the UK's health service.
After the referendum, Johnson was made foreign secretary by Prime Minister Theresa May. Two years later he quit in opposition to her Brexit blueprint, then won a Conservative leadership contest in July 2019 when May resigned in defeat after parliament stymied her plan.
To get the top job, Johnson promised Conservatives he'd rather be "dead in a ditch" than delay Brexit beyond October 31.
But his first three months in office were studded with defeats: He suspended parliament to sideline troublesome lawmakers, but the UK Supreme Court ruled the move illegal.
Parliament rejected his attempt to push through this Brexit bill and forced him to ask the EU for more time. The "do or die" date of October 31 came and went. Now he says that if he's elected, the UK will leave the bloc by January 31.
Johnson has faced questions about his character during the campaign. Authorities are investigating his relationship with American tech entrepreneur Jennifer Arcuri, a personal friend who allegedly received favours and public funds while Johnson was London mayor. Johnson insists "everything was done with full propriety."
Johnson's personal approval rating is deep in negative territory, according to opinion pollsters - especially among women. The one saving grace is that his main opponent, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, gets even worse ratings.
"Get Brexit Done" is a misleading slogan. Leaving the EU will kick-start months or years of negotiations on future trade relations with the bloc. But it has proved an effective campaign pitch: promising relief to Britons weary after years of division.
Honeyman said Johnson has many defects as a politician - but to his supporters, they don't seem to matter.
"The campaign has confirmed that he is light on policy detail, that he is not really that comfortable facing up to either members of the public or to commentators and journalists," she said.
"But I don't think that will impact on his popularity amongst the electorate. I think for some, they like seeing a politician who is less polished . Some like a lovable rogue."
Australian Associated Press