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From Eton to Number 10: Boris Johnson’s colourful political career

The boy who wanted to be ‘world king’ will hope voters allow him to stay as Prime Minister.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

By PA Political Staff

Controversial, colourful and chaotic, Boris Johnson is a Prime Minister unlike any other to enter Downing Street in recent times.

After a landslide victory in the Tory leadership contest in July, Mr Johnson entered Number 10 despite a string of gaffes and scandals that would have ended the careers of lesser politicians.

Instead, the seemingly Teflon-coated Mr Johnson has been able to survive and prosper despite – or possibly due to – his capacity for attracting attention.

A row with girlfriend Carrie Symonds that saw police called to their home in the early stages of the Conservative leadership race was a glimpse into the complicated private life about which Mr Johnson tries desperately to avoid answering questions.

But it was his public actions – whether penning provocative columns or his record in the Foreign Office – which led to most scrutiny as Tory Party members decided on the next prime minister.

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his partner Carrie Symonds and the Tory conference (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

He has been repeatedly criticised for using racially charged or offensive language, including describing the Queen being greeted in Commonwealth countries by “flag-waving piccaninnies” and then-prime minister Tony Blair being met by “tribal warriors” with “watermelon smiles” while on a trip to the Congo.

In a 2018 Daily Telegraph column, he described veiled Muslim women as “looking like letter boxes”.

Mr Johnson has also faced repeated questions about his blunder as foreign secretary in the case of jailed British-Iranian Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who he mistakenly said had been training journalists – comments which were seized on by the authorities in Tehran.

He has insisted that his comments made no difference – something disputed by Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband, Richard Ratclffe – and said the blame for her continued incarceration should be on the Iranian regime rather than him.

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Mr Johnson has a capacity for attracting attention (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

While he has been all too willing to attract publicity for his political advantage, Mr Johnson, 55, has been reticent when it comes to details of his private life.

He met his first wife, Allegra Mostyn-Owen, while they were students at Oxford, and they wed in 1987, but the marriage was annulled in 1993.

His second marriage, to Marina Wheeler, ended last year after 25 years together, during which they had four children.

The marriage was turbulent. In 2004 he was sacked from the Tory frontbench over a reported affair with journalist Petronella Wyatt and the Appeal Court ruled in 2013 that the public had a right to know that he had fathered a daughter during an adulterous liaison while mayor of London in 2009.

Claims that Mr Johnson squeezed the thigh of journalist Charlotte Edwardes at a private lunch at The Spectator magazine’s HQ shortly after he became editor in 1999 overshadowed his first Conservative Party conference as PM.

And allegations about his relationship with American entrepreneur Jennifer Arcuri and whether she enjoyed preferential treatment while he was mayor also dominated the headlines in September.

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Jeremy Hunt congratulates Boris Johnson as he was announced as the new Conservative party leader (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Mr Johnson’s latest relationship with 31-year-old Ms Symonds has been the subject of intense intrigue.

But his status as a favourite of the Conservative grassroots was confirmed in the leadership election which saw him trounce rival Jeremy Hunt.

He also secured the votes of more than half of Tory MPs in order to make it through the parliamentary stage of the contest, including some pro-EU Conservatives who hoped he could unite the party.

Mr Johnson’s ability to reach out to voters who traditionally shun the Conservatives was demonstrated by his election as mayor of London in 2008 and retention of the powerful position four years later.

The Tory MP’s decision to back Brexit in the referendum was a significant boost for the campaign, giving Vote Leave the high-profile frontman it needed.

After taking office as prime minister, Theresa May made him her foreign secretary – although he resigned in July 2018 over the direction she was taking on Brexit.

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Conservative leadership election result (PA Graphics)

An old Etonian, Mr Johnson was a member of the notorious elite dining society the Bullingdon Club while at Oxford.

Although he has had his sights set on Number 10 throughout his political career, as a child he held even loftier ambitions.

According to his sister Rachel, the young Mr Johnson’s goal was to be “world king”.

For now he has settled on the office of Prime Minister, but his decision to call an early General Election could render him one of the shortest-serving in British history.

Mr Johnson’s tenure so far has not been smooth. His attempt to prorogue Parliament backfired spectacularly when the Supreme Court ruled it was unlawful.

And he failed to deliver on his “do or die” commitment to take Britain out of the European Union on October 31 – despite securing a new Brexit deal with Brussels, which many thought was impossible.

MPs rejected his timetable to force the Withdrawal Agreement Bill through Parliament, prompting Mr Johnson to push on for a general election – a bid that was eventually granted when opposition parties deemed that a no-deal Brexit was no longer on the table.

The stakes could not be higher for Mr Johnson: if he secures a majority he could deliver Brexit and begin to heal the divisions in his party that have plagued previous Tory leaders.

But if his gamble opens the door to a Labour government, his political obituary will be written before Christmas.

PA

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