Brown attempts "Heathcliff" makeover

LONDON (Reuters) - Prime Minister Gordon Brown sought to soften his image on Thursday with a chatty interview that pried into his private life, but drew ridicule after he compared himself to a tormented literary character.

Brown leaves 10 Downing Street to attend the weekly Prime Minister's Questions session in the House of Commons in central London June 25, 2008. REUTERS/Stephen Hird

Brown -- frequently referred to as a dour Scot who lacks people skills -- spoke about his sleep patterns and nail-biting habit in an interview with New Statesman magazine.

He also conversed with young voters on YouTube.

But Brown’s critics seized on a light-hearted comment in which he likened himself to Heathcliff, the brooding, romantic anti-hero of Emily Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights”.

When his interviewer said Brown reminded some women of Heathcliff, he answered: “Absolutely correct.”

“Well, maybe an older Heathcliff, a wiser Heathcliff.”

Heathcliff wandered the Yorkshire moors, tortured by the ghost of his lost love Cathy, and ended his life a broken man.

Opponents in his ruling Labour Party and elsewhere seized on the comments. Brown has slumped so low in opinion polls that the opposition Conservatives are on track for a landslide win in the next general election, due by 2010.

Some mischievous lawmakers suggested the ghost tormenting Brown was that of his predecessor and old rival, Tony Blair.

One newspaper commentator renamed the epic novel “Dithering Heights”, in reference to Brown’s perceived indecisiveness over whether to call an election shortly after taking office last year.

Opposition Conservative lawmaker Theresa May said Brown needed to be clear about which of Heathcliff’s characteristics he shared. “Prone to domestic violence and kidnapping? Moody and unkind to animals?” she asked in parliament.

In a separate chat with young voters via YouTube, a youth called “Jazza” asked Brown to sell himself to the public.

“Jazza, that’s a great question,” Brown said, smiling, before reverting to his characteristic earnest demeanour.

“My idea in life, why I get up in the morning is that everyone should have a chance to make the most of their talents.”