London CNN  — 

Even if you don’t pay much attention to what goes on in the UK, there’s a good chance you’ll have heard the name Boris Johnson before.

A former mayor of London, former British foreign secretary and current media personality, Johnson finally launched his official campaign to replace Theresa May as prime minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland on Monday.

He joins a crowded field – but he’s probably the only candidate whose name resonates outside of the UK.

Johnson posted a slickly produced video on social media a few minutes after US President Donald Trump stepped off Air Force One at the start of a state visit to the UK. Johnson received the tacit approval of Trump over the weekend.

The timing – which can’t possibly have been coincidental – ensures that coverage of Day 1 of the Johnson campaign will be muted. That may well be part of the strategy – Johnson is acutely aware that being the frontrunner at the start of any leadership campaign doesn’t always work out well.

It may also have the effect of defusing the impact of the Trump endorsement. Under normal circumstances, the approval of a US president would be a boon to any leadership hopeful. But Johnson, already often described as the British Trump, knows that he cannot afford to appear any more divisive if he is to succeed in winning the Conservative leadership. The backing of Trump is not likely to win him the friends he needs from moderates.

A screengrab from Boris Johnson's leadership campaign launch video.

Seen by many as the man who most influenced the UK’s decision to leave the European Union, Johnson is loved by Brexiteers and loathed by Remainers. But if his launch video is anything to go by, it’s clear that Johnson understands that whoever takes over from May needs to unite a country still badly divided by the Brexit referendum.

In the video, Johnson is seen talking to people from ethnically diverse background and to voters across the political divide. He talks about uniting the country and hammers home the need for the UK to be positive and confident. It’s fair to say that this is miles away from the Trumpian way of doing politics.

Name recognition

Johnson’s international name recognition has not always been achieved for good reasons.

His extensive list of controversies includes such hits as calling people across the commonwealth “flag-waving piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles,” saying that women who wear Islamic face veils look “like letter boxes” and writing a poem about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan having sex with a goat.

It’s not just gaffes: Johnson has been criticized for saying that a British citizen who is serving a jail term in Iran for alleged espionage was in the country to teach people journalism. The Iranian authorities jumped on this and used Johnson’s statement as evidence against her.

So, it might come as a surprise that such a controversial figure is the frontrunner to be the next PM.