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New Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng writes Latin poetry and dropped an F-bomb on University Challenge 

The new Chancellor may be a renowned brainbox with a PhD in economic history from Cambridge University.

But Kwasi Kwarteng does not always have the answers. When he appeared on University Challenge in 1995, he buzzed in response to a question about a donkey, only to declare to quizmaster Jeremy Paxman: ‘Oh f***, I’ve forgotten.’

As if it weren’t bad enough the first time, after racking his brains, he added: ‘Oh f***’, again.

Bungling BBC producers failed to notice the 19-year-old classics student’s muttered swearing, and they were broadcast to the nation.

And so it was that Mr Kwarteng first came to national attention in an article on page three of The Sun headlined ‘Rudiversity Challenge’.

But undergraduate Mr Kwarteng had the last laugh as his team from Trinity College Cambridge won every stage and went on to be crowned the 1995 champions of University Challenge.

He will be hoping his winning streak continues – after Liz Truss appointed him to the Treasury amid some of the toughest economic conditions in living memory.

Neighbours: The new Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng is a close friend of Liz Truss, so close that he lives 350 yards away in Greenwich

Although he is not widely known to the public, the 47-year-old MP for Spelthorne, Surrey, comes equipped with a solid academic background.

At 6ft 5in, Mr Kwarteng is a powerhouse physically and intellectually. He was born in east London in 1975, the only child of barrister mother Charlotte and economist father Alfred, Ghanaian migrants who came to the country as students in the 1960s.

He went to a state primary school in Waltham Forest before transferring to the private prep school Colet Court, and then winning a scholarship to Eton, where he was regarded as one of its brightest pupils.

He speaks German, Greek and French, and writes poetry in Latin. One friend recalled how, when the school introduced Italian to the curriculum, ‘the teachers were trying to teach rudimentary Italian but Kwasi learnt the whole language – the teachers were struggling to keep up with him’.

Like Boris Johnson, who attended Eton a decade earlier, Mr Kwarteng shone at the Wall Game, a hybrid of football and rugby, where he played First Wall, described by an Etonian as ‘an almost suicidal position that involved spending much of the match having his head scraped against brickwork’.

And also like Mr Johnson – of whom he is long-time supporter –he won Eton’s Newcastle Scholarship prize for excelling in a series of written examinations.

He was a prefect at the school and is still, it is said, held up as an example of how to succeed in Oxbridge interviews.

Aged 18, Kwarteng is said to have told the nervous, inexperienced tutor interviewing him at Trinity College: ‘Oh, don’t worry, sir, you did fine.’

He excelled at Cambridge where friends described him as ‘supremely confident, but not arrogant’. One said he ‘had quite a few girlfriends – he had catching up to do after his boys’ private school upbringing’.

Brainbox: On University Challenge in 1995, when he swore on TV

Brainbox: On University Challenge in 1995, when he swore on TV

Professor Tim Whitmarsh, who taught him Latin and Greek, was quoted as describing him as ‘a bit of a young fogey’, saying: ‘I once saw a 19-year-old Kwasi in full brown tweed bumbling around with a pipe in his mouth on a baking hot day.’ After graduating with a double-first in classics and history, he won a Kennedy scholarship to Harvard University and then returned to Cambridge for his PhD in economic history.

Of the three fellow panellists from his University Challenge team, Sean Blanchflower completed a PhD in mathematics and became vice-president of engineering at a major software company.

Trinity’s team captain, Robin Bhattacharyya, another mathematician, went on to teach maths at a private school, while the fourth member, Erik Gray, is now a professor of English and comparative literature at New York’s Columbia University. Mr Kwarteng too ‘is basically an academic’, said a university friend. He maintains his interest in history and was recently spotted on a flight reading a book about Bismarck.

But he was also set on a career in politics, and after a spell as a JP Morgan fund manager he became the Conservative MP for Spelthorne in 2010, as David Cameron’s premiership began.

Miss Truss, also 47, was in the same intake of MPs and the pair remain firm friends. Last year, Mr Kwarteng bought a Victorian villa just 350 yards from Miss Truss’s £1.5million four-storey townhouse in Greenwich, south London.

Now they are neighbours in Downing Street too.

At one point Mr Kwarteng was dating Amber Rudd, the former Conservative home secretary, but the pair split up.

He then met Harriet Edwards, 36, a former pupil of Cheltenham Ladies’ College and now a high-flying corporate lawyer specialising in advising private clients on ‘succession’ planning.

The pair married in 2019 and have a baby daughter, Ida, born last year.

Kwasi Kwarteng who has been appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer, leaves Downing Street on Tuesday. New Prime Minister Liz Truss is in the process of building a new Cabinet

Kwasi Kwarteng who has been appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer, leaves Downing Street on Tuesday. New Prime Minister Liz Truss is in the process of building a new Cabinet

A friend who has known the couple a long time was quoted in another profile as saying Miss Edwards had ‘stabilised’ her husband and ‘given him a home life he didn’t have’ before they met. Shortly after moving into their £1.74million villa with its large back garden and leafy pergola, the couple had a brush with Greenwich planning officials.

They had the brickwork on the front of the house professionally cleaned without gaining prior approval.

The council said it had received a complaint alleging ‘criminal’ damage to the Grade II-listed property.

But after an investigation, a conservation officer sided with the couple, praising them for sensitively restoring the brickwork to its original Victorian colour.

After eight years serving on the Tory backbenches, Brexiteer Mr Kwarteng’s ministerial career began less than four years ago.

He was called up to the Department for Exiting the European Union, but rose quickly to become a key member of Boris Johnson’s government, taking a place at the Cabinet table in 2021 as Business Secretary.

Said to be a ‘pragmatist rather than an ideologue’, the free-marketeer’s ministerial office allegedly boasts a large whiteboard on which are scrawled the letters ‘MSH’, standing for ‘making s*** happen’.

With the multiple challenges facing the new chancellor, it is a mantra that may serve him well.