The inside story of the Daily Star’s Liz Truss lettuce gag from the perspective of the “keeper of the lettuce”
It’s Thursday, October 13, 2022. Reading this message from Daily Star deputy editor-in-chief, digital Jon Livesey, Ed Keeble, senior social video editor at the Star’s publisher Reach PLC, immediately saw its brilliance.
The Economist’s October 11 editorial had lambasted the prime minister: having taken office on September 6, Liz Truss had “[blown] up her own government” by the 23rd. “Take away the 10 days of mourning after the death of the queen and she had seven days in control,” it thundered. “That is the shelf life of a lettuce.” Truss’s resignation was expected shortly. But, the Star wondered, would it happen before a fresh lettuce went mouldy?
After work on Friday, Keeble was starting a week-long holiday. “I’ll buy a lettuce, stick it on a table, walk in at night and turn the light on,” Keeble thought. “That’s all I’ll do.” He moved his dining table into his home office, asked a neighbour to print a picture of Truss, and put it on the table with the lettuce.
When the stream went live on Friday, the display sat in Keeble’s office while he worked on other things. It immediately accrued several thousand viewers. “This is a bit boring,” Keeble fretted. “We can’t just leave this on for a week.” He added a set of googly eyes, courtesy of a neighbour with kids. “Now you’ve done something,” he thought. “So, now you’ve got to do something else.”
Thankfully, people commenting on social media and his colleagues had suggestions—a blond wig, in particular. Keeble had plenty of ideas, too, which he started planning out for the week ahead. His wish list included a Mr. Potato Head set, a clock, disco lights, and various pork and cheese products. (Look up “Liz Truss rants about cheese and pork markets in 2014” on YouTube.) Some items Keeble bought; others he borrowed from helpful neighbours.
The Tories themselves were a help, too. On Monday, Truss skipped an urgent parliamentary question, forcing Penny Mordaunt, leader of the House, to fill in. Mordaunt’s assurance that the prime minister was not hiding under a desk ignited social media. The lettuce was briefly relocated under the dining room table.
On Tuesday, Home Secretary Suella Braverman tried to blame Just Stop Oil protestors’ disruption of roads on the opposition parties and the so-called “wokerati,” easily identifiable by their “Guardian-reading, tofu-eating” habits. A packet of tofu appeared beside the lettuce.
The stream was to run until Monday, October 24, at the latest. Keeble was planning a lettuce funeral if Truss survived. By that Thursday, it had been a long week. Constantly brainstorming new gags, Keeble hadn’t been sleeping well. The lettuce, however, was in fine fettle, thanks to regular spritzes from a spray bottle. Keeble was buying more props from a local market—a crown in case Truss resigned, a “Keep Calm and Carry On” mug in case she didn’t—when he started hearing rumours that Truss’s resignation was in the offing. He raced home to look them up. They were true.
Keeble ran out for a small bottle of champagne. He raided his kitchen for fruit and vegetables, attaching googly eyes liberally. He placed these, along with some candles and the disco lights, around the lettuce to stage a fruit and veg party—all to a soundtrack of dub reggae.
With photographers shuffling in periodically, he kept this up until Truss’s resignation speech, at which point the stream “completely exploded.” Afterward, a procession of neighbours came round to glimpse the lettuce’s “lying in state.”
Since October, people have argued about whose idea the gag was—The Economist’s or the Star’s. Keeble doesn’t claim any personal ownership. Neighbours, colleagues, social media users—so many contributed, something he welcomed. The British people were exasperated with politics. It felt good to provide a joyful outlet.
And, in case you’re wondering, Keeble got his holiday time back.
About the author
Tim Cooke is a second-year Master of Journalism student at Toronto Metropolitan University. He did his bachelor’s in History and Classics at the University of Toronto. He loves journalism that explores the historical background of current affairs. Last summer, he interned at documentary film production company Primitive Entertainment, working as a production intern on TVO Original Viral News and helping to research a forthcoming project. He hopes to work in documentary film and audio.