Stanley Johnson was in the ancient city of Chengdu, China, when he was told the city of 20 million should be closed following reports of Covid cases.
Under China’s strict “zero Covid” policy, about 65 million Chinese in 33 cities are currently in various levels of lockdown.
For the sprightly 82-year-old Mr Johnson, news of the sudden lockdown meant he temporarily abandoned plans to make a lavish three-part documentary chronicling the steps of his hero, Venetian explorer Marco Polo.
But just after Mr. Johnson and his team left China, a 6.8 magnitude earthquake hit Sichuan province, damaging and shaking buildings in Chengdu.
“We ran away. As soon as we left, there was an earthquake, so it’s probably good that we managed to get out, ”Johnson said on Tuesday.
On the Sunday Express last week, former Prime Minister Boris Johnson explained how his father languished in quarantine, adding: “He was locked up in his hotel room for nine days and food was left outside his room by staff in hazmat suits.”
Speaking from Cairo, returning to the UK, his father added: “We always knew that upon arrival in Chengdu we would have to spend ten days in quarantine – seven days in isolation.
“But there are most places that need to be quarantined and we were very well taken care of.
“We left breakfast at the door at 8 am, left lunch at 12 noon, and left dinner at 6 pm exactly.
“These are people who knocked on the door from time to time, were dressed from head to toe in protective suits and pointed a wand to take our temperature.
“At least once a day, they also took samples from the throat or nose.
“We feel we would be harmless if we continued, but they have their own rules and we leave with great goodwill towards our Chinese hosts.”
Johnson explained that he and his team of seven had come to China to resume the personal odyssey he had begun over 60 years ago to follow Marco Polo from Venice to Shanadu, where he met the Mongol Emperor Kublai Khan in 1275. .
He was only 20 years old when he and Tim Severin rode 500C Shooting Star motorcycles donated by BSA. made the first leg of their journey from Venice to the Afghan border.
“It was a lot of fun. We were entertained by the mayor of Venice, and then we drove through Iran and Afghanistan, where we reached the entrance to the Wakhan Corridor, which runs through Afghanistan to China,” he recalls.
“So the plan was to resume travel from Chengdu to Shangdu, which was Xanadu.”
The million-pound play, tentatively titled In the Footsteps of Marco Polo, is being produced by Bath-based One Tribe Productions in association with China State Television.
The crew was to move west from Kashgar, across the Takla Makan and Gobi deserts, to Xi’an Shangdu, and finally Beijing, over a period of seven weeks.
For filming, special drones will be used, which had to go through strict security controls.
But when the closure was announced, Mr. Johnson was forced to abandon filming.
“We knew this even if we endured ten days of quarantine. we will have to do it again when we move to another part of China,” he said.
“But we didn’t leave with our tail between our legs. We managed to make the most of our time with zoom calls and now we’ve done a full recon. We’ll be back as soon as Covid allows.”
Another benefit of his early departure could be the opportunity to spend time with Boris as he enters life after Downing Street.
“If I wasn’t in China, I would be in Downing Street with Rachel waving at him.
“Perhaps I can see him when I get back, but who can say – Boris can be very busy even now.”