As the staff served dinner in the wood- panelled dining room at Chequers, the tension in the air was palpable. The occasion was a family party hosted by Boris Johnson to mark his father Stanley’s 79th birthday in August 2019. Just weeks before, Boris had become Prime Minister, and his father was understandably proud to be entertained in such style.
But even Stanley’s familiar bonhomie and the new Prime Minister’s joviality could not conceal the strained mood. At the very moment when the famed Johnson clan should have been rejoicing, the family’s relationships were splintering.
The Johnson family in Brussels in 1977. Rachel and Jo, Boris’s younger sister and brother, had both come to Chequers with their spouses and children. Leo, the fourth sibling, was on holiday in Greece
Just over a year earlier, when he resigned as Foreign Secretary, Boris and his then wife Marina had left Carlton Gardens, the Minister’s formal London residence, in separate cars. After 25 years of marriage, they had agreed to divorce.
Following several humiliating exposés of Boris’s adultery, Marina had tried to repair their relationship, but those efforts had been wrecked by his most recent affair with Carrie Symonds, the 30-year-old Tory communications chief. Too many lies, betrayals, confessions and apologies had been offered over the years to make any credible amends.
‘He’s a s***. He’s utterly selfish. He’s destroyed the family,’ one of the Johnson clan had exclaimed.
Boris Johnson with his mother Charlotte. Only Boris’s 77-year-old artist mother, Charlotte, could explain Boris’ hostility towards his father Stanley. It reflected the Johnson family’s intimate history, which only now has she chosen to make public
The raw emotions at play were barely concealed.
Rachel and Jo, Boris’s younger sister and brother, had both come to Chequers with their spouses and children. Leo, the fourth sibling, was on holiday in Greece.
But to Stanley’s disappointment, Boris’s and Marina’s four children – Lara, then 26, Milo, 24, Cassia, 22, and Theo, 20 – had rejected the invitation to the party.
Not only were they angry about their grandfather shaking Carrie’s hand at a public meeting about the environment, but they also refused to speak to their father.
On top of that resentment was the long-running friction between Stanley’s four older children and his second family – his daughter Julia, then 37, and son Max, 33. In recent months, Stanley’s second wife had openly spoken out against Boris and even forbidden him to visit Nethercote, the family’s farm on Exmoor in Somerset.
As usual, Boris’s enthusiasm and jokes during the Chequers dinner hid his own feelings.
Boris Johnson pictured as a young boy with his father Stanley. Marina blamed Stanley for her marriage’s collapse and refused to speak to him. Like Boris’s first wife, Allegra Mostyn-Owen, she said that Boris’s adultery mirrored his father’s habits
Secretive and untrusting, his accomplished performance concealed his vulnerability.
Any sadness about his children’s absence was cancelled out by his recent triumph. ‘It’s all about Boris,’ many of those working with him would frequently assert.
But even for his family, that truism merely highlighted an enigma. Did anyone, they wondered, know the real Boris?
They agreed he was a loner with few close friends. Among those few had been Marina, his anchor and consigliere, and the ghost at the feast. ‘Marina’s Magic’ had held the Johnson clan together for years, especially more recently at family parties.
Boris’s disloyalty to Marina had generated intense hostility towards him and deep sympathy for her.
Marina blamed Stanley for her marriage’s collapse and refused to speak to him. Like Boris’s first wife, Allegra Mostyn-Owen, she said that Boris’s adultery mirrored his father’s habits. The same unhappiness Stanley had spread among his own children, Marina said, was being repeated by Boris towards his four children with her.
Stanley Johnson introduces himself to Carrie Symonds at an anti-whaling protest outside the Japanese Embassy in central London on Saturday, January 26, 2019
Naturally, the fracture of the family’s ties, exacerbated by their differing views on Brexit, was kept under wraps. United by intelligence, charm and their striking blond hair, the public face of the Johnsons was as a dynasty of tightly bonded high achievers.
The following morning, Boris had expected everyone to stay on at Chequers for Stanley’s birthday lunch. Instead, Rachel and Jo had other long-standing arrangements and left. To those who remained, their departure had seemed somewhat ungracious. Suddenly, the celebrations had gone quiet.
A year later, by August 2020, the family tensions that simmered at Chequers had erupted into an irreconcilable feud. For Stanley’s older children had become ever more bewildered about their father’s second marriage, just as they all questioned Boris’s relationship with his fiancee Carrie.
As Boris struggled to protect 67 million Britons from the disaster of Covid-19, his own family – still heralded by many as an enviable model of love, laughter and glory – was disintegrating in the shadows.
The question asked was whether the unseen collapse of the Johnson dynasty was a metaphor for Johnson’s premiership.
Above all, there was the ongoing complex dynamic between Boris and his father.
During all the media appearances over the years, the striking similarity of appearance, mannerisms and jokey tone shared by Stanley and Boris would suggest that the two men were closely bonded. Few people, however, noticed during the Tory Party’s leadership campaign events in 2019 the cold stares Boris shot as he walked past his father, invariably standing in the front row. But even Allegra, who had maintained that her former husband’s worst habits were inherited from his father, was unaware of the real reason for Boris’s deep anger towards Stanley.
During all the media appearances over the years, the striking similarity of appearance, mannerisms and jokey tone shared by Stanley and Boris would suggest that the two men were closely bonded. Family pictured in the 1970s
Only Boris’s 77-year-old artist mother, Charlotte, could explain his hostility. It reflected the Johnson family’s intimate history, which only now has she chosen to make public.
Bowled over by Stanley’s energy, dynamism and intelligence, the 20-year-old Charlotte Fawcett had married him in 1963 while an undergraduate at Oxford University. Only years later would she realise that instead of a loving and deep friendship, she had become infatuated with a man who deliberately minimised the seriousness of anything and ridiculed intimacy.
Their first child, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel, was born in June 1964. While his mother completed her English degree, the baby would sleep in a drawer at her college room.
By the end of the year, Charlotte was pregnant again, and the relationship with Stanley changed.
During a series of bitter arguments, Stanley accused Charlotte of seeing too much of her friends. ‘He resented that I cared about my friends,’ she recalls. Charlotte blamed herself for Stanley’s anger and continued her studies.
Their problems were buried after Stanley joined MI6 and began a training course which separated him and Charlotte during the week. In June 1965, she gained her degree and celebrated that Boris had walked at 11 months.
He was 15 months old when Rachel was born, and his expression on seeing his sister for the first time was not joyous. ‘When Boris arrived at the hospital to see Rachel in my arms,’ Charlotte recalls, ‘his look was shock, disbelief and fear.’
In 1966, the family moved to the US, where Stanley had obtained a job with the World Bank. Boris was proving to be a temperate, smiling baby. Aged three, he had begun to read – in particular he enjoyed a comic strip depicting the story of an ancient civilisation called the Trigan Empire. ‘He was gripped by that,’ says Charlotte, ‘and that gave him an idea. He said to me, “I want to be world king.” ’
Stanley, who had changed his job to work for the Rockefeller Foundation in New York, missed these milestones. As a committed environmentalist, he was flying around the world seeking to improve the condition of poverty-stricken countries. During visits to his young family in Connecticut, he was the life and soul of any social gathering. But back at home, the humour disappeared.
In 1969, the family returned to Britain. Because money was short, it was decided that Charlotte would live with her husband’s family at Nethercote, on Exmoor, as Stanley would be travelling the world as part of a scholarship programme. On the eve of his departure, there was another argument in front of Boris, then five years old – and, incidentally, already reading the editorial columns of the Daily Telegraph.
‘Stanley was very bad-tempered,’ remembers Charlotte. ‘He was always shouting and angry.’ Without apologies, Stanley would drive off from Nethercote for his next adventure.
As Rachel wrote nearly 50 years later: ‘He is never happier than setting off to live with some remote tribe many thousands of miles from his loved ones. He cares far more about other animals than even his own family.’
Bowled over by Stanley’s energy, dynamism and intelligence, the 20-year-old Charlotte Fawcett had married him in 1963 while an undergraduate at Oxford University
Being left behind in Somerset was a punishment for Charlotte and, as she believed, an opportunity for serial adultery on the part of her husband. Asked many years later if he was ‘completely unfaithful’ and ‘an amazing womaniser’ as Charlotte had thought, Stanley replied: ‘Total garbage. Honestly.’
Life at Nethercote was chaotic. As Boris approached school age, Charlotte and her children moved into a dilapidated, unheated house next door to Stanley’s parents, Johnny and Irene. With little money, they were marooned. ‘There was no point saying to Stanley, “Give me a car,” ’ Charlotte explains. ‘He wouldn’t.’
For Boris, untidiness became a way of life. Rubbish was strewn around the home, and in later life either thrown into the back of his car or out of the window.
While Stanley was saving rainforests, his family were sick because Nethercote’s water was contaminated by lead pipes. ‘We were all lying ill on the floor,’ says Charlotte. Compounding his sickness, Boris often screamed with pain from agonising ear-aches caused by grommets, and suffered long periods of deafness.
The only constant male influence in his life was his paternal grandfather Johnny. All the children loved him, proudly bearing the special nicknames he gave them. Unlike Stanley, Johnny did not smack the children, nor criticise their appearance.
Charlotte’s lawyer father, too, was a kindly influence. James Fawcett, a classicist who had won a double first at Oxford, introduced his grandson to the cultures of ancient Greece and Rome. Boris became fascinated by the ceaseless competition between macho males driven by self-belief. ‘It was a world,’ he would later write, ‘that believed above all in winners and losers, in death and glory.’
In the summer of 1970, Stanley returned to Nethercote and began inculcating his values in his children. Success, he believed, was generated by competition. He pitted his children against each other – at snooker, reading, maths and table tennis. After Rachel beat Boris at table tennis one day, she watched her brother’s fury: ‘He kicked the garage door so hard he broke his toe.’ Once, after Rachel got on to a table to make a speech, Boris, with uncontrolled anger, pushed her off to make his own.
It was during this period that Charlotte confronted Stanley about the affairs she suspected him of having. He denied it.
‘Stanley wanted to be loved,’ she recalls, ‘and wanted sex and he wanted power. And when I contradicted him, it threatened his power.’ Charlotte never thought of leaving: ‘I stayed because I loved him, despite the tensions.’
Boris agonised over his mother’s fate. Not only had he watched her suffer, but also saw his father blatantly deny the truth.
Unwilling to confide in others about his father’s temper, he became a loner. In his solitariness, his competitiveness was offset by self-doubt. To mask the misery and hurt, he demanded attention.
Just as his father wilfully amused friends and strangers to conceal the wretched chaos at Nethercote, Boris adopted his father’s performance. Rachel, his only confidante, did the same. Together, they learned overwhelming resilience.
In 1972, Stanley, then 32, was offered a well-paid job as the head of the Prevention of Pollution and Nuisance Division at the newly formed EEC’s headquarters in Brussels.
In this prestigious social world, the family was reunited with Charles Wheeler, a BBC journalist whom they had met in the United States, and whose daughter Marina now became a friend of Boris and Rachel at Brussels’ European School.
Across the international community, Johnson senior’s charm and humour were appreciated – although Stanley, they learnt, was always about Stanley. ‘I can count the seconds,’ Rachel wrote in 2017 about meeting her father for lunch, ‘until he says, “So what I’ve been up to…”’
Stanley Johnson joined Paul Bristow in Peterborough to campaign for the Conservative Party in Peterborough in 2019
Imitating Stanley, Boris assumed that his life was always going to be about Boris. Like his father, he would entertain to get the laughs and become the leader. Indeed, he adopted a motto Stanley preached: ‘Nothing matters very much and most things don’t matter at all.’ And, he could add, avoid apologising. But beneath the laughter, all was not well. Boris’s bravado masked deep unhappiness. His parents’ marriage had become irredeemably fractured. Charlotte found the pressure of her husband’s neglect and philandering overwhelming.
Boris, aged ten, and nine-year-old Rachel became the guardians of their parents’ secret. The family was safer if outsiders did not know. Then, in 1974, the dam broke.
Overwhelmed by severe depression, Charlotte suffered a nervous breakdown. She was rushed from Brussels to the Maudsley Hospital in South London, which specialises in mental health care. Isolated from her family for eight months, she felt wretched. For her four children, the circumstances were unusually difficult.
On an overcast day 45 years later, in the autumn of 2019, handicapped by Parkinson’s and other illnesses, the accomplished artist, who now lives with a carer in a small but comfortable flat in West London’s Notting Hill Gate, disclosed that the marriage ‘was ghastly, terrible.’ In particular, Charlotte described the ‘difficult times’ at the Maudsley. ‘I want the truth told,’ she explained to me.
OVER the years, Stanley has pleaded ignorance about the causes of his wife’s depression. ‘I never got to the bottom of it,’ he said in 2019. ‘It was too complicated for me, and a mystery.’
Charlotte corrects Stanley’s recollection: ‘The doctors at the Maudsley spoke to Stanley about his abuse of me. He had hit me.’ She recalls: ‘He broke my nose. He made me feel like I deserved it.’
After the attack, Charlotte was treated in the St John & St Elizabeth Hospital in North-West London. The children were told that a car door had hit their mother’s face. Boris, however, knew the truth.
Charlotte’s parents, who lived near the hospital, visited their daughter daily. ‘My parents confronted Stanley about it,’ she continued, ‘but he denied it.’
Boris is pictured as a child. Although Boris was just ten, Charlotte forensically discussed her marriage with him. Equally, she realised, her son ‘admired his father’s humour and dash’
Although Boris was just ten, Charlotte forensically discussed her marriage with him. Equally, she realised, her son ‘admired his father’s humour and dash’.
Regarding Boris witnessing her suffer at Stanley’s hands, she said: ‘That was terrible for the children.’
Her stoic bravery and silence taught Boris never to reveal vindictiveness or bear grudges. Most important, he has never spoken of how his mother’s suffering permanently influenced his life, character and personality.
While Charlotte was in hospital, Stanley was responsible for his children. But he was absent from their home in Brussels for much of the time, leaving an au pair in charge.
Affair with the au pair
It was the regular habit for Boris’s parents to walk around their home and Exmoor farm naked in the summer.
His father, Stanley, told their young family’s two au pairs in 1976 that a water shortage meant they were unable to wash their clothes so they, too, should not wear any.
Both complied and walked around in the nude.
Stanley insisted on two au pairs – and embarked on an affair with one, in front of his children.
The children were often expected to look after themselves, even making the arrangements to travel from Brussels to London to visit their mother.
Yet, still today, Rachel refuses to blame Stanley. ‘It was difficult for my dad, too,’ she has written. ‘I can’t pretend it wasn’t bleak, but he did brilliantly to keep it all going. He very much kept the show on the road.’
Boris understood the cause of his mother’s condition.
‘I have often thought,’ Charlotte would later say, ‘that his being “world king” was a wish to make himself unhurtable, invincible, somehow safe from the pains of your mother disappearing for eight months.’ The lesson he drew from witnessing marital discord was to avoid overt confrontation in his life.
Charlotte is certain that her suffering preyed on the young Boris. Denied his mother’s embrace and the absence of any home warmth, while at prep school, Ashdown House in East Sussex, there was a vast emotional hole. Some called the result ‘the frozen child’.
Stanley had promised Boris that he would never leave his beloved mother. But in the summer of 1978, after Boris’s first year at Eton, Stanley told his children that he and Charlotte were divorcing.
‘Why did you have us?’ Boris asked his father alongside the three other children.
Stanley subsequently claimed not to understand why his marriage collapsed, or whether his children suffered, ‘because I never asked them’. Charlotte made no secret to their friends about her reason for demanding an end: ‘I couldn’t stay with him. He was inaccessible, not to say completely unfaithful.’
She began a close friendship with Nick Wahl, an American academic who lived in Paris, and whom she regularly commuted to see. Her children endured benign neglect.
‘I was upset when they broke up,’ was the limit of Boris’s disclosure about his parents’ separation, adding, ‘It had some effect. They handled it brilliantly.’
In truth, Stanley’s behaviour has haunted Boris. ‘My father promised me that they wouldn’t divorce,’ he told a girlfriend years later, ‘and I could never forgive him for that.’
Rachel has said: ‘We were abandoned as children after the divorce. We had to bring ourselves up. We had no home.’
Back at Eton – where he was nicknamed Pee-Pee, after de Pfeffel – Boris was surrounded by the children of the aristocracy with seemingly unlimited wealth who had also suffered difficult childhoods, among them Princess Diana’s brother Charles Spencer.
‘We were the children of fathers who failed their sons and created troubled boys,’ recalled one early friend.
Fellow students said Boris arrived in Oxford in 1983 planning to reach the Cabinet by the age of 35. With a showman’s hunger for celebrity, the Oxford Union, the students’ debating society, was a natural magnet for him. Even then, a few mentioned him as a future Prime Minister.
He was not the cleverest, once described by a tutor as ‘the worst scholar Eton ever sent us – a buffoon and an idler’. But he possessed a magic combination of intelligence, wit, cunning and exhibitionism. His showmanship disturbed his mother when she visited with Nick Wahl. Beneath her son’s sparkle, she saw that his childhood grief about his parents’ relationship lingered.
Prime Minister, Boris Johnson returns to number 10 Downing Street after the weekly cabinet meeting held at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on September 30
Ignoring his mother’s new happiness and Wahl’s warmth towards the Johnson children, Charlotte noticed how Boris ‘hated Nick’. He was, she concludes, ‘jealous about Stanley. He wanted his parents to be married. Boris’s reaction was primitive.’
Boris needed a soul mate, someone with whom he could speak heart to heart. That, he found, was impossible with men. Only a woman could ever be his confidante. His requirements rarely changed: good-looking, intelligent and sophisticated. On that scale, few exceeded the charismatic Allegra Mostyn-Owen, renowned as one of the university’s most beautiful women. The two formed a deep friendship, culminating, in the summer of 1986, in a proposal. Insecure, with a fear of homelessness, Boris fulfilled an ambition to ‘marry up’.
‘Boris’s game-plan,’ Allegra was convinced, ‘was influenced by what Stanley had done.’
His father had married a woman from a well-off family early in his life, and Boris, at 23, had decided to follow suit. Two hundred guests were invited to the wedding on September 5, 1987, at the Mostyn-Owens’ country seat in Shropshire. ‘It was a very happy wedding day,’ recalls Allegra, although her groom had lost his wedding ring and had to borrow a morning suit and cufflinks.
Her father had warned her: ‘He’s rapacious. What do you see in him?’ and within two years the relationship was, as Allegra puts it, ‘already creaking’.
In the summer of 1989, Boris, by now working as a correspondent for the Daily Telegraph in Brussels, flew with his wife to Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt for a holiday.
Distressed by the break-up of her own parents’ marriage, she needed Boris’s support. But he, flippant and emotionally superficial, was indifferent to his depressed wife. Lonely, self-doubting and locked in a competitive boys’ game, he never revealed to Allegra the pains of his own childhood.
The final straw came in February 1990 when she cooked dinner for him one evening in Brussels and he failed to return home. The following morning she bought the Daily Telegraph and read a report he had written from Zagreb. Without even phoning her, he had accepted the offer of a trip.
His refusal to be with her, she decided, was a blind spot he had inherited from Stanley: ‘An inability to take women seriously.’
Later, she reflected that Boris is ‘capable of a very bad temper, but he doesn’t hit out.’ Charlotte agreed: ‘His temper is his anger directed against himself.’
Loyally, Allegra adds: ‘He never lied. He just has his own attitude to the truth.’ Her former husband, she concluded, was three different personalities: Alexander, Al and Boris. ‘Boris is the public person, but did I meet Al, the private person, or Alexander, a mixture of the private and public person, or had I lived with Boris? I never knew.’
© Tom Bower
- Extracts from Boris Johnson The Gambler by Tom Bower, published by WH Allen, an imprint of Ebury Publishing, on October 15.
Boris’s dad broke his mum’s nose: Explosive new biography lifts the lid on PM’s affairs, family feuds – and the domestic violence incident that put his mother in hospital
by Glen Owens and Mark Hookhan for The Mail On Sunday
Boris Johnson‘s father Stanley hit the Prime Minister’s mother in a domestic violence incident that broke her nose and left her requiring hospital treatment, an explosive new book has revealed.
The astonishing disclosure is one of a string of revelations in The Gambler, a major biography of Mr Johnson by the renowned investigative author Tom Bower, which is being serialised in The Mail on Sunday, starting today.
Mr Bower describes Stanley’s first marriage, to Mr Johnson’s mother Charlotte, as violent and unhappy, quoting her as saying: ‘He broke my nose. He made me feel like I deserved it.’
Charlotte told the author: ‘I want the truth to be told.’
Last night, family friends confirmed the story to this newspaper, but insisted that the incident had been a one-off.
The friends said it happened in the 1970s when Charlotte was suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and had ‘flailed’ at Stanley, who broke her nose when ‘flailing back’.
Father Stanley and mother Charlotte. Boris, centre, is pictured with his brother and sisters in the seventies. Mr Bower describes Stanley’s first marriage, to Mr Johnson’s mother Charlotte, as violent and unhappy, quoting her as saying: ‘He broke my nose. He made me feel like I deserved it’
Boris with Carrie Symonds in March. Following several humiliating exposés of Boris’s adultery, Marina Wheeler had tried to repair their relationship, but those efforts had been wrecked by his most recent affair with Carrie Symonds, the 30-year-old Tory communications chief
They added that Stanley, now 80, deeply regretted the incident, which led to Charlotte being taken to hospital, and denied that he had been violent on any other occasion.
Mr Bower says this secret, and Boris’s parents’ troubled relationship, defined the PM as a man.
Scourge of the rich and famous
Royal biographer Tom Bower
Described as ‘the most effective journalistic sleuth of his generation’, Tom Bower is admired for investigative books that for ever change the way we perceive the rich and powerful.
From Tony Blair to Richard Branson, Mohamed Al Fayed to Prince Charles, the former BBC Panorama reporter’s forensically researched ‘warts-and-all’ biographies are defiantly unauthorised.
Often, they’ve led Bower to court to successfully defend the truth, while crooked publisher Robert Maxwell tried to intimidate the author by setting private detectives on him.
Bower, 74, says: ‘The immorality of the rich and powerful has always fascinated and appalled me.’
He writes: ‘Boris agonised over his mother’s fate… unwilling to confide in others about his father’s violence, he became a loner.
‘To mask the misery and hurt, he demanded attention… But Boris’s bravado masked deep unhappiness.’
Charlotte’s detonation of the long-held Johnson family secret is one of a series of revelations by Mr Bower which come closer than any previous work to explaining Boris’s complex psychology.
Based on interviews with hundreds of colleagues and family members, including with Boris’s mother and first wife, the book invites sympathy for the Prime Minister by painting a portrait of a young boy who turned into a self-contained loner as he battled despair over his parents’ divorce and his feral childhood.
Boris, by this account, grew up unable to forge close relationships with men so sought out women as his soulmates instead, which explains his notoriously prolific love life, in which he recklessly poured out his heart to lovers in poems and letters, even threatening suicide to deter women from abandoning him.
The book also details Boris’s intense desire to become Prime Minister, jostling for advantage with fellow Old Etonian David Cameron and feuding with George Osborne in what is portrayed as the transfer of Oxford University’s infamous Bullingdon Club antics to Tory high command.
It chronicles Boris’s soul-searching over Brexit, the victorious Vote Leave campaign and his eventual march into Downing Street after the political quagmire of Theresa May’s Government, as well as the ‘terrorist demands’ that chief aide Dominic Cummings made before joining him in No 10.
The drama of the Covid pandemic is also described, with Boris presented as a Prime Minister who was panicked into a lockdown by overcautious scientists.
Underpinning every political development is the backdrop of constant, draining emotional drama in his private life, but Mr Bower concludes on a positive note – that as Prime Minister, he still has the opportunity and desire to improve fundamentally people’s lives.
When Stanley was asked by The Mail on Sunday outside his home in North London yesterday about the contents of Bower’s book, he said: ‘I haven’t read it. I don’t want to comment.’
He then rode away on his bicycle.
No 10 also declined to comment.
Boris Johnson is pictured with his mother Charlotte at his book launch in 2014. They added that Stanley, now 80, deeply regretted the incident, which led to Charlotte being taken to hospital, and denied that he had been violent on any other occasion
‘My great-grandfather had four wives, why should I be faithful?’: Boris Johnson’s ex-wives say his womanising mirrors his father’s – but biographer TOM BOWER says it’s also driven by his constant search for a soul mate
by Tom Bower for The Mail On Sunday
In the aftermath of one of his affairs, Boris Johnson told a friend: ‘My great-grandfather had four wives. I don’t see why I should be faithful.’ His dislike of monogamy has long informed his relationships with women. ‘Boris’s adultery,’ says his mother, Charlotte, ‘is just like his father’s. The motives were lack of love for their wives, boredom, selfishness and insecurity.’
According to Boris’s first wife, Allegra Mostyn-Owen: ‘When we got married, that was the end of the relationship instead of the beginning.’ By the time he and Allegra divorced in 1993, the woman who would become his second wife, Marina Wheeler, was already pregnant. Grounded, happy, secure and intelligent, Marina provided the substance and emotional interpretation of his life that Boris required.
In her, he had found a soul mate. Unlike his instinctive rivalry with men, Boris trusted Marina, a childhood friend, not to cause him any harm. A month after their wedding in 1993, their daughter Lara Lettice was born.
Boris Johnson and wife Marina arrive at the Raisa Gorbachev Foundation Annual Fundraising Gala Dinner, at the Stud House, Hampton Court Palace on June 6, 2009 in Richmond upon Thames. Unlike his instinctive rivalry with men, Boris trusted Marina, a childhood friend, not to cause him any harm
Adding to the Johnson heritage of Muslim, Jewish and Christian ancestry, she was also part Indian through Marina.
As the couple’s young family then expanded, Boris left his EU correspondent job in Brussels and the couple bought a house in Islington, North London. However, he began to feel life at home had become too routine.
Marina, he later confided to one person, was no longer a woman much interested in a close relationship or spirited conversations. She was no longer the full-time, uncritical confidante he required. Too often, she told him the unpleasant truth.
Despite enjoying time with his children, he discovered that fame had attracted other women. He felt waning loyalty towards Marina. Convinced that their relationship was secure, his appetite fuelled him to risk a new challenge.
Mary Wakefield, a commissioning editor at The Spectator magazine, who would later marry Dominic Cummings, developed a crush on Boris, and he, it appeared, was swooning for Mary, ‘one of the loveliest people’, according to their colleague Rod Liddle.
Jeremy Deedes, a director of the Telegraph group which owned The Spectator, observed that ‘Mary was besotted with Boris. She was like a spaniel on heat. Boris was scratching his head, “What are we going to do?” he asked me.’
In a newspaper interview, Boris gave a hint about his reckless attitude to life. ‘I am a juggler,’ he said. ‘I can have it all.’
As London Mayor between 2008 and 2016, he appeared to exert a similar fascination over women. In 2009, he joined Marina at Westminster Abbey for a memorial service for her father, the distinguished BBC correspondent Charles Wheeler. To the packed congregation, they appeared united. Yet Boris was in the midst of an affair with Helen Macintyre, a 37-year-old art dealer.
Sparky, sexy and good company, Macintyre had admired him for years. Engaging with her, despite all the risks to his marriage and mayoralty, revealed the paradox of Boris. Although a loner, he craved company. Loneliness plunged him into a deep depression, relieved by a conversation with whoever happened to be his mistress at the time.
Christchurch Commen Ball in Oxford on June 26, 1987. As London Mayor between 2008 and 2016, he appeared to exert a similar fascination over women. In 2009, he joined Marina at Westminster Abbey for a memorial service for her father, the distinguished BBC correspondent Charles Wheeler
In 2010, after she gave birth to a girl, it was reported that Macintyre’s boyfriend, Canadian-born financier Pierre Rolin, left her after taking a DNA test.
Contrary to Macintyre’s assertion, Rolin discovered that he was not the father of the blonde-haired child.
‘I was completely snowballed. I think he has no moral compass,’ Rolin said about Boris. ‘He thinks he is completely entitled. One day the truth will catch up with him.’
On the girl’s birth certificate, Macintyre had omitted the father’s identity.
When Boris previously had a brief affair with Anna Fazackerly, 29, a Times Higher Education Supplement political journalist, Marina had decided that for the sake of their children she would accept his apology and move on. But after the Macintyre revelations, Marina ordered Boris out of the marital home and into a rented flat. ‘Kicked out of the house like a tom cat,’ said a friend.
From there, he ordered takeaway curries and, occasionally, when Marina was out, returned to the house to see his children.
Later, after Marina had forgiven him, he seemed immune to embarrassment. ‘I now see all these disasters are temporary. You can move on,’ he said, adding: ‘There are no disasters – only opportunities, and indeed opportunities for fresh disasters.’
In 2013, Macintyre lost a legal battle to keep the paternity of her child a secret. The Court of Appeal ruled that in the public interest the electorate was entitled to know the man’s identity. By then, Boris was regularly visiting his youngest daughter, encouraging her interest in music.
When considering Boris’s fitness for office, the judges decided: ‘It is fanciful to expect the public to forget the fact that… a major public figure had fathered a child after a brief adulterous affair (not for the first time).’
The judgment mentioned Boris’s responsibility for ‘two conceptions’. Many wrongly deduced that the judges meant there was another ‘unknown’ child fathered by him. In fact, the judges were simply referring to his child that his former mistress Petronella Wyatt had aborted. Nevertheless, since he refused to state how many children he had fathered, the hunt for the ‘unknown’ child continued.
Camilla’s train attack revelation
When he was London Mayor, Boris was summoned by Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, to her London home, Clarence House.
Just as he was parking his bike, she appeared and grabbed his wrist. She said: ‘You and me, upstairs now.’
In the course of the next hour, she told Boris how she’d been assaulted on a train when she was 17.
‘I did what my mother told me. I took my shoe off and hit him in the nuts. And then I reported him to the police at Paddington,’ she said.
If Boris financed two rape centres, she promised, she would open them.
‘Oh God, what a woman!’ Boris told an aide later.
ON THE opening night of the Paralympics in 2012, no one spotted the London Mayor slipping away from the stadium to a flat in Shoreditch, East London. It was rented by a blonde 27-year-old Californian digital entrepreneur he had met the previous year. Intelligent and vivacious, her name was Jennifer Arcuri.
Arcuri had settled in London to make her fortune in the tech industry. With sassy humour, she flaunted her looks to ingratiate herself with anyone able to help her build Innotech, her fledging business that introduced aspiring entrepreneurs to policy-makers.
It was during a routine hunt for clients at a British Venture Capital Association reception in 2011 that she had stood among a group of expectant bankers.
‘What’s up?’ she asked.
‘We’re waiting for the Mayor,’ one banker replied.
‘Boris. If you stand right here he might notice you.’
In her words, ‘a chubby guy arrives with his shirt hanging out and I watched him turn that group of sweaty old men into something on speed. I walked right up to him and said, “You should come to speak to my group.”
“I will,” he said. “Email me.” ’
By March the following year, Arcuri’s business had grown and she needed official endorsement. When Boris was standing for his second term as Mayor, she talked her way on to his campaign bus and sat so close that the Mayor could not help seeing her.
‘She clearly targeted him,’ a Boris aide said later. To Arcuri’s delight, Boris turned every 30 seconds to look at her. ‘I realised he was interested,’ she recalls nearly a decade later. ‘I was flirtatious. I mentioned Shakespeare. I made him smile, intrigued him and got him to laugh. I had him hooked.’
At the end of the journey, Arcuri gave Boris her card. ‘No, no. I just want to contact you directly,’ he insisted. She gave him her phone number and soon afterwards he called. She filed his number under ‘Alexander the Great’.
About a month later, Arcuri faced a crisis. She had hired an expensive venue to host a presentation and her speaker had fallen through. ‘I used sex to get people to come to my events,’ Arcuri admits.
In search of a replacement speaker she called Boris, who agreed to step in. To her further delight, ‘whenever I called him, he would call me back’. Conveniently, her flat was on his cycle route from City Hall home to Islington.
Arcuri’s presence in Boris’s life could not be kept secret from his closest staff for long. Although he ‘swore blind’ to Marina after his affair with Helen Macintyre that he would be faithful, some could see that while he worshipped Marina as a soul mate, their relationship, they mistakenly speculated, had become strained. Emotionally weak, he would never leave Marina.
Among the first to have scented a problem had been Lynton Crosby, Boris’s political lobbyist. He had extracted a promise from Boris that he would not start an affair until after he stood for re-election as Mayor in May 2012. Thereafter, Crosby was unconcerned.
A year into their friendship, after Boris was re-elected, Arcuri had decided that he was not a womaniser but just after her because, as he said, ‘I feel so horny.’ Instinctive and sensitive, she saw a self-obsessed man for whom relationships were difficult. He lacked close male friends and relied on her, but only on conditions. Until he was certain of his emotions and could trust her, allowing anyone into his personal life was regarded by him as a weakness.
She saw him as an introvert, a depressive who enjoyed solitude, and someone who needed to be alone. Paradoxically, particularly on those days of his greatest public successes, he could decline into an intense depression.
‘Do you want to be Prime Minister?’ she once asked him.
‘I’m a very competitive person, so it’s natural,’ he replied.
Jennifer Arcuri’s presence in Boris’s (pictured together in 2013) life could not be kept secret from his closest staff for long. Although he ‘swore blind’ to Marina after his affair with Helen Macintyre that he would be faithful, some could see that while he worshipped Marina as a soul mate, their relationship, they mistakenly speculated, had become strained
In the autumn of 2014, Boris spoke at another of Arcuri’s events, meeting her afterwards at a hotel. Plodding around the room in his underwear, eating cheese, conscious about his looks and his need to lose weight, she felt a bond was being forged.
He was clearly attracted to her interest in power, conflict, intellectual strength, and especially in Shakespeare. Between his expressions of affection, he asked what he could do for her, and how he could make her happy.
Convinced that she wanted to see more of him, Arcuri arrived at a reception later that day to promote his book about Winston Churchill. She found him in a hotel room writing his speech. He spoke about his loneliness and need for her friendship.
That December, Boris hosted a Christmas staff party in City Hall. At 10pm he announced that he had to go to another event. His next stop was Arcuri’s flat. The American’s home had become his haven. As always, Boris trusted a woman as his confidante. First, he was able to talk about the stress of being in a position of authority in City Hall. And second, it was a sanctuary from the sadness in his own home. Marina, he said, was often away. Not only had she become distant, but he feared that his family life was withering.
The cure to his depression, he said, was Jennifer Arcuri. Although the moment he arrived at her flat he would say he couldn’t stay, her direct manner soothed him.
Cool and in command, she never pressured him. The chase was his. The dalliance appeared to have become his only real friendship.
Partly mother figure and partly lover, she claimed to understand his mind, and he felt safe in her company. In return, he expressed affection, but she could never be certain whether he was being truthful.
Boris had an affair with Helen Macintyre, a 37-year-old art dealer, pictured in 2011. Sparky, sexy and good company, Macintyre had admired him for years. Engaging with her, despite all the risks to his marriage and mayoralty, revealed the paradox of Boris. Although a loner, he craved company
Despite his ability to quote Shakespeare and Wordsworth, she was falling in love with an unromantic man. He could never love women in the way a woman wanted to be loved. ‘I fell in love. I never admitted how much I loved him,’ Arcuri said.
Whereas his texts were recklessly amorous, and his crazy propositions – such as setting up a ski centre in Bulgaria, or the two of them becoming a political team in New York – were the product of often being alone in the evenings, there was what some might judge to be a foolishness behind inviting her to his empty Islington home.
Despite being surrounded by family photos, he was already divorced from that life.
‘Will you hoist sail, sir? Here lies your way,’ he recited from Twelfth Night.
He no longer concealed the relationship from advisers in Conservative Central Office and City Hall.
With his help, Arcuri was invited to a party at Buckingham Palace celebrating technology. She had also received £15,000 from the international trade department to encourage foreign entrepreneurs to set up in Britain.
Boris’s departure from City Hall in 2016 coincided with Jennifer Arcuri’s exit from his life. Their last meeting was at his house. ‘I’ll see you later,’ she said stepping into the street, without revealing her decision to move on. Wanting a child, she had found her future husband and they moved to Cheshire. Soon pregnant, she decided there would be closure and blocked Boris’s calls.
His last text message was sent on December 29, 2018, two years after their last meeting. ‘I miss you and I need you,’ he’d write. She deleted the text.
© Tom Bower
- Extracts from Boris Johnson The Gambler by Tom Bower, Published by WH Allen, an imprint of Ebury Publishing, on October 15.
Boris Johnson’s fling with Carrie would have ENDED if Marina Wheeler had not terminated their marriage, claims new biography which chronicles PM’s relationship with fiancée – including memorable flat fight and row over Wilf’s middle name
by Tom Bower for The Mail On Sunday
If Marina Wheeler had not terminated her marriage to Boris, his fling with Carrie Symonds would have ended abruptly. Instead, he became unintentionally close to a woman only five years older than his eldest daughter.
When their affair began in 2018, nobody on the Tory Party circuit could avoid Carrie, the then 29-year-old director of its communications team who regularly posted glamorous photos of herself on social media.
While some praised her sound judgment and loyalty, others in party headquarters described her as manipulative, volatile and aggressive, especially towards women. Some said she has a ‘polarising personality’ and had been appointed because of a close friendship with Zac Goldsmith.
In 2017, her long-term relationship with a journalist broke up and she began advising Boris. Moody, uncertain and insecure, he needed company and reassurance from yet another new trusted female confidante.
Carrie’s critics said that what started as a fling became, to match her ambition, a serious affair. Others said she filled a vacancy. Inevitably, Marina found out about the relationship. There were fierce arguments, but after making a full confession, Boris had hoped for forgiveness from his loyal soul mate.
Boris Johnson pictured with his fiance Carrie Symonds during a holiday to Scotland with their baby son Wilfred. Boris seems never to have considered the consequences of a permanent break-up with his wife, or that it would wreck his relationship with their children
Marina was emphatic. She couldn’t take his infidelity any more. She explicitly blamed his father, Stanley. All Boris’s worst qualities stemmed from that relationship. She refused to live with her husband any more.
Boris seems never to have considered the consequences of a permanent break-up with his wife, or that it would wreck his relationship with their children. Lara, their eldest daughter, told a friend: ‘He’s a selfish bastard. Mum is finished with him. She’ll never take him back now.’ Lara later posted on Instagram that this period was ‘the hardest and most hurtful year of my life’.
Under Carrie’s guidance, Boris began losing weight – off alcohol and late-night binges of cheese and chorizo. Their relationship had taken a course that was not intended by Boris.
In March 2019, despite the turmoil just days before Brexit was scheduled to take place, Boris took Carrie for a long weekend to Positano, Italy, to celebrate her 31st birthday. Some feared that political priorities were being forsaken to satisfy Carrie’s wishes.
On June 21, it was reported that Boris and Carrie had been embroiled in a ferocious argument in her South London flat, and that the police had been called. Carrie is pictured in 2019
On June 21, it was reported that Boris and Carrie had been embroiled in a ferocious argument in her South London flat, and that the police had been called. It was claimed that Carrie was screaming that Boris had spilled red wine on her sofa. ‘You just don’t care for anything because you’re spoilt,’ she was reported to have said.
Then Boris is said to have shouted: ‘Get off my f****** laptop!’ followed by a loud crashing noise of glasses or plates. Carrie then allegedly shouted: ‘Get off me!’ and ‘Get out of my flat!’
Carrie denied saying ‘Get off me’ and other things she was quoted as saying. But no one disputed there had been an argument, fuelling intense speculation about the cause.
Some said Carrie was furious that Boris had returned late from seeing Marina, who at the time was recovering from cervical cancer treatment.
Others claimed Carrie was angry that former mistress Petronella Wyatt had texted Boris, mocking Carrie’s ‘undignified half-naked’ performance on top of a car (she had posted a fun photo of herself on Instagram), and saying ‘she needs her teeth fixed’.
There were claims that he was looking at photos of Jennifer Arcuri. The truth was that Carrie, in an emotional outburst, was upset by Boris spilling a glass of red wine on her sofa: a domestic tiff.
Little over a month later, Boris became Prime Minister. No PM had ever lived in Downing Street with an unmarried partner. It was whispered that Boris missed Marina and that his affair with Carrie was no more than a fling, and not a life choice.
In February, a High Court judge approved the financial agreement Boris had reached with Marina. A divorce could rapidly follow.
The announcement disappointed friends who had speculated how Boris pined for his wife and hoped for a reconciliation. In their opinion, Boris had depended on Marina’s wisdom and stability. Carrie, they lamented, was too young and inexperienced to offer the same. They would blame Carrie’s demands in the seventh month of her pregnancy for Boris’s absence from London at the start of the Covid crisis. In the middle of March he hosted a baby-shower party with Carrie at Chequers.
On April 29, just over a fortnight after Boris had been hospitalised with Covid, his sixth child, Wilfred Lawrie Nicholas, was born.
Wilfred and Lawrie were the names of his parents’ grandfathers, explained No 10. The origin of Nicholas seemed less clear. Boris had told his mother that he would name the boy after Nick Wahl, her second husband. That news provoked uproar in Stanley’s home. Any links with Charlotte were declared taboo. Then Boris declared that his son was named after Nicholas Hart and Nicholas Price, the doctors who had saved his life. The metaphorical temperature at Stanley’s home remained high.
In his flat in Downing Street, Boris was still weak from his illness. Nevertheless, Carrie believed Boris should be a modern father and change nappies. His sleep was constantly interrupted.
His relationship with his other children and family continued to be troubling, and in May his divorce was finalised. Charlotte, his mother, was the rock in his life, but the pressure on the sick man was remorseless.
‘Boris got caught by a flirtatious minx,’ said Jennifer Arcuri of Carrie. ‘She’s controlling him. It drives me insane that there’s such a huge difference between me and Carrie. She’s just a type-A worker bee, riding a bicycle around the Westminster village.’
Boris Johnson handed wife Marina Wheeler his life-savings to guarantee his promise to end an affair with journalist Petronella Wyatt, new biography reveals
by Tom Bower for The Mail On Sunday
Petronella Wyatt, Boris’s vivacious deputy when he was editor of The Spectator – at that time dubbed the ‘Sextator’ because of the numerous affairs between staff – found out about his passion for her by accident.
Rummaging through his untidy desk one day for a lunch guest-list, she found a handwritten love letter to her from him.
The mutual attraction for two vulnerable people was companionship. ‘You are the first woman friend I have ever had,’ Boris later said to Petronella.
She said: ‘He was a loner with few friends, and like many loners has a compensating need to be liked… he wants to be loved by the entire world.’
Petronella Wyatt, Boris’s vivacious deputy when he was editor of The Spectator – at that time dubbed the ‘Sextator’ because of the numerous affairs between staff – found out about his passion for her by accident. Pictured together at the Spectator Magazine summer party in 2006
His hero Pericles, shameless populist
At school, Boris found a hero in Pericles – a revered Athenian statesman and general who, with charisma and shameless populism, pleased the crowds to win constant re-election.
Blending this and other influences – including Bertie Wooster, the fictional prep schoolboy Molesworth, and Just William – Boris developed a unique oratorical style combined with the belief that every speech must include humour.
He learned that in ancient Greece, endless sex was perfectly acceptable.
The wonder of male superiority in ancient civilisations was unrestrained relationships enjoyed without rancour or guilt.
And in Boris’s farewell to Eton when he went to Oxford, he inserted in the leaving book a photo of himself wearing two scarves and holding a machine gun, with his pledge to score ‘more notches on my phallocratic phallus’.
After their affair started in 2001, he revealed intense jealousy about Petronella’s friendship with two famous historians. Convinced that she was unfaithful, his rage exposed insecurity, especially about his own intellectual inferiority, his stretched finances and what he perceived were his inadequate looks.
During their first summer together, Boris told Petronella he wanted to marry her. About eight months after their relationship began, she was pregnant. Attracted by the idea of a second family, Boris urged her to have the child. She was torn. Unwilling to be a single mother, she insisted that they should marry.
Boris saw a divorce lawyer and confessed the situation to his shocked wife Marina, who persuaded him to end the affair.
He agreed, and as a guarantee of his promise, he wrote a cheque for a large amount, handing all his savings to his wife. The next morning, after looking at his four young children eating breakfast, Boris was faced with reality: his family’s certain disapproval, the prospect of confrontation and poverty, too.
Remembering his own horror of his parents’ divorce, he retreated. His marriage, he decided, was not over.
Petronella had an abortion. But the affair was not over. In summer 2002, Petronella was suffering from the pressure of the relationship. If Boris refused to marry her, she said, they should stop seeing each other. ‘He threatened suicide and cried – buckets full,’ a close friend of Boris revealed.
Petronella headed for a holiday in Tuscany. Boris was with his family in Sardinia. Abruptly, he left Marina and his children and flew to the Italian mainland.
He climbed the wall of Petronella’s villa and declared that his impulsiveness and bravery proved his love. But again he returned to Marina.
Exhausted by all the lies, Petronella moved to the US with an American she had met, but the chance of a permanent relationship was shattered by Boris’s constant phone calls. She returned to London and the relationship was reignited. In September 2004, Petronella, now 36, discovered she was pregnant again.
Boris was forced to make a decision. While he refused to divorce Marina, he did not urge Petronella to have an abortion, instead encouraging her to have their ‘daughter’.
Trusting Boris would be a good father, Petronella decided on a full-term pregnancy.
Petronella headed for a holiday in Tuscany. Boris was with his family in Sardinia. Abruptly, he left Marina and his children and flew to the Italian mainland. Pictured Boris with Marina Wheeler in 2015
But she had a miscarriage. In disguise, Boris arrived at the hospital and together, in genuine misery for their lost child, they sat grieving. Humiliated, Marina changed the locks to their house and took off her wedding ring before allowing Boris to return a week later. It was at this point he revealed to her his secret about his father hitting his mother.
‘Boris is a home-body,’ wrote Petronella, ‘who would prefer to be at home with Marina.’
In 2016, after his affair with Jennifer Arcuri ended, Boris asked Petronella if she wanted to revive their relationship. She declined.
© Tom Bower
- Extracts from Boris Johnson The Gambler by Tom Bower, published by WH Allen, an imprint of Ebury Publishing, on October 15.