LONDON >> It was one of the most celebrated Twitter posts in British political memory, one that has been retweeted tens of thousands of times, spawned an unofficial national holiday and inspired tributes in everything from verse to baked goods.
Ed Balls was a member of Parliament and a leader of the opposition Labour Party five years ago, on April 28, 2011, and as many busy people do, he was multitasking: checking the Internet on his BlackBerry while shopping for groceries. At the suggestion of an aide, he tried to look up a recent article about himself, without realizing that in typing his name into a search field, he had somehow put “Ed Balls” into the body of a tweet.
And then, apparently when he put the BlackBerry back in his pocket, that message went out to the world, a two-word non sequitur and Twitter fail for the ages.
Needless to say, the message swiftly went viral, as people started sharing it and genially mocking the politician for tweeting his own name. It went so viral, in fact, that for Britons, April 28 has become Ed Balls Day.
Fast-forward five years, and that single post has now been retweeted more than 72,000 times through Thursday afternoon. #EdBallsDay was a trending topic on Thursday, with celebrants rushing to wish each other “Happy Ed Balls Day!”
It is probably not how he ever expected to be remembered. Born in Norwich, England, in 1967, Edward Michael Balls grew up in Nottingham, studied economics and philosophy at Oxford, attended the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, and rose to the top ranks of the Labour Party. From 2011 to 2015, he was the shadow chancellor, the opposition’s spokesman on financial and economic issues.
He lost his seat in Parliament in the election last year, but that has not dimmed his Internet fame a bit.
Celebrated primarily in Britain, and mostly on Twitter, the annual Ed Balls Day fun now gets started well before April 28, with people counting down the days as if it were Christmas. When it finally comes, users repost his original tweet with hashtags like #NeverForget, and Google searches for “Ed Balls” shoot up, this year by 2,500 percent.
Other politicians have been known to get into the act, although his wife, Yvette Cooper, who is also a lawmaker, almost forgot last year. This time around, she wrote on Twitter, she insisted that the man himself bake a cake.
Balls and Cooper have three children. Asked in an interview Thursday how they mark the day, he said: “They roll their eyes at me regularly. This is just another reason to roll their eyes at me.”
Companies like Domino’s Pizza and the betting parlor Coral play along as well — Domino’s posted an image of twisted dough balls emblazoned with Balls’ face. The poet Brian Bilston posted a poem written for the occasion, and a Labour district councilor in Yorkshire, Rory Bickerton, showed off an autographed printout of the original Twitter post, now handsomely framed for display.
These days Balls is a senior fellow at the Kennedy School, which he joined in June, and he is philosophical about the non-holiday holiday that bears his Twitter handle.
“It’s as incomprehensible as the Internet and social media can get, but people enjoy it,” he said by telephone Thursday. “I shrug my shoulders.”