Olympics: Boris Johnson becomes national treasure as he brings ping pong home

“I say this respectfully to our Chinese hosts who have excelled so magnificently at ping pong: ping pong was invented on the dining tables of England in the 19th century. It was. And it was called wiff waff.

“And there I think you have the essential difference between us and the rest of the world.

“Other nations – the French – looked at a dining table and saw an opportunity to have dinner.

“We looked at a dining table and saw an opportunity to play whiff whaff.

“And that is why that is why London is the sporting capital of the world. And I say to the Chinese, and I say to the world: ping pong is coming home!”

“You’ve got to love him,” we journalists said to each other, “but what on earth is the rest of the world going to make of Boris?”

Now that ping pong has come home, along with football, sailing, cycling, boxing and 25 other sports, we now know the answer to that question: the rest of the world apparently loves Boris too.

Tonight he is expected to play a leading role in the Olympics Opening Ceremony, before a crowd hundreds of times larger than that at London House and a TV audience expected to approach a billion.

It marks the culmination of an astonishing rise for the Mayor (and Telegraph columnist) from Britain’s private joke to a global superstar.

The Olympics come just a few weeks after Mr Johnson took New York by storm, and where he was forced to adapt his standard response to questions about his ambition to become prime minister.

Asked by TV host David Letterman if he fancied the US presidency (having been born in the Big Apple he is eligible for the job) he replied “About as likely as being reincarnated as an olive – or being blinded by a champagne cork.”

Assuming Jeremy Hunt isn’t the one wielding the champagne bottle, Mr Johnson’s prospects for becoming prime minister seem brighter than ever.

Because as much as the world has caught Boris-fever, Britain seems to have terminal case.

His appearance in Hyde Park last night with its amusing retort to Mitt Romney – “He wants to know whether we’re ready. Are we ready?” – was greeted with such roars of approval that the event came to resemble a Nuremberg rally.

Should the Games prove a success – and at this stage in proceedings suggesting otherwise is tantamount to treason (hello Mr Romney) – it will be thanks to the Mayor as much as anyone. You can’t buy PR like that.

The same can not be said of Mr Johnson’s hitherto rivals for the throne.

Thanks to his troubles with News International, Mr Hunt’s career was in freefall even before he starting braining people with hand bells.

And the repercussions from George Osborne’s omnishambles budget continue to be felt, with even loyal Tories muttering about him being removed from the Treasury following this week’s dire GDP figures.

And above it all, strides the Mayor, a quote-producing, dishevelled national joke turned national treasure. He even has a new haircut.

Ping pong has come home. And so has Boris.