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Until this week Penny Mordaunt may have been best known for her stint on diver Tom Daley’s reality TV show Splash!

It also featured the likes of Joey Essex and Eddie “the Eagle” Edwards.

But Mordaunt was a bit of a flop, being told by judges she had the “elegance and drive of a paving slab”. Over the past few days it has been a different story and the navy reservist looks like she’s in with a chance of making it to No 10.

She has consistently come second to Rishi Sunak and is ahead in the polls of Tory members.

But how did she pull off such a dramatic ascent?

Mordaunt’s ministerial career has been steady but not stellar, although she had a brief stint as Britain’s first woman defence secretary until she was sacked by Boris Johnson.

She is ahead in the polls of Tory members ( REUTERS)

Lord Frost, the former Brexit minister, said that he had “grave reservations” about her abilities when she was his deputy, while officials at the Trade Department claimed she “dialled it in” rather than getting stuck in to her role.

Others, though, describe her as a capable minister who got on with the job and managed to combine compassion with military steeliness.

Mordaunt has won the backing of veteran Tory MP Andrea Leadsom and a host of other pro-Brexit, socially liberal Tories. But one politician says: “She’s a loner. She doesn’t have many friends here. So none of us really know her or what she stands for”.

The key to Mordaunt’s current rise seems to be keeping her distance from Mr Johnson, which helps her look like she is the “change candidate”.

Former Chancellor Rishi Sunak is the favourite in the polls ( Ian Vogler / Daily Mirror)

With her military connections, PR polish and no-nonsense demeanour she is likely to go down better in the Tories’ southern heartlands than Johnson.

Her team hope that she can pull off the same trick in the Red Wall.

Labour insiders admit that Mordaunt would be more of a threat to their chances at the next election than any of her competitors for the Tory crown.

So if the Tory Party is looking for somebody who will make a bit of a splash, it could well be Ms Mordaunt.

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