British Journalist, Broadcaster, and Conservative Politician
Boris Johnson was a Daily Telegraph journalist who was the editor of The Spectator between 1999 and 2005, and became a public figure thanks to a number of television appearances. He also been the Member of Parliament for Henley since 2001, and is currently since the 2nd May 2008 the Mayor of London.
I’m not posh, I’m an arriviste
Generally known as simply 'Boris Johnson', his given name in full is Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson. Boris regards himself as British, although he was actually born in New York on the 19th June 1964, where his father was working for the United Nations at the time, whilst his grandfather Osman Ali was a Turkish refugee, the son of the last interior minister of the imperial Turkish government, who simply assumed the name of Wilfred Johnson on becoming a British citizen. His mother Charlotte Johnson-Wahl is a painter, whilst his father Stanley Patrick Johnson was a civil servant for much of his life, largely employed at the European commission 1. Thus young Boris spent his early years in Brussels where he went to the European School before attending Eton College, (where he was a King's Scholar) and studying Classics at Balliol College, Oxford (where he was the Brackenbury Scholar in classics.) At Oxford he dabbled in student politics, was a member of the Bullingdon Club and became President of the Oxford Union.
Boris the journalist
After university Boris began his working life as a management consultant, but this only lasted a week2. (He found it mind-numbingly boring.) He then found employment as a trainee reporter for The Times, but was sacked within the year for falsifying a quote. He then briefly worked for the Wolverhampton Express and Star, before returning to London in 1988 to join the staff of the Daily Telegraph where he at last enjoyed some success. Initially employed as a leader and feature writer, he became the paper's European correspondent in 1989 based in Brussels, where he spent his time gleefully producing exposés of European incompetence.
In 1994 he returned to London and became deputy editor of the Telegraph. It was also at this time that he began his association with The Spectator, firstly as political columnist, and then from 1999 onwards as the magazine's editor. His appointment was described as akin to "putting a mentally defective monkey in charge of a Ming vase" by one commentator, but he appears to have had the confidence of Conrad Black, who ignored such jibes, and allowed him a great deal of latitude in his management of the title. There is some question as to whether the Barclay brothers, who took over ownership of the Telegraph group in 2004, viewed Boris with quite the same indulgence as did the previous owner, and he has been criticised for failing to ensure that the magazine assumed its "proper place as a crucible of right-wing ideology". Nevertheless, Boris is generally regarded as having made a success of his time at The Spectator, having succeeded in increasing the circulation to 70,000 and returning the magazine to profitability.
Boris the politician
His father Stanley was a career civil servant and environmental expert with political ambitions who served as a Conservative MEP between 1984 and 1989 and unsuccessfully contested a seat in the 2005 General Election
It was therefore probably inevitable that Boris would eventually develop political ambitions of his own. In the 1997 General Election he stood as the Conservative candidate for the rock solid Labour seat of Clwyd South. Seeing as how Clwyd South is in Wales, Boris took the trouble of learning a few words of Welsh to impress the natives. However since Clwyd South is one of the most English speaking parts of Wales this did not go down quite as well as expected, and Boris failed to make much impression on the Labour majority. Nevertheless he later won the contest to succeed Michael Heseltine as the Conservative candidate for Henley-on-Thames in Oxfordshire and was duly elected to the House of Commons in 2001.
In November 2003, he was appointed a Vice-Chairman of the Conservative Party, and in May 2004 he became Shadow Minister for the Arts. On assuming this post he immediately announced his own seven-point programme for the arts, in which he inter alia, expressed his desire to abolish the arts bureaucracy, to send Greece an indistinguishable replica of the Elgin marbles, establish a poetry Olympiad and hold a summit conference with Damien Hirst to find out what the heck the man was on about.
But despite his developing political career Boris made the fateful decision to continue acting as editor of the Spectator. In its edition of the 16th October 2004 the Spectator included an editorial that took as its theme the modern trend for over-sentimentality, and specifically cited the reaction in Liverpool to the murder of the hostage Kenneth Bigley in Iran as an example of the contemporary tendency to wallow in the status of victimhood. Since the article also referred to the "deeply unattractive psyche" of many Liverpudlians and held their "drunken fans" as responsible for the Hillsborough Disaster3 it caused a storm of protest in Merseyside.
As it happens, Boris didn't write the editorial (the true author is believed to have been one Simon Heffer), but naturally as the journal's editor he had to take responsibility for it. He was consequently ordered by the then Conservative leader Michael Howard to go to Liverpool to apologise in person; where he spent his time defending the basic argument expounded in the editorial whilst admitting that it made some unfortunate references. At the time Michael Howard resisted the many calls to sack Boris, but was soon forced to change his mind. In the following month it was revealed that Boris had been conducting an affair with Petronella Wyatt (The Spectator's New York correspondent) for the past four years. Boris initially denied the allegations, dismissing them as "an inverted pyramid of piffle", but was soon forced to admit to their veracity and was sacked from the opposition front bench by Howard for not telling the truth from the beginning.
In the following year Howard resigned as party leader after an undistinguished performance in the 2005 General Election. Boris became one of the early supporters of David Cameron's bid for the party leadership, and was duly rewarded when Cameron was elected leader, being appointed as Shadow Minister for Higher Education on the 9th December 2005. Perhaps in view of his prior experience he duly announced his intention to resign as editor of The Spectator once the Christmas edition had been published.4
Time will tell how Boris fares with his new responsibility. Boris himself has described his own recent performances in the House of Commons as "crap" and offered the opinion that "there is as much chance of my becoming Prime Minister as my being reincarnated as an olive".
Boris the personality
Like many newspaper journalists Boris has sought to broaden his career options by entering the realm of broadcasting. He was briefly hired to present The Week in Westminster, until they decided that his voice was 'too plummy' and dispensed with his services. But having made a few appearances on BBC Radio's The News Quiz, it was natural that he should eventually appear on the TV version of the panel game, known as Have I Got News For You.
His first appearance was in 1998 when he was given rather hard time by Ian Hislop, who made much of his friendship with his fellow Old Etonian and convicted fraudster Darius Guppy. Boris was reportedly unhappy with his treatment, but this did not prevent him returning to the show, nor of subsequently accepting the role of guest presenter on a number of occasions5. During his various appearances on the show he has demonstrated his apparent inability to read an autocue, spoken of his failure to snort cocaine (it made him sneeze) as well as admitting that he once forgot the title of his own book as he was in the process of writing it.
Such contributions have propelled Boris to a level of public recognition and fame undreamt of ordinary politicians; when the BBC issued a DVD featuring a selection of the best of Have I Got News For You, it felt obliged to include a two-hour bonus disc entitled The Full Boris, which was entirely devoted to the great man. The public have since responded by establishing at least one website devoted to monitoring his activities (www.boriswatch.com) as well forming the inevitable Boris Johnson Fan Club (http://www.geocities.com/borisjohnsonfanclub/).
Boris the eccentric
Variously described as a "Dulux dog lookalike", a "buffoon" and a "Falstaffian Tory", Alistair Campbell once described him as a "great, quivering mass of indecision" whilst many have commented on his ability to project a "general air of utter chaos". Some have however expressed doubt as to whether Boris's 'shambolic' image is quite what it seems, believing it to be carefully cultivated camouflage which allows him to get away with things others might not. Others, who have met his father Stanley, believe that his whole demeanor is simply an inherited family trait, whilst Boris himself has claimed that "People think I have a bumbling eccentric veneer which hides the fact I am a genius, I think it is the other way around".
The truth is that he is a great deal smarter and more capable than he might initially appear, and in our TV dominated age it is easy to forget that he is very highly regarded as a journalist. Although he earned a reputation at the Daily Telegraph for only just submitting his copy in time (Boris himself eloquently excused his problems with deadlines by explaining that "Dark forces dragged me away from the keyboard") his copy, according to one former Telegraph colleague "was always perfect and went into the paper virtually untouched". Others have praised his columns for their "sparkling wit and command of the English language".
In an age where every politician seems to have emerged from a production line and are largely undistinguishable from one another, Boris appears as refreshingly individualistic, apparently unconcerned with such things as 'image' and 'spin'. It is difficult to take against someone who will respond at length to a question, stop himself, scratch his head and admit that his answer was in fact, "total bollocks" and "balls". As a result people like Boris. In fact even some individuals who generally regard the Conservative Party with the same mixture of contempt and loathing as a vegetarian regards a side of beef, find themselves warming to Boris. Thus he is regarded is some quarters as
"one of the few Tory MPs that everybody can relate to".
Although he is more socially liberal than the average Conservative he is a vociferous and articulate Eurosceptic and a firm believer in free markets or, in his own words, "free-market, tolerant, broadly libertarian, inclined to see the merit of traditions, anti-regulation, pro-immigrant, pro-standing on your own two feet, pro-alcohol, pro-hunting, pro-motorist and ready to defend to the death the right of Glenn Hoddle to believe in reincarnation". Having once been a supporter of the government's line on Iraq, he has now described the position as "a total bloody shambles" and most recently was to be found supporting an attempt to have Tony Blair impeached.
He was briefly married to the 'socialite' Allegra Mostyn-Owen in his youth, but is currently married to Marina Wheeler, a barrister (and the daughter of the journalist and broadcaster Charles Wheeler), who is the mother of his two sons and two daughters, and appears to have forgiven him for his dalliance with Petronella Wyatt. He is known to dislike boiled eggs, Lynda Lee-Potter and people who shout at him when he's riding his bicycle.
Boris has published two volumes of selections of his various writings;
Friends, Voters, Countrymen (Harper Collins 2002) and Lend Me Your Ears (Harper Collins 2003); as well as one novel entitled Seventy-Two Virgins (Harper Collins, 2004). His most recent work is The Dream of Rome (Harper Collins, 2006) which looks at the issues facing the European Union from the perspective of Roman imperial governance, whilst the forthcoming The New British Revolution examines the question of what is it to be British today.
1 His parents where divorced when he was fourteen.
2 It says a great deal about the profession of management consultancy that they regard three years studying Classics as a suitable qualification for a career advising business.
3 Which was factually inaccurate, but then perhaps the author meant the Heysel Disaster.
4 In an interview for Desert Island Discs, Boris said that "I have successfully ridden two horses for quite a long time. But I have to admit there have been moments when the distance between the two horses has grown terrifyingly wide, and I did momentarily come off".
5 After regular presenter Angus Deayton was sacked for over-indulging himself in prostitutes and cocaine.
- Profile: Boris Johnson: Gadzooks, you can’t bank on the Barclays
- Profile: Boris Johnson Wednesday, 20 October 2004
- Boris Johnson Tuesday, 22 October, 2002
- Nigel Reynolds, Boris Johnson and the art of getting it wrong (Filed: 08/05/2004)
- Lynn Barber, Charmed, I'm sure The Observer Sunday October 5, 2003
- Boris Johnson's regret at sacking Sunday, 14 November, 2004, 10:27 GMT
- Biographical information at