I think that Johnson (pictured in Manchester on Saturday) became a famous and successful politician because of his character defects, not despite them
It was a poignant entrance for Boris Johnson into Downing Street last week. He had to walk the road he has sought all his life without Marina Wheeler, his wife of 26 years – who is divorcing him – and their four children.
They were not present to witness the realisation of all his dreams; instead his girlfriend, 31-year-old Carrie Symonds, was there. If you study Johnson’s character, it is not unexpected.
I think that Johnson became a famous and successful politician because of his character defects, not despite them. They are, in a world with a hunger for personal drama, thrilling. He is not, despite his undeniable gift for words (he can make any line fly), an important thinker.
That is why Michael Gove and Dominic Cummings will run his government. He is a character, a mascot, an archetype to make you feel brave and happy – as he is at his best – if you don’t look too deeply. That is his secret.
You don’t win over the Conservative Party in a leadership election as a proven liar and an adulterer with an unknown number of love-children unless you have seduced them and done it so successfully that they believe it will also seduce the electorate in a General Election. Jeremy Hunt was the safe pair of hands and Boris saw him off by a two-to-one margin. The party went gambling this summer. It is infectious.
Johnson is, in psychological terms, a Don Juan: the man who longs to be loved but cannot, in the end, tolerate it, and so destroys it, rather than bear his own shortcomings.
I prefer to analyse a man’s actions, not his psychological imperatives, particularly if they hold Britain in their hands, but in Johnson they cannot be separated. That is why he is fascinating.
Johnson (pictured) is not, despite his undeniable gift for words (he can make any line fly), an important thinker. That is why Michael Gove and Dominic Cummings will run his government
Sonia Purnell’s marvellous biography, Just Boris, tells the story. His father Stanley was also a compulsive adulterer. His mother, Charlotte, a gifted artist, was made ill by it. She was regularly hospitalised for depression and the family was cast to the four winds – to boarding schools. This clearly scarred Boris, but it made him too: he developed charm, buoyancy, and energy. He likes women, particularly clever women, and longs for their affection – he is very winning in person – but he cannot stay anywhere for long.
His first wife, Allegra Mostyn-Owen, while living with him in Brussels when he was a foreign correspondent, often did not know where he was, and only found out when she read his dispatches in the newspaper.
The marriage was over almost before it began. Tellingly, he lost his wedding ring within an hour of his wedding; he was soon committed to his childhood friend Marina. His betrayals of Marina – with writer Petronella Wyatt and art consultant Helen Mcintyre, who had their daughter – are many. He betrayed his mistresses too. He lied to them about his intentions. I wonder if he even meant to – I suspect these love affairs were more castles in the air – but he did.
It is often said that the better you know Johnson, the less you like him; you understand that underneath the gifts – underneath the dazzling creation – there is little that is constant. In his personal life he has left a trail of anguish, and the evidence was the absence of his family on the pavement last week.
It is often said that the better you know Johnson, the less you like him; you understand that underneath the gifts – underneath the dazzling creation – there is little that is constant
He has many gifts though, to see him through his chaotic life: and he needs them. I have watched Johnson campaign, and it is an amazing sight. In the London mayoral elections, in which he managed to seduce a Labour city twice, I watched him hold an elderly woman’s hand and say – or rather growl – ‘Promise never to vote for anyone else.’
He gave her the very direct stare that says, ‘If only we were alone I might dare to kiss you!’ I was surprised she did not fall over. (Equally tellingly, his poor young female aide got very wet holding an umbrella over him. He appeared not to notice.) He was adored everywhere he went. No one asked about policy on his walkabouts; the Mumsnet hustings, which should have enquired into his feminist credentials – which are negligible – descended into mass flirtation.
Last week, as his police protection stood aside to let him pose for selfies with excited fans, we saw how he will campaign in a General Election: with jokes and longing looks and stunts in which he mocks himself because it is charming.
He will treat it as one long romantic tryst with the British public. The question is: will he run out on us? It will be interesting. I give it that.