Jennifer Marie Arcuri, who is 34, hails from California and appears to have spent much of her early life attempting to forge a career in Hollywood
Every so often, during his second term as Mayor of London, Boris Johnson would find time in his busy schedule to while away a couple of daytime hours at a rented apartment in fashionable Shoreditch.
The third-floor property, situated above a trendy cocktail bar roughly 15 minutes, by cycle, from City Hall, was both the home and registered business address of a vivacious young businesswoman called Jennifer Arcuri.
An energetic Californian blonde who had arrived in the UK as a business student in 2011, she’d first met Johnson after volunteering to work on his 2012 re-election campaign.
In March that year and on Facebook, where like many of her generation she chose to chronicle daily life, Arcuri posted pictures of herself posing with the Mayor on a double-decker bus, along with others wearing a blue T-shirt and holding a placard which read: ‘Better off with Boris.’
Within weeks, they had forged a familiar personal and professional friendship.
Indeed, by May, the duo were sufficiently well-acquainted for Boris, who can earn six-figure sums for commercial speaking engagements, to agree to give the ‘keynote’ address at a technology ‘summit’ that Arcuri was organising.
He would appear, for free, at no fewer than four similar conferences that she staged in the ensuing few years, each of them named after her fledgling events firm, Innotech.
The events, the aforementioned ‘Innotech’ summits, were greatly enhanced by Johnson’s status as London Mayor, and gained a significant profile in London’s booming tech circles
Boris’s office would also grant the budding foreign businesswoman – who was more than two decades his junior – two valuable sponsorship deals, worth more than £10,000, while inviting her, in somewhat irregular circumstances, to join three of his taxpayer-funded overseas trips.
This extraordinary patronage, along with the circumstances of a further £100,000 grant that one of Arcuri’s other companies secured from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) only last year, emerged yesterday, sparking a heated political scandal (and, it seems, at least one formal inquiry) in the process.
To blame was a lengthy expose in the Sunday Times detailing how the American former model built a glittering reputation as a tech pioneer on the back of her unusually close friendship with Britain’s future Prime Minister.
Her show-business career appears to have stalled, however, and by 2011, she’d spent four years working as a shift manager at a sushi restaurant in California’s Moro Bay. It was then that Arcuri, who was then aged 26, decided to move to the UK
The newspaper revealed that Johnson – who was at the time married to second wife Marina Wheeler, mother to four of his five children – fell into the habit, while supposedly running the capital, of using ‘afternoon breaks in his mayoral diary’ to pop over to Arcuri’s Shoreditch home.
The spacious flat, which she rented for £2,600 a month, boasted tall windows, fashionable wooden floors and a chrome dancing pole in the middle of its living room.
Johnson quietly came over to the property ‘many times’ during his second term according to several sources, including the former landlord Chandan Daryanani who claimed: ‘He used my property … She mentioned once that he was one of her best friends.’
When he was unable to make it to the flat, Johnson would also hold lengthy ‘text conversations’ with Arcuri, according to a second, unnamed friend.
The nature of those ‘conversations’ is unclear, but she apparently stored his telephone number in her telephone contacts under the nickname ‘The Commodore’.
Sometimes, Boris, rather than Arcuri, would play the host. In March 2014, for example, she posted images on social media of a visit to City Hall, where she not only sat in the public gallery watching Johnson take Mayor’s questions, but later got to pose for a photograph in his seat.
For all the patronage, Arcuri’s businesses do not seem to have been much of a commercial success. Innotech’s last accounts show that it’s some £350,000 in the red
‘In the boss’s chair at the GLA,’ read her caption. ‘Oh, today was fun!’ She signed off with a smiley face.
Around the same time, she was twice invited to visit Number Ten Downing Street, was on the guest list for several events in Parliament, and also got to pose with Johnson at a Tory conference in Manchester.
So who is the glamorous young American who built such close links to the man who is now Prime Minister?
And how did she end up getting £126,000 in public money along with privileged access to three of his overseas trade missions?
Jennifer Marie Arcuri, who is 34, hails from California and appears to have spent much of her early life attempting to forge a career in Hollywood.
As a teenager, she worked in radio for Disney, according to her CV on the website LinkedIn, which says she was known as ‘DJ Razzle Dazzle’.
She also claims to have spent the early 2000s in unspecified jobs at the networks ESPN and ABC, and worked as a personal assistant on the TV programme Inside the Actor’s Studio.
On the film industry website IMDB, where she also published a CV, Arcuri declared that her personal motto was: ‘It’s not enough to think outside the box: we must get used to living outside it.’
She lists three bit-part acting jobs and claims to have produced a film called La Valise, which was screened at the 2008 Cannes Film festival.
Johnson – who was at the time married to second wife Marina Wheeler, mother to four of his five children – fell into the habit, while supposedly running the capital, of using ‘afternoon breaks in his mayoral diary’ to pop over to Arcuri’s Shoreditch home
Her show-business career appears to have stalled, however, and by 2011, she’d spent four years working as a shift manager at a sushi restaurant in California’s Moro Bay.
It was then that Arcuri, who was then aged 26, decided to move to the UK, enrolling at the little-known Hult International Business School, which has a campus in Clerkenwell.
Within six months, she’d met Johnson and successfully persuaded him to speak at a conference she was organising for young tech entrepreneurs.
The events, the aforementioned ‘Innotech’ summits, were greatly enhanced by Johnson’s status as London Mayor, and gained a significant profile in London’s booming tech circles.
Within a year, she was being quoted as a tech guru in the Sunday Times and feted by website Business Insider, which dubbed her one of ‘the 25 coolest women in UK tech’, saying her events had taken off thanks to her close ties with London mayor Boris Johnson.
Making cash proved to be somewhat harder than generating headlines, however, and Innotech consistently found itself short of money.
With that in mind, October 2013 saw Johnson’s promotional agency, London & Partners, agree to give Arcuri’s ‘Innotech’ a £10,000 sponsorship payment. The following summer, it paid another £1,500 to sponsor one of its events at the House of Commons.
By then, the firm’s profile had also helped it secure around £200,000 in start-up investment from private sources. This allowed Arcuri, a US national, to apply for an ‘entrepreneur visa’, allowing her to remain in the UK for at least three years.
It was granted in May 2014, at a time when she was spending free time canvassing for the Tories in the European elections.
Although she was then using Facebook to share almost daily scenes from her life in London, including several of the events she attended with Johnson, Arcuri was strangely less forthcoming when it came to telling friends and relations specific details about her romantic life.
One of her few lapses on this front came in a post uploaded to the social network in the summer of 2013, when she wrote that she was ‘celebrating a special night tonight with one of my favourite men of all time… Although he won’t “let” me name him, I am pretty sure those few know how happy I am to celebrate with him. Yay!’
But we digress. At the end of 2014, Arcuri was one of 26 entrepreneurs who went to Singapore and Malaysia on a trade mission led by Johnson, at a cost to the taxpayer of around £35,000.
To qualify for inclusion on the trip, delegates were required to be able to show that their firm had been trading for at least a year.
However her application stated that she was representing a video technology firm called Playbox, one of four companies of which she has been a registered director. It was only incorporated three months before the trip took place.
The rules were also bent in February 2015, when Arcuri was initially deemed ineligible for inclusion on a trade trip to New York, because it was supposedly limited to ‘fintech’ (financial technology) firms, but then allowed to attend events there because, according to internal emails made public under freedom of Information: ‘She has been speaking to Boris and [a senior advisor] about being in NY and they are both, apparently, happy about that.’
Boris’s office would also grant the budding foreign businesswoman – who was more than two decades his junior – two valuable sponsorship deals, worth more than £10,000, while inviting her, in somewhat irregular circumstances, to join three of his taxpayer-funded overseas trips
November 2015 meanwhile saw Arcuri join Johnson in Tel Aviv, with her name added to the list of delegates thanks to a late request from the Mayor’s office.
It was the third overseas trade jolly she’d attended in little more than a year. Normally, businesses are not usually allowed to attend more than one.
For all the patronage, Arcuri’s businesses do not seem to have been much of a commercial success. Innotech’s last accounts show that it’s some £350,000 in the red.
While two other firms she incorporated – giving her profession, variously, as “entrepreneur,” “company director” and “ethical hacker” – have both closed, after never filing accounts.
Her final company, Hacker House, a cyber-security firm which she controls more than 75 percent of, according to Companies House, was incorporated in 2015.
The following summer, it added a new director, one Matthew Hickey, who soon became Arcuri’s fiancé.
The couple, who initially moved to Cheshire and are now living in the United States, have a young daughter called Madeleine, who was born in 2017.
Hacker House is meanwhile some £715,000 in the red, according to its most recent accounts.
That financial situation has been eased, somewhat, by the DCMS, who last January agreed to pay it £100,000 from a fund designed to train people in the UK in cyber-security.
That six-figure grant is, however, now to be the subject of a formal investigation on the grounds that both Arcuri and Hickey have since last summer been living and working from a $960,000 home in Huntingdon Beach, California.
That appears to put them in breach of the terms of the DCMS grant, which is limited to firms that are ‘based and operate’ in the UK.
Indeed, Hacker House’s official registered address turns out to be a private home in Prestbury, Cheshire, which the couple rented before moving back to America, and no longer have any connection with – itself a breach of the Companies Act.
With this in mind, the DCMS yesterday launched a formal investigation into how the six-figure sum was given to the company.
Downing Street is refusing to comment. But while Johnson has recent form for refusing to discuss his relationship with vivacious young blondes, the vast sums of taxpayers’ money that have been shovelled in Jennifer Arcuri’s general direction mean that this is a scandal likely to run and run.