A photo emerged in the summer of Boris Johnson and Sir Michael Fallon locked in conversation overlooking the River Derwent a mile from the Foreign Secretary’s country residence.
They were spotted as speculation swirled about Theresa May’s chances of continuing as Tory leader. Two weeks earlier she had failed to win a majority at the election, swiftly followed by her botched response to the Grenfell Tower tragedy.
Most commentators assumed Johnson was trying to secure the Defence Secretary’s backing for leader. The reverse was true. Fallon, 65, was sounding out Johnson to act as a potential running mate.
After years of being the loyal lieutenant, who was never ruffled in a crisis, Fallon had been persuaded it was his time to run for the big job. He had even assembled a small team to advise him.
Sir Michael Fallon receives his Knighthood at Buckingham Palace with his son Timothy (left), his wife Wendy and his second son Peter
The MP for Sevenoaks is pictured during Prime Minister's Questions yesterday, sitting on the front bench for the final time
Fallon, a staunch Thatcherite, had served as a junior minister under Britain’s first woman prime minister.
He was one of three Tory MPs who begged Mrs Thatcher to stay on the eve of her resignation in November 1990. Ten years later he marked the anniversary by wearing a black tie in the Commons.
But in 1992 he lost his Darlington seat and returned to the private sector. He set up a string of children’s nurseries, going into business with Duncan Bannatyne from the Dragons’ Den TV show.
The multimillionaire also held directorships of businesses including nursing homes and nurseries. Keen to return to Westminster, he tried and failed to secure two nominations for safe seats. But it was third time lucky in Sevenoaks in Kent.
The son of a surgeon, Fallon was born in Perth, Scotland, before attending Surrey private school Epsom College and St Andrews University.
He then joined the Conservative research department and, in 1986, married personnel officer Wendy. They have two grown-up sons and Wendy is a regular fixture on the Tory cocktail party circuit. Fallon himself was known as a party animal who liked to drink at least one bottle of red wine with dinner.