(Written in 2021)
Boris Johnson is the current Prime Minister (PM) of the United Kingdom and leader of the Conservative party since 2019. He has been our PM through turbulent times such as securing a Brexit deal, and the Covid-19 Pandemic. But, who is he? Where did his story start and how did he become the 77th Prime Minister of the UK?
The early days…
On June 19th, 1964, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, now known as Boris, was born in Manhattan, New York City to Stanley Johnson, 23 and Charlotte Fawcett, 22. Stanley Johnson was an Englishman studying economics at Columbia University and Charlotte was an Oxford-born artist. The couple had married in 1963 before moving to America. Just a few months after Boris was born, the family returned to England so Charlotte could study at the University of Oxford. In 1965, Boris’ sister, Rachel was born and the following year the family relocated to Washington DC where Stanley was working at the World Bank.
In 1969, the family returned to England after having another son, Leo. Living in Somerset, Boris was said to be a quiet and studious child who suffered from deafness, which resulted in him having a few operations as a child. The family continued to move around a lot until they settled in Brussels, after having their third son, Joesph. Boris attended the European School in Brussels where he learnt to speak French. It was here where his mother suffered a nervous breakdown and in 1975, Boris and his siblings were sent to Ashdown House, a boarding school in East Sussex. At Ashdown House, Boris developed a love for rugby and excelled at Ancient Greek and Latin. He was said to be appalled by teachers using corporal punishment from a young age. His parents divorced in 1980, and he was spent a lot of time with his Mum after the split.
Later, Johnson gained a scholarship to study at Eton College, an elite independent boarding school near Windsor, and it was then when he decided to use his given name Boris, rather than Alex as he was before. At Eton, he developed “the eccentric English persona” which made him very popular. School reports claim Boris was ‘complacent’ and often late, but he was excelled in subjects such as English and Classics. Here, he became the secretary of the debating society and editor of The Eton College Chronicle. He was later elected as a member of Pop, the elite group of prefects which he later used against previous Prime Minister, David Cameron, as he never made it into Pop.
After leaving Eton, Boris took a gap year, travelling to Australia where he taught English and Latin. Upon his return, Johnson studied Classics, ancient literature and classical philosophy at the University of Oxford. He was later one of the generations of Oxford graduates who dominated Conservative British politics. During his time at Oxford, Boris got engaged to a fellow student, Allegra Mostyn-Owen.
Johnson was very popular at Oxford, where he ran for president in 1986. As president, his seriousness to the role was questioned, but he later graduated with a 2:1.
The Media Days…
In 1987, Johnson married Allegra, and they settled in West Kensington where he secured a job or a management consultancy company and resigned after just one week. Later in the year, Boris took up a graduate trainee role at The Times. He was later dismissed after falsely attributing a quote. Boris then secured employment on the leader-writing desk of The Daily Telegraph where his articles greatly appealed to the middle-class and conservative readership. His writing was distinct with the use of old-fashioned words and phrases as well as regularly referring to his readers as “my friends” – something that appears to have stuck.
In 1989, Johnson was appointed to report on European Commission at the Brussels bureau until 1994. Here many were critical of his articles as he would often discredit the commission. The first female PM of the UK, Margaret Thatcher said he was her favourite journalist, but Boris’ articles often exacerbated tensions between the Conservative party and European Commissions. His writings were said to be key in the emergency of the UKIP Party in the 1990s.
By 1993, his marriage with Allegra had ended and he formed a relationship with childhood friend, Marina Wheeler and later had a daughter together, Lara. They settled in Islington and Boris started to take a more liberal approach, focussing on issues such as climate change, LGBTQ+ rights and race relations. The couple went on to have three more children (Milo, Cassia and Theodore) as Boris was promoted to assistant editor and chief political columnist. His articles were condemned for bigotry as he mocked others for their appearance and race. In 1993, Johnson outlined his desire to stand as a Conservative candidate but lost to a Labour candidate after struggling to find the right constituency.
Johnson was given a regular column in The Spectator and GQ where he’d review new cars. His editors would often find themselves frustrated at Boris as he acquired a large number of parking fines while writing these articles. Many of his colleagues reported he would return his work late, meaning they’d be working after hours to accommodate for him.
Johnson’s appearance on Have I Got News for You in 1998 brought him national fame as a bumbling upper-class persona and he later received a nomination for the BAFTA Television Award for Best Entertainment Performance.
In 1999, Johnson was offered the editorship of The Spectator on the condition that he abandoned his parliamentary aspirations. He agreed and the magazine’s circulation grew by 10% but it also drew criticism as the articles would avoid serious issues. Boris also allowed columnist, Taki Theodoracopulos to publish racists and antisemitic language.
Following Michael Heseltine‘s retirement, Boris stood as the Conservative candidate for Henley, winning in 2001. He would often visit Henley and occasionally wrote for the Henley Standard. In his first four years as MP, he attended half of the Common votes and would demonstrate a more socially liberal attitude than many colleagues in free votes. Here, he supported acts such as the Gender Recognition Act of 2004.
Despite breaking his deal with The Spectator, and becoming an MP, he was kept on as he further promoted the magazine. In November 2004, tabloids revealed Johnson had been having an affair with Spectator columnist, Petronella Wyatt which he claimed was “piffle”, but the claims were proven.
In the 2005 general election, Boris was re-elected MP for Henley. After David Cameron was elected, he appointed Johnson as the shadow higher education minister as he was said to be popular with students at the time. After a change in chief, Johnson was dismissed as editor of The Spectator in 2005. In 2006, claims of Boris having an affair with journalist, Anna Fazackerley rose but the pair didn’t comment.
The Mayor days…
In July 2008, Johnson was elected as the Mayor of London after gaining 79% of the vote. His first term was focused on reducing youth crime, and public transport. Boris played on the perceptions of the Labour Mayoralty neglecting inner London. In this time, Johnson resigned from being MP for Henley. Boris built his team slowly and received heavy criticism near the start due to his lateness.
Boris had been famous for cycling around London, so fitting to this, he introduced the “Boris Bikes” public bike scheme in 2010. He also introduced the ban on drinking on public transport, in an attempt to make it safer. In 2012, Boris was re-elected to continue his role as the Mayor of London.
The press accused Boris of having another affair, this time with art consultant, Helen Macintyre claiming he was the father of her child. He did not confirm or deny these allegations. Despite this, he remained a popular figure in London with a strong celebrity status.
In February 2012, Johnson criticised London’s Saint Patricks Day gala branding it as “lefty crap” which he later apologised for. In 2013, he joked that Malaysian women attended university in order to find husbands, which caused offence among female attendees.
It was later in the summer of 2012 when this iconic photo was born, amid the London 2012 Olympics.
In 2015, Johnson criticised then-presidential candidate, Donald Trump after he claimed there were no-go zones in London governed by shariah laws. Johnson was the first senior politician to claim Trump was ‘not fit’ for office but said he would “invite [Trump] to come and see the whole of London and take him around the city – except I wouldn’t want to expose Londoners to any unnecessary risk of meeting Donald Trump.”
Boris also announced in 2015 that despite having British-American dual citizenship, he was to renounce his US citizenship to demonstrate his loyalty to the UK, which he completed the following year.
Johnson decided not to run for a third term as the Mayor but remained popular with Londoners. A YouGov poll commissioned at the end of his term revealed that 52% of Londoners believed he did a “good job” as Mayor of London while only 29% believed he did a “bad job”.
The return to Parliament days…
Initially, Johnson had said he had no intention of returning to the House of Commons but in 2014, he sought election as a Conservative candidate for Uxbridge and South Ruislip with the 2015 general election electing him as MP. Many claimed he had returned to Parliament to replace David Cameron as Conservative leader and PM.
The Brexit days…
In the 2016 European Union referendum, Boris endorsed the ‘Out’ campaign, being strong in his position of wanting to leave the EU. He often claimed Cameron’s warnings about leaving were “greatly over-exaggerated”. After the ‘leave’ campaign found victory, Cameron resigned as promised, leaving Theresa May to be elected uncontested.
Foreign Secretary Days…
After Theresa May became the leader of the Conservative Party and prime minister, she appointed Boris the role of foreign secretary in summer 2016. New positions of Brexit secretary and international trade secretary were also introduced leaving the foreign secretary with few powers. Analysts claim this was a tactic to weaken Johnson politically whilst also forcing him to take responsibility for problems caused by leaving the EU, something Boris was passionate to do. Johnson found many of his past comments caught up with him upon this role, with his derogatory claims of the past resurfacing as he approached the world leaders. He was heavily criticised at this time.
Secret recordings in June 2018 revealed Johnson’s dissatisfaction with PM, Theresa May’s negotiation style saying she was being too collaborative with Donald Trump. He was heard saying “Imagine Trump doing Brexit. He’d go in bloody hard … There’d be all sorts of breakdowns, all sorts of chaos. Everyone would think he’d gone mad. But actually, you might get somewhere. It’s a very, very good thought.” In these recordings, he also accused members of parliament of scaremongering over leaving the EU saying “No panic. Pro bono Publico, no bloody panic. It’s going to be all right in the end.” In July 2018, after the cabinet met at Chequers to agree on a Brexit strategy, Johnson resigned his post.
The backbench days…
By resigning as foreign secretary, Johnson returned to his role as a backbench MP. Upon resigning, Boris made a speech saying “it is not too late to save Brexit. We have time in these negotiations. We have changed tack once and we can change once again”.
In July 2018, Johnson signed a 12-month contract to write articles for the Telegraph Media Group but it was later found to be a breach of the Ministerial Code. He was ordered to apologise.
In May 2019, Theresa May stepped down from her role as Prime Minister and Johnson confirmed he would stand as in the Conservative Party leadership election. In June 2019, Boris launched his campaign stating, “We must leave the EU on 31 October. We must do better than the current Withdrawal Agreement that has been rejected three times by Parliament—and let me clear that I am not aiming for a no-deal outcome. I don’t think that we will end up with any such thing. But it is only responsible to prepare vigorously and seriously for no deal.” The votes closed on 22nd July 2019, and the following day, Boris Johnson was elected leader of the Conservative government.
Boris’ Prime Minister days…
On 24th July 2019, Queen Elizabeth II accepted Theresa May’s resignation and appointed Boris as Prime Minister. Boris had been rumoured to be having an affair with political activist, Carrie Symonds for some time, and the pair moved into Downing Street together, confirming their relationship.
From there, Boris appointed Dominic Cummings as his senior advisor as they had previously worked together on the Vote Leave campaign. In his first speech, Boris Johnson declared the UK would leave the EU on October 31st, 2019 “with or without a deal”. Boris appointed his cabinet describing them as a “Cabinet for modern Britain” with The Guardian branding it “an ethnically diverse but ideologically homogeneous statement of intent”.
While forming his cabinet, Johnson dismissed 11 senior ministers. This mass dismissal was the most extensive Cabinet reorganisation without a change in the ruling party in post-war British political history, exceeding the “Night of the Long Knives”, being dubbed by The Sun as the “Night of the Blonde Knives”. Whilst appointing roles, one quarter were women and the Cabinet set a new record for ethnic minority representation, but it was said over half had attended Oxbridge universities.
In October 2019, a general election was held, and the Conservative party remained in power with a parliamentary landslide majority of 80 seats – its biggest since 1987 under Margaret Thatcher. This saw Boris enter his second term, leading us to the present day.
The Covid-19 days…
In January 2020, the UK started its 11-month transition process after leaving the European Union. Just a few months into Boris’ second term saw the crisis of the Covid-19 pandemic but quickly Boris found himself being held accountable as he failed to attend five Cobra meetings during the early months of the pandemic (pre-lockdown), with many believing he failed to prepare and control the outbreak before it got out of control. It wasn’t until the end of March when the UK locked down, being weeks later than some other leading countries. On the 27th March, Boris tested positive for Covid-19 leaving him hospitalised, not returning to Downing Street until the end of April.
On the 29th of April 2020, Carrie Symonds gave birth to her and Boris’ son, Wilfred Lawrie Nicholas Johnson. It was confirmed that the baby’s middle name Nicholas is a tribute to Dr. Nick Price and Dr. Nick Hart- the two doctors who saved Boris’ life when he was in intensive care with Covid-19.
The Dominic Cummings scandal took place in May 2020 whereby the chief political advisor made a trip to Durham during the strict lockdown whilst suffering from Covid-19 symptoms. Cummings claimed he was testing his eyes for driving and despite calls for both Cummings and Johnson to resign, neither did. Johnson‘s refusal to sack Cummings caused a huge backlash with many losing confidence in the government, specifically in response to the pandemic, being labelled ‘the Cummings effect’.
In order to help combat the pandemic, the government had planned the test and trace app but in October 2020, it was still causing frustrations, not being as effective as they had hoped. A second lockdown started on Halloween 2020 and a new strain, found to be more contagious started circulating in hospitals in December meaning much of the South and East of England were told they weren’t to mix on Christmas. A third lockdown was announced in the first few days of 2021 where record numbers of infections and daily deaths were recorded. As the UK passed the 100,000 deaths from Covid-19, Boris said he was “deeply sorry” and claimed to take “full responsibility”. Prior to this on December 8th, the UK was the first country in the world to begin its Covid-19 vaccination program. By March 2020, over half of UK adults had received at least their first dose. Boris received his first dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine on March 21st.
Boris has announced plans for all adults to be offered their first vaccine by the end of July 2021, and hopes for a ‘normal’ summer, but science professionals say we will face restrictions in the Autumn/Winter to reduce the chances of a potential outbreak.
And that brings us to present day.