To passers-by, they must have looked like any other lovestruck couple who, in the grip of a heady new romance, simply couldn’t keep their hands off each other.
Despite being wrapped up against the winter cold — him with a beanie hat pulled down over his instantly recognisable mop of hair — she was all smiles as she playfully tweaked his bottom in a very public display of affection on a London street.
Her face, framed by a swishy blonde ponytail, was a picture of youthful joie de vivre. He, meanwhile, could be forgiven for looking like the cat who got the cream.
Five months after 54-year-old Brexiteer Boris Johnson’s ‘close friendship’ with former Tory public relations chief Carrie Symonds sparked a political storm and prompted him to admit his marriage was ending, it appears discretion can no longer compete with passion.
Although he is not yet divorced from his second wife of 25 years, Marina, the scene descibed above — as shown in blurry late-night pictures published in a Sunday tabloid — gives the strongest indication yet that Boris and Carrie are preparing to go public with their relationship.
Gregarious, intelligent, ambitious, strong-minded and attractive, Carrie quickly made a name for herself, winning professional and more personal admirers. Pictured: Carrie outside her flat in London on Thursday
Carrie Symonds, pictured with Guido Fawkes editor Paul Staines, was photographed pinching Boris Johnson’s bottom
The pair were linked five months ago, sparking a political storm that ended Boris’ 25-year marriage to Marina Wheeler. Pictured: the pair at the black and white ball in London
He is reported to have moved into a £1 million ‘love-nest’ flat with Carrie, 30, where the pair hosted a pre-New Year party for close friends, who witnessed them ‘kissing and cuddling’ throughout.
Indeed, so besotted is Boris with Carrie — who is 24 years his junior, and only four years older than his daughter Lara Lettice, who called her father a ‘selfish b*****d’ after her mother accused him of cheating — sources say that he may plan to make her the third Mrs Johnson.
‘They are very loved up,’ a source told the Mail. ‘It’s completely sincere on both their parts, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if they ended up getting married once his divorce is all settled.’
As well he might, privately note some Westminster observers, because should Boris ever succeed in a leadership bid to replace Theresa May, how else would Carrie Symonds fit into his future life at Number 10?
Last September, Boris and his wife Marina, a barrister and mother of his four adult children, issued a joint statement, in the wake of the furore over the friendship, confirming they had separated some months previously and were in the process of divorcing.
Carrie quit her position as director of communications at Conservative Campaign headquarters after eight years, and went to ground, before taking up a role with media giant Bloomberg, leading its ecological initiative, Vibrant Oceans.
Far from cooling the friendship, however, their feelings seem to have deepened in the past five months, apparently cementing into something very serious during a New Year holiday at the Greek villa owned by Boris’s father Stanley, where last summer Boris holidayed with his children.
It sits, with spectacular sea views, amid olive groves on the Aegean peninsula of Pelion. The doting couple were spotted out and about in the local area, enjoying a romantic meal in a taverna.
Intriguingly, Boris stopped posting Twitter updates during their romantic getaway — although businesslike Carrie, renowned in Westminster for her networking skills, continued to send regular updates about her environmental campaigns.
One source claimed that Carrie had put Boris, pictured on The Andrew Marr Show last month, on a diet after he was seen talking about how much weight he’s lost recently
One insider said: ‘He’s lucky to have Carrie. They wouldn’t have gone through all this if they weren’t serious.’ Pictured: the pair out in London ahead of the Oxford and Cambridge University boat race in 2012
The holiday marked a new development for the pair, who have been at pains not to be seen or photographed together since the Johnsons announced their marriage was over last year.
Last month it was reported Boris was due to attend Zac Goldsmith’s annual dinner for the Richmond Park Conservatives with Carrie as his guest — their first public outing — but she is said to have pulled out, fearing media attention. They may be, as friends report, in love. But with Johnson’s ambition to be elected PM undimmed, both are canny political operators and acutely aware of the implications of how they handle their relationship and its public perception.
Now, given their public display of affection, have those fears receded? ‘I think Carrie loves him, it’s as straightforward as that,’ one acquaintance told the Mail.
But such is the perception of Carrie’s behind-the-scenes influence on Boris — an arch-critic of Theresa May’s Brexit deal and believed to be manoeuvring himself for a leadership bid — she is said to have already attracted the nickname FLOTUS, as in ‘First Lady of the United States’, the acronym used by White House staffers for the President’s wife.
‘Carrie is working him into shape. FLOTUS is a reference to her level of importance in his life and his ambitions for the Conservative Party leadership,’ a well-placed informant told the Mail. ‘They are quite similar people. She is incredibly political, ambitious like he is, and I am sure that she will be advising him professionally about the leadership and what to do next.
‘They are a proper power couple. Obviously, they don’t want to be flaunting their relationship with the divorce not yet settled, but it is what it is, and they have to find a way to navigate that.
‘It was all quite serious from the off, so not some kind of dalliance, and Carrie has been talking openly to friends about being together with Boris.’
Despite reports the pair had split up shortly before Christmas — their relationship withering under the critical glare of the spotlight — the Mail can reveal that, on the contrary, the friendship has remained red hot.
When Carrie attended the Spectator magazine’s Parliamentarian of the Year awards at the Rosewood Hotel in London in November, Boris was conspicuous by his absence.
But a fellow guest told the Mail: ‘Carrie looked very radiant. She talked openly about Boris and made no secret of the fact that they were very much together. She looked like a woman in love, definitely.’
Similarly, it has been reported that he has been described by some close to them as being like a ‘puppy’ around her. Observers have noticed some positive lifestyle changes which they suspect may be the result of Carrie’s influence.
‘He’s been talking about how much weight he has lost recently, and I think Carrie has put him on her diet.
‘She is definitely advising him and I think that is one of the reasons she left her job, because she felt more loyal to him in the end than the party,’ says one observer. Last month, the former Foreign Secretary announced that he’d lost 12lb in two weeks on the advice of a French doctor.
Writing in the Spectator, he said he’d sworn off alcohol and ‘late-night binges of chorizo and cheese’, pledging to get in shape for Brexit (and a possible leadership contest).
The pair took a new year holiday at his father’s villa in Greece, where he holidayed last summer with his kids
Indeed, it seems unlikely that without a younger girlfriend to keep pace with, let alone the rapid pace of Brexit politics, the Boris of old would have been willing, as he wrote in the Spectator, to ‘breakfast like some Georgian hermit on porridge with a luxury sprinkling of nuts’, or ‘guzzle water’ at drinks parties.
They met in 2012 when Carrie was one of four officials seconded from Tory HQ to work on his campaign to be re-elected London Mayor.
The daughter of Matthew Symonds, a founder of the Independent newspaper, and Josephine Mcaffee, one of the paper’s lawyers, she grew up in East Sheen in South-West London and attended the private £20,000-a-year Godolphin & Latymer School.
After gaining a first-class honours degree in theatre studies and history of art from Warwick University, she joined Conservative HQ as a press officer in 2009.
Gregarious, intelligent, ambitious, strong-minded and attractive, Carrie quickly made a name for herself, winning professional and more personal admirers.
When Boris was appointed Foreign Secretary in 2016, Miss Symonds must have been a natural choice to work with him on the Vote Leave campaign.
‘Carrie is great fun,’ an observer says. ‘Like a lot of political operators, she is highly intelligent, highly charismatic, vivacious and flirtatious . . . she loves to gossip.’
‘She knows how the world works and she is ambitious for herself, but I don’t think she has fallen in love with Boris because she sees it as a route to the top.
‘Boris is incredibly charismatic, he is great company and potentially a very powerful man. He is influential in Westminster, he is a man of ideas and they are very well suited.’
A former Westminster colleague, however, offered a less flattering assessment of Miss Symonds’ blonde ambition. ‘Carrie wants to reach the top,’ was his opinion. ‘She is not interested in the slow lane; she wants to get there yesterday. She is a force of nature.’
Rumours about a close friendship between them started when the pair were seen dining at London’s oldest restaurant, Rules in Covent Garden, on Valentine’s Day last year — chaperoned by bodyguards who were seated at a discreet distance on a nearby table.
In March, Boris was again socialising with his adviser as a guest at a house party to celebrate Carrie’s 30th birthday. He reportedly burned up the dance floor flamboyantly to the sound of ABBA’s greatest hits, trying to impress her.
When photographs emerged of them chatting outside the Tories’ Black and White Ball at the Natural History Museum early last year, many noticed that they appeared to share an unmistakeable chemistry in just one glance.
Again, at a private get-together for Brexiteers last autumn, they reportedly arrived and left together, and spent all evening talking.
They must have had much to discuss, whether it was their future together or his political ambitions that formed the topic of conversation.
Six months before their close friendship came to light, Westminster insiders reportedly said Boris and fellow Brexiteer Michael Gove stepped in to save Carrie’s job as the party’s PR executive after other ministers turned on her.
‘Like Boris, Carrie is passionate about Brexit,’ says a well-placed observer. ‘Boris is campaigning against May’s Brexit deal, which he thinks is a nightmare — I think he said it’s worse than staying in.
‘If May goes, there is going to be an almighty bunfight for the leadership. If Brexit hasn’t happened by that point, a lot of Tory members are going to be looking for someone to give them leadership on Brexit, and he will want to be one of the candidates.’
Another added: ‘Carrie really wants Boris to be leader.’
Whether or not he ever gets the top job, friends believe that — unlike with Boris’s past highly- publicised dalliances — the couple are genuinely in love and he ‘doesn’t want to mess it up’.
Famously, the twice-married former London Mayor and MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip was sacked from a shadow ministerial role in 2004 by then Conservative leader Michael Howard for allegedly lying over an affair with journalist Petronella Wyatt — something he denied, describing it as an ‘inverted pyramid of piffle’.
His marriage to long-suffering Marina has been overshadowed by alleged infidelity, while his first marriage to Oxford University sweetheart Allegra Mostyn-Owen was dissolved in 1993 after six years when he met and fell in love with Marina.
In 2009, Boris was reported to have fathered a child with art consultant Helen Macintyre.
So, could this relationship be off to a more auspicious start?
One insider reportedly said this weekend: ‘He’s lucky to have Carrie. They wouldn’t have gone through all this if it weren’t serious. It’s not seedy — these are two people who fell in love and want to be together.’