Tuesday 20 August 2019

Sarah Caden: 'Boris has always revelled in doing things differently but could this be a step too far?'

A late-night row and a call from the police is just the latest glitch for would-be UK premier Boris Johnson, writes Sarah Caden

Friends and neighbours: A poster of Boris Johnson hangs on the fence opposite to his house in London. Photo: REUTERS/Simon Dawson
Friends and neighbours: A poster of Boris Johnson hangs on the fence opposite to his house in London. Photo: REUTERS/Simon Dawson

Back in January, when Boris Johnson was not yet in an official contest to become the UK prime minister, it was reported that Carrie Symonds's friends were calling her Flotus.

Flotus, the acronym of First Lady of the United States, was being used "jokingly", of course. But behind all Boris jokes is often something deadly serious, rooted in savage ambition.

The Flotus joke ties in seriously with how, until last Friday's tape-recording of a screaming, crockery-smashing row between the pair emerged, Boris and Carrie were determinedly doing things differently and getting away with it.

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They're not married. He's still married to someone else, but living with her. She's 24 years younger than him, aged 31 to his 55. And yet, amazingly, no one seemed that bothered.

Why wouldn't Carrie have found it delightfully funny to cast herself as Flotus? Anything was possible.

Until last Friday.

Many must delight in the resourcefulness, or whatever you want to call it, of Carrie Symonds's neighbour, who both recorded audio of the couple's row in her London flat, and gave it to The Guardian.

You could read skulduggery into it, including the calling of the police, but that's only to make more excuses for unconventional Boris.

The row happened. The row sounded pretty bad. At the very least, it's unseemly for a prime minister to be screaming at his girlfriend, to leave his laptop alone and refusing to leave her flat when volubly asked to.

When the police came, both Boris and Carrie insisted there was nothing amiss, despite sounds of items smashing on the audio recording.

Boris, of course, wants to minimise this. Boris knows how to do this, because Boris has plenty of practice at getting scandalous behaviour past the party faithful. Still, even Boris, who seems to believe the rules are different for him, must be rattled by this.

He has got away with a lot, to date, however, and both he and his prospective Flotus, have a lot to lose if one row sinks him.

Great effort has been made, since it became apparent they were an item early this year, to portray Boris and Carrie as an acceptable, respectable union.

It was only last September when Boris Johnson and his second wife, barrister Marina Wheeler, announced their official separation. Rumours of a relationship with Symonds, who had worked in the Conservative Party communications office, began soon after.

In December last, they apparently threw a small New Year party as a couple. It was just for a group of close and trusted friends, and they were said to have seemed "very much in love".

Which is nice, of course.

Symonds (31) is a woman who knows her way around politics. She works for Bloomberg, as PR for their Vibrant Oceans initiative, but before that was communications chief for the Conservatives.

She and Boris were first photographed looking like a couple in love in January. There was already talk of Boris for the Conservative leadership, and there was an obvious push to legitimise the relationship.

A ''friend'' of Boris's was quoted in January when photographs of him with Carrie, all smiles and cosy body language, were published. "Boris is different around Carrie," the friend said. "He only has eyes for her. It's very genuine. He wouldn't have gone through all this if it wasn't the real deal. He just seems like a better man around her. He's determined not to do anything to mess it up."

The last sentence is the most significant, as Boris has serious form when it comes to messing up. And this messiness, which makes him appear untrustworthy, reared its head aggressively last week, even before the domestic disturbance.

Boris Johnson has been married twice. He was married to Allegra Mostyn-Owen for six years from 1987. The marriage had no children, and not long after the divorce, he married Marina Wheeler.

Their eldest child, a daughter called Lara is 26, and they have three more children, Milo (24), Cassia (22) and Theodore (20). The marriage weathered two particular storms before ending last year. He had a four-year relationship with journalist Petronella Wyatt, which saw his wife temporarily kick him out. It also lost him his position as shadow arts minister, as he apparently lied to then Tory leader Michael Howard about the relationship.

That affair is said to have overlapped with another, and in 2009, he had a daughter with arts consultant Helen Macintyre. Again, Marina Wheeler is said to have ejected him from the home and again taken him back.

The fact of his daughter, Samantha, became public knowledge in 2013, when Macintyre failed in a legal bid to keep her existence private. During that case, it is reported to have also been presented that Boris had a second child outside of his marriage.

That latter issue arose last week, as BBC radio presenter Emma Barnet insisted on its importance while interviewing Tory MP Johnny Mercer, just one of the faithful whom Boris sent out to speak on his behalf. Barnett said: "Why do you think he has chosen not to be honest about something as basic as how many children he has?" Mercer replied that the public care about competence rather than a person's private life.

Still, while Boris dodged questions about his marital loyalty and his children, his camp continued to hammer home that with Carrie, it's different - he's different.

Carrie, the message has been peddled, makes Boris a better man, a man worthy of leadership. He's thinner, his haircut is better, Carrie has made him cut back on booze and, apparently, a love of late-night snacks of chorizo and cheese.

On the Carrie front, however, Boris knows he can only get away with so much. That's why the message keeps coming through that as soon as the ink is dry on his divorce, he'll marry Carrie. He's doing it differently, but not so much that it'll scare the party faithful.

Friday's fight may have scared even Boris, however. Not the fight itself, but how it will be viewed. A bit of eccentric-toff sexual messiness is one thing, but the level of aggression involved in their argument might rattle the Tory membership.

This one will be difficult for Boris to laugh off. This one will be tricky to play as Boris buffoonery.

To date, Boris and Carrie have got away with doing it defiantly differently. But there's only so much difference the Conservative camp can take.

Sunday Independent

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