One of the protesters outside the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in London's Westminster handed me a Boris Johnson wig.

It was the middle of a sticky-hot July morning, and sack-loads of plastic toupees were being given out to the assembled mob.

Inside, Johnson and his fellow contender for the leadership of the Conservative party, Jeremy Hunt, awaited the result. Or more correctly, how big Johnson's winning margin would be.

There were a lot of protesters around the streets of Westminster this time two years ago. Mostly they were anti-Brexit, determined not to go meekly into the post-EU future Boris Johnson and his Leave.EU colleagues were promoting.

This particular lot wanted to create a sea of straw-blonde, tousle-topped humanity to greet the new leader as he exited. They wanted to turn part of "Brand Boris" against the soon-to-be prime minister. To ridicule him.

What they learned was that "Brand Boris" actually makes its owner bulletproof - in the political sense.

Boris Johnson wig owned by Sean Whelan

The more you talk about him, the more you lampoon him, the more you concentrate on his image – the stronger he becomes.

He is proof of Oscar Wilde's dictum that the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about. Every Youtube compilation of his gaffes and pratfalls simply adds to the legend.

I still have the Boris Wig. I keep it in a drawer in the office. One never knows when it might come in handy. Perhaps when an angry mob storms the building, I can escape disguised as the British Prime Minister.

After all, he seems to be able to get away with anything.

Riding a rollercoaster

I don't know if Boris Johnson likes rollercoasters – but he has been riding one for the past two years.

His premiership has been epic, in ways both good and bad. Yes, every political career has its ups and downs – but his have been bigger, more dramatic, larger than life. And death.

The Covid pandemic is an era-defining moment across the globe. But even a killer virus seems incapable of damaging Brand Boris.

Even literally. For three days in April 2020, I was part of a socially distanced media pack on death watch outside St Thomas's hospital, on the south bank of the Thames, directly opposite the Palace of Westminster.

Johnson was inside in intensive care, the last prime minster in Europe to lock down his country, now fighting for breath.

Fortunately he survived – something far from certain in those early days of the Covid pandemic, when treatment was pretty much trial and error.

But many did not: he has presided over the biggest death toll of any European country, and one of the biggest worldwide. Yet his popularity remains undimmed among the electorate.

Yet Brand Boris appears impervious to damage. Things that would have felled lesser politicians have not stopped Johnson, they have just added to his legend.

Perhaps it is his engaging persona that people find easy to forgive or perhaps he is proof of the old saying – if it doesn't kill you, it makes you stronger.

Yet his stewardship of Britain during the pandemic has been highly controversial.

From the barely concealed differences between him and his top medical and scientific advisors, to the savage criticism of former aide Dominic Cummings, who likens the Prime Minister to a shopping trolley with a broken wheel, veering aimlessly from side to side.

And – perhaps more damningly - of Sir Jeremy Farrar, head of the Wellcome Trust and a key SAGE advisor on the pandemic, who has published a book detailing his insider knowledge of Johnson's government going against scientific advice whilst telling the public they were following it.

We are not sure about how many people the Covid pandemic has killed in the UK. There are two sets of official figures – one hovers around 130,000, the other around 160,000.

An unofficial memorial of 150,000 red hearts has been painted on the back wall of St Thomas's hospital, the one that Johnson recovered in.

As simultaneously poignant and breathtaking as one's first sight of the Tyne Cot World War I cemetery at Passchendaele, the memorial wall is a daily reminder of just how deadly this plague has been.

Like an impressionist painting, the red dots amass to create an impression. And the impression is of a human calamity.

Yet Brand Boris appears impervious to damage. Things that would have felled lesser politicians have not stopped Johnson, they have just added to his legend. On and on he goes. And yet, like the rollercoaster, you always feel it could all end in wreckage and carnage at any second.

Like a thrill-ride, Johnsonian Britain is barreling through this part of the 21st century. Just when you think you have survived the scariest bit, another scare comes along.

Just when you think it ought to be over, it starts on another lap. Just when you think you can scream no more – a pause, to fill your lungs with air: then the screaming starts all over again.

All good rollercoaster rides work by pitting our irrational side against our rational being: the struggle between the inner voice that tells you its all going to end in disaster, and the one that tells you its all been engineered to stay on the rails. The trouble with real-life is, there are no rails.

From journalist to London Mayor

Some politicians rise without trace: Boris Johnson isn't one of them.

From freebooting journalist to game show participant to the stunt-loving Mayor of London, Johnson had evolved over the last two decades into a full blooded "character" – someone known by his first name the length and breadth of Britain – and nowadays far beyond it.

And he has done it through a certain mastery of image.

He is like a ghastly alien in a science fiction plot, one that grows bigger and stronger every time it is shot with a laser beam or explosive weapon.

Boris is a brand, and that counts for a lot in the fast-paced, heavily marketed and relentlessly loud but shallow times we live in. A branded product always commands a premium over a generic product.

In row after row of bland, homogenized, focus-grouped, generic suits, the Boris brand stands out – exactly what you want when appealing to the impulse buying political consumer, the ones who decide election outcomes.

The brand was cleverly applied to other products – buses, bicycles (Londoners still talk about the "Boris bikes", the public bike rentals that are commonplace in cities all over the world – but nowhere are they so closely associated with an ex-Mayor).

Thanks to the non-stop publicity, nobody can say they didn't know what they were getting – not the party members who ensured Johnson's leadership win two years ago, nor the general public who handed him his "stonking great majority" a few months later.

A messy personal life, tawdry financial affairs, more twists and turns than the ring of Kerry – no problem: the "Character" gets away with it.

It doesn't matter what the Mail on Sunday or the Daily Mirror or any of the others print: nothing seems to damage the Prime Minister in the eyes of the people. Perhaps because their expectations are so low.

Decades of being told about the failings of politicians has perhaps left them inured to pretty much everything. So low are their expectations of all politicians that when one comes along who conforms to pretty much all of their worst fears, there is little left to do but shrug the shoulders and say "what do you expect".

The other catch-all response is simple: "It's Boris". All of the dire warnings from former employers, former colleagues, former lovers made no difference. The people voted for him, and still would.

He is like a ghastly alien in a science fiction plot, one that grows bigger and stronger every time it is shot with a laser beam or explosive weapon – absorbing and feeding off the energy. Outrage will not bring Boris Johnson down.

All of us living in the UK are passengers on Boris's rollercoaster now. For some it's a white-knuckle ride: for others a euphoric, liberating rush.

Boredom might. The kind of boredom that comes with normal politics. The type of politics that happens when there is no killer plague ravaging the land, when there is no existential crisis about the direction the country is headed in, no epic struggle for national identity in the face of the European Union.

When there is just a common or garden trade relationship with all the boring customs stuff to tweak; when there is just the boring matter of regularising the public finances after the worst recession in over 300 years to plod through; when there is just the boring process of public sector pay deals, government contracts for public works, and legislation to tweak and nudge an otherwise quite orderly society along.

In short, when it is boring business as bloody usual, Brand Boris is buggered.

A clear and present danger?

But boring normality is a long way off. Plenty of time for Boris Johnson to leave a legacy, for good or ill.

My colleague Annette Dittert, the London bureau chief of German public broadcaster ARD, has written an epic assessment of Boris Johnson for German magazine Blatter, republished in English by the New Statesman. Its dark conclusion is that Boris Johnson is a clear and present danger to the rule of law in the United Kingdom.

Her general charge is that Johnson's brand of post-truth politics is creating a political space in which anything is possible. She writes:

"It is truly dizzying to live in the UK these days, if you have a good memory. Life under Boris Johnson's government means that whatever they tell you today, it will all have changed by tomorrow. Whatever you remembered, it never happened like that. What Johnson did was not as it seemed, or was someone else's fault. Johnson came to power thanks to lies, half-truths and sleights of hand. Back in 2019, his friends in the conservative party and critics who cared about the future of the United Kingdom hoped he would not be able to continue in that vein as prime minister. Eighteen months after his election victory, the opposite is the case. Johnson has remained true to himself and is now more popular than ever before".

Her specific charge springs from his efforts to reign-in the UK supreme court, an invention of the Tony Blair era, and the court that stopped his plan to suspend Parliament at the height of the Brexit crisis in September 2019.

That, and assaults on the media's oversight of government action.

"Britain is still a long way from the situation in Hungary or Poland, but there is nevertheless much that is reminiscent of the beginnings of Victor Orban or Jaroslaw Kaczynski. A systematic effort to disable the oversight of the executive branch is inherently authoritarian, and in its early stages hits both the judiciary, and especially, the media. This is now happening in the UK too."

Sometimes it takes an outsider to see through the "character", to penetrate the mystique of "The Brand", particularly when they have become as ubiquitous and deeply bought into as Brand Boris has become among the Great British public.

If Dittert's analysis is correct, then Britain's roller coaster ride may become a lot scarier

'A temporary little arrangement'

But the next visible scary bit on this ride is Brexit, and the return of the Northern Ireland Protocol to the forefront of politics.

The freshly minted narrative to go with this new confrontation is that the Northern Ireland Protocol was never meant to last, according to Britain's Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng – that it was just a "temporary little arrangement" made in order to get Brexit done.

Dominic Cummings, in an unbroadcast part of his interview with the BBC's Laura Kuenssberg, said the essence of the Protocol was a fudge to punt difficult issues out into the future, done because the British were needy and the Irish were desperate.

Well, the future is here now, and another bumpy ride is in prospect. How deep will this crisis get? You can sweat that question out over August, to the "clack-clack" sound of the rollercoaster cars being ratcheted-up a steep slope, ready for another swift descent in September.

A white-knuckle ride

All of us living in the UK are passengers on Boris's rollercoaster now. For some it's a white-knuckle ride: for others a euphoric, liberating rush.

Two years on, we have no idea when or how it will end. What we do know is the blonde chap in the driver's seat at the front doesn't have a steering wheel, a brake or an accelerator. Just a lot of self-belief.

Tighten the straps, and hang on to your wigs.