So did she or didn’t she? Jennifer Arcuri is still not saying if she had an affair with Boris Johnson. Not exactly.
But she doesn’t want you to think, not for one minute, that she wasn’t someone special in his life. Mistress, girlfriend, lover, courtesan? Pray do tell, Jennifer, what was the exact nature of your role? We are all dying to know.
‘I was Boris’s Anne Boleyn,’ says Arcuri in her first print interview since the scandal broke. You were? ‘I sure was,’ she insists.
‘Anne Boleyn made Henry VIII literally crazy for six years because she wouldn’t give him her virtue. She never gave away too much of herself because she knew that if she did, what happened to her sister would happen to her.’
‘I was Boris’s Anne Boleyn,’ says Arcuri (pictured) in her first print interview since the scandal broke. You were? ‘I sure was,’ she insists
Mary Boleyn had an adulterous relationship with the king and was later banished from court.
Yet surely Anne’s fate was worse? She seduced Henry VIII, lured him away from his loyal wife and child, only to be cruelly cast aside and her reputation ripped apart, before her life ended on a scaffold at the Tower of London.
Thankfully, Jennifer Arcuri’s head is still on her shoulders.
Just as Anne Boleyn once enjoyed the benefits of keeping a powerful man in her thrall, it is clear Jennifer did exactly the same in her relationship with the Prime Minister, back when he was the Mayor of London.
‘I was categorically clear that the moment I gave Boris my virtue, I would be cast out. That’s why I made him my buddy. I would say things like: “You don’t want me, I’m high maintenance and very demanding.” He used to laugh and say: ‘I don’t believe that at all.’
‘I was categorically clear that the moment I gave Boris (Johnson my virtue, I would be cast out. That’s why I made him my buddy. I would say things like: “You don’t want me, I’m high maintenance and very demanding.” He used to laugh and say: ‘I don’t believe that at all.’
He did? ‘He did. He would say: “Jennifer, you’re the Mount Everest every man wants to climb.” But the last thing I wanted to be was the girl that showed up, sh***ed him and left.’
Who does? ‘Right. And it was far more rewarding for me to have a friendship with Boris because he was charismatic and fun and a stimulating person.’
Sitting across from me in the living room of her Los Angeles home, there is indeed a faint touch of the dimpled Tudor wench about her. But with her blonde hair, California tan and curvy figure she is a very modern femme fatale.
According to her version of events, Boris never got his crampons on and made a dash for the Jen-summit. While it seems unlikely for a man with his libidinous reputation, Jennifer seems keen not to put her old friend under any more pressure, and isn’t going to elaborate.
What she will say is that they were friends from 2011 until they last spoke in 2016. A five-year ‘thing’, whatever the ‘thing’ was.
How did they spend their time together in the capital? Once they went to a restaurant called Fish! in Borough Market. On another occasion they met in an Italian restaurant, but she felt uncomfortable because people were staring at them as they sat at a corner table.
She knew of his womaniser reputation, but it did not bother her. ‘The affair with Petronella had happened years ago. (Boris famously dated the daughter of Labour grandee Lord Wyatt for four years while he was editor of The Spectator — and while married to long-suffering wife Marina Wheeler — and got her pregnant at least once). I wasn’t sitting there, questioning him about his marriage. I didn’t care,’ she says.
The ambitious American, a former model and DJ, agrees that it was a boost to her fledging career in technology to have one of Britain’s most compelling politicians in her corner
Boris, however, was extremely interested in her love life. ‘He’d say: “Are you driving men crazy? Are the men filling the streets with weeping tears? I saw a man sobbing earlier — please tell me you didn’t break his heart.” He’d ask me who I was dating and I’d say: “Everyone.” And he was like: “Oh! Did you give them your virtue?” ’
Some of their dates were classic Boris, and not in the ancient Greek sense. Once he arranged to meet her at a pub near Tavistock Square in Central London, but he fell asleep at home and forgot.
‘Then he called and said: “Jennifer, where are you?” And I said I was going home and who the hell did he think he was. I wait for no man, Boris, not even you.”
‘He said: “Stay there, I’m coming.” So I waited in the pub and finally he arrived, all sweaty and out of breath with his bike helmet still on. He went to the bar but came back because he didn’t have any money and said: “Jennifer, can I borrow £3.10?” I went: “Oh My God” and bought him a beer.’
She also prides herself on the fact that they could be frank with each other. ‘He asked me one day: “How do I look?” And I said: “Pale and fat — and no one likes a chubby leader!” I told him to lay off the gluten and eat more vegetables and he thought that was sensible. I could talk to him like that because I was his muse.’ Muse, Anne Boleyn, virtue keeper, Himalayan mountain, personal dietitian and, of course, tech support expert who could explain the intricacies of ‘Google hangout’ to the great Boris brain — this woman’s role in his life is getting complicated.
And, to be honest, it seems like an awful lot of effort for a 55-year-old, twice-married man with haystack hair who is hardly the catch of the century.
Jennifer looks a bit hurt at this. ‘I just thought he was the most charismatic and engaging human. I was very much in awe of his presence. It was a complicated friendship that could have gone somewhere in another life, but it didn’t.’ Certainly, whatever the friendship parameters were between these two high-octane blond(e)s, it seemed to work for them both.
The ambitious American, a former model and DJ, agrees that it was a boost to her fledging career in technology to have one of Britain’s most compelling politicians in her corner.
Jennifer persuaded then-mayor Boris to deliver the keynote speech at a networking tech event in London that she helped organise in 2012, giving her instant credibility in her adopted country.
The 34-year-old went on to set up a series of companies that were awarded £126,000 in public money and went on three overseas trade trips led by Boris after officials initially turned her down for two of them.
This has proved problematic. The PM is now facing conflict of interest allegations and is under investigation by the London Assembly over his links to Arcuri during his period of office.
He has refused to deny that he had an affair with the feisty American but insists that ‘everything was done with complete propriety’ when quizzed on the matter. And unsurprisingly, she agrees.
‘All the grants my company received were totally above board and, as a businesswoman, I had every right to be on those trade delegations,’ she tells me.
‘My achievements are my achievements and it’s not because of Boris Johnson that I’ve been able to do all the things I did in England like give a TED [Technology, Entertainment, Design] talk and build successful businesses.’
Actually, it was because of two independently organised talks in Manchester and Liverpool about her views on cyber skills and cyber security — but well done, Jennifer.
Since the news broke last month, she has refused to go into detail about the extent of her relationship with the leader currently battling for Brexit.
She has teased and hinted — not admitting anything but not denying it either. On ITV’s Good Morning Britain this week, Piers Morgan asked six times if she had been intimate with Boris and six times she refused to answer. Back home in California, she is playing the same game with me.
‘I don’t want to say there was no affair and I don’t want to say there was an affair,’ she says solemnly. ‘I just want people to see there was a unique connection between me and Boris. We definitely got on.’
Indeed, in contemporaneous photographs of the pair it is obvious that there was explosive chemistry surging between them.
People noticed how struck she and Boris were with each other when they appeared at public events — and rumours of an affair have been circulating for years.
‘There were times, at crowded events, where he’d seek me out,’ she acknowledges. ‘I know this sounds crazy but when I enter a room I have a certain kind of presence, one that made him happy to see me. We did attract attention, yes.’
On a trade trip to Malaysia where both were present, she addressed the rumours issue with Boris’s PR chief Will Walden. ‘I walked right over to Will and said: “Look — no story. It’s complete smoke and mirrors.” ’ And what did Mr Walden say? ‘He said: “Let’s just keep it that way, Jennifer.” ’
You can see why Boris — or any red-blooded man — would find Jennifer attractive.
With her low, throaty voice and mane of golden hair she oozes sex appeal and is good fun.
She does a clever Boris impression (‘Jennifer, do I look fat in this suit?’ she growls, in a honking posh voice) is unapologetically loud and clearly the life and soul of any party — so long as it’s a party that doesn’t go on for too long.
At one point she goes upstairs and reappears wearing the Back Boris T-shirt she wore during his mayoral campaign. ‘Of course I kept it,’ she says, and does a little dance.
We meet at her spacious, four-bedroomed rented home in Huntington Beach, a city south-east of Los Angeles, which she shares with husband Matthew Hickey and their delightful two-year-old daughter Madeleine.
The couple met in 2016, quickly married and are co-directors of their business which trains cyber security professionals.
‘I’ve been honest with my husband about Boris. He didn’t want to know any details, but it’s an outrage that my husband’s reputation is being dragged through the mud because of all this. He’s an absolute genius and works incredibly hard,’ she says loyally. She complains that the couple’s business ‘is a tiny start-up that is just trying to survive but it is being dissected like a multi-million-pound corporation’.
There is a slight air of chaos around her home, with unwashed dishes in the sink and piles of baby toys and clothes strewn around the room. She says she has been under siege since the rumours about her relationship with Boris exploded and that she has let the housework go hang.
It hasn’t helped that the intrigue has been ratcheted up by photos of her looking buxom in a maid’s outfit and her and Boris standing closely by his mayoral campaign bus.
Not to mention the general hilarity about the fact that she had a dancing pole installed in her top-floor flat in Shoreditch, East London.
Much has been made of the fact that Boris visited her there on a number of occasions and we hate to be British about this, Jennifer, but we are fascinated by your pole. ‘Huh? I only had it installed because it’s good exercise. I would turn on YouTube and do workouts on it. Plus, I was renting the flat out on Airbnb. You know, having that pole in the living room got me a lot of renters.’
Did she and Boris ever enjoy it together? ‘I didn’t pole dance for Boris and Boris has never pole danced for me,’ she shrieks.
‘And he wasn’t coming to my home — he was coming to my office. It’s not unusual for people in start-ups to work from home.’
What the stories and raunchy pictures don’t speak of is her intelligence, obvious ambition and entrepreneurial skills. Jennifer is
no dumb blonde. She studied at two American universities and took film-making and economics classes at the American University in Paris.
She came to the UK seven years ago to launch her career in tech and it was this work that led to her to cross paths with Boris. They met at a British Venture Capital event when she went up and introduced herself.
‘He was like “whoa!” she recalls modestly. ‘I didn’t tremble. My voice wasn’t shaky.
‘I was very passionate about my work and he could tell that right away. Later he told me: “When I saw you, I went ooh; she’s different.” He was intrigued by me.’
The second time they met was on the Conservative battle bus when he was campaigning for his second term as London Mayor. She recalls how Boris climbed to the top deck of the bus, sat directly behind her and started talking.
He was carrying a collection of short stories by Voltaire and they talked about literature, discovering a mutual passion for Shakespeare.
Jennifer has studied his works since she was nine and can reel off huge passages verbatim from King Lear and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
She does this now, at a roaring Vanessa Redgrave pitch. One wonders how Boris ever got a word in edgeways but somehow he did. She gave him her number, he texted her that night and the rest is history, if only either of them would confirm it. Though it was 2016 when she last saw him, interestingly, she says she has held on to the texts he sent her but stopped answering them when she became pregnant.
If Boris was such a dear platonic friend, wasn’t it cruel and indeed irrational to drop him so suddenly?
‘It was. It’s one of the things I’ve thought about in the past three years.
‘A friend told me I didn’t owe Boris anything and I remember thinking that, yes, I do. But I had a difficult pregnancy and was ill for much of it. So I put Boris in a box,’ she shrugs.
‘Obviously he didn’t care that much. He and his wife are divorcing and he’s got a new girlfriend. If finding somebody to move on with in his life was the goal, I hope he’s found that with Carrie. But it’s sad. I wish that I had talked to him a little more.’
So what next for this pair of star-crossed absolutely not lovers, to paraphrase their beloved Shakespeare?
In London, Boris battles on with his Brexit strategy.
In California, Jennifer is concentrating on rebuilding her life and repairing the reputational damage done to her business. She’s been inundated with offers to go on television and is considering an appearance on Loose Women.
She’s also hoping to write a book about female entrepreneurship and the things that can trip women up.
She is definitely the go-to girl for that.