Page last updated at 16:38 GMT, Sunday, 4 May 2008 17:38 UK

The Boris Johnson story

Boris Johnson at the launch of his mayoral campaign

By Brian Wheeler
Political reporter, BBC News

In an age of on-message machine politicians, Boris Johnson - who has just been elected mayor of London - is a one-off.

Often described as a buffoon, even by his admirers, his bumbling, self-deprecating persona has long made him one of the best known politicians through his appearances on TV chat shows.

Age: 43
Marital status: Married with four children
Political party: Conservatives
Time as MP: Has represented Henley in Oxfordshire since 2001
Previous jobs: Editor of The Spectator; assistant editor and Brussels correspondent of The Daily Telegraph; television host

He has the typical upper class English background of Eton public school, Oxford University and a father who is a Conservative politician.

But he is no stereotypical aristocrat - he was born in New York and was a US citizen until recently, his early schooling was in Brussels, he is descended from a minister in the Ottoman Empire and his children are, as he put it, a quarter Indian.

Nothing about the 43-year-old now given huge powers over one of the world's great cities is as straightforward as it appears.

His academic records prove him to have powerful intellect, while colleagues and friends attest to an equally powerful sense of ambition.

And yet he has also had an unerring ability to sabotage his own career with his sense of fun - and apparent refusal to take things too seriously - proving his undoing on more than one occasion.

Idyllic childhood

Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson (he is still known to family members as Al) was born in New York to English parents in 1964 and was, until recently, an American citizen.

He is of Turkish descent. His great-grandfather, Ali Kemal, a Turkish journalist, was briefly interior minister in the government of Ahmed Tevfik Pasha, Grand Vizier of the Ottoman Empire.

His grandfather Osman Ali settled in the UK in the 1920s and changed his name to Wilfred Johnson.

Mr Johnson appears to have had an idyllic childhood spent, in part, on the family farm on Exmoor.

Boris Johnson
"Try as I might I could not look at an overhead projection of a growth-profit matrix and stay conscious" - on his week-long career in management consultancy
"Voting Tory will cause your wife to have bigger breasts and increase your chances of owning a BMW M3" - on the campaign trail in 2004
"If I was in charge I would get rid of Jamie Oliver and tell people to eat what they like" - striking a blow for the right to eat pies at the 2006 Tory conference. He later described Oliver as a "national saint"
"I think if I made a huge effort always to have a snappy, inspiring soundbite on my lips, I think the sheer mental strain of that would be such that I would explode" - on his unique political style
"I think I was once given cocaine but I sneezed and so it did not go up my nose. In fact, I may have been doing icing sugar" - after being questioned on Have I Got News for You about drug use
"I will add Papua New Guinea to my global itinerary of apology" - after suggesting the country was known for "chief-killing and cannibalism"
"I have not had an affair with Petronella. It is complete balderdash. It is an inverted pyramid of piffle" - on press reports of his relationship with Ms Wyatt

The Johnsons were a close-knit, boisterous clan, forever trying to outdo each other at table tennis or general-knowledge quizzes, or even who could learn to read the fastest.

In competition with his brother and two sisters, Boris always had to come out on top, but his ambition did not end there.

Asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, he would say: "The world king."

In the early 1970s his father, Stanley, moved the family to Brussels after landing a job at the European Commission, in charge of pollution control.

Boris attended the European School in the Belgian capital, where he befriended his future wife Marina Wheeler, daughter of BBC journalist Charles Wheeler.

But in 1973, with his parents' marriage falling apart, he headed off to boarding school in England.

He shone at Ashdown House Preparatory School in East Sussex, developing a lifelong passion for the Classics and winning a scholarship to the UK's best-known public school, Eton, where he quickly made an impression.

His headmaster at the school which Prince William and Prince Harry were later to attend, Sir Eric Anderson, was also Tony Blair's housemaster during his schooldays at Fettes - often dubbed the Scottish Eton.

Sir Eric could spot similarities between the two future politicians.

"Both of them opted to live on their wits rather than preparation," he told Mr Johnson's biographer, Andrew Gimson.

"They both enjoyed performing. In both cases people found them life-enhancing and fun to have around, but also maddening."

But unlike Mr Blair, Mr Johnson did not rebel against the system.

"Boris wasn't a rebel at all - a satirist and a humorist rather than a rebel," added Sir Eric.

'Old duffer'

In 1983, Mr Johnson arrived at Balliol College in Oxford to study the Classics.

"The bumbling quiz-show host isn't the real Boris at all. I suspect he's tired of that clownish persona and wants to show us the real Boris - orator, leader, heavyweight thinker. Those qualities are there in his personality; they just don't come across on telly" - journalist friend Lloyd Evans
"Like all politicians, he is sometimes required to talk anodyne or disingenuous rot, but unlike the remainder, he cannot keep a straight face while doing this" - Spectator columnist Rod Liddle
"Despite manic self-absorption, he is a really nice guy. He conveys a vulnerability which, allied to his gift for laughter, does much to explain his appeal to girls" - ex-Telegraph editor Max Hastings
"Boris wasn't a rebel at all - a satirist and a humorist rather than a rebel" - Sir Eric Anderson, headmaster at Eton
"You're a self-centred, pompous twit; even your body language on TV is wrong. You don't look right, never mind act right. Get out of public life!" Paul Bigley, brother of Iraq hostage Ken, tells Boris off on BBC Radio Merseyside

The 19-year-old was obsessed with politics, and Oxford proved to the perfect place to learn his trade.

He was already known for his sense of humour and his bumbling "old-duffer" persona - but he also displayed a ruthless streak in his pursuit of his political aims.

He even briefly spurned his Conservative allegiances in favour of the then fashionable SDP as part of his successful campaign to be president of the Oxford Union.

He was also elected to the elite Bullingdon Club, famed for its hard-drinking, riotous behaviour.

Fellow members included his close friend Charles Spencer, younger brother of Diana, Princess of Wales, plus the future Tory leader David Cameron.

In one group photograph - which would later come back to haunt him - Mr Johnson is pictured lounging decadently in his 1,200 Bullingdon Club tailcoat, alongside Mr Cameron.

The Bullingdon Club was infamous for trashing local restaurants, before handing over a cheque to cover the damage.

Finding a wife

Evidence of Mr Johnson's involvement in such wild antics is hard to come by, although he has been more candid on the subject of drug use.

He has owned up to smoking cannabis as a teenager and has made jokey references to taking cocaine, saying on Have I Got News for You: "I think I was once given cocaine but I sneezed and so it did not go up my nose. In fact, I may have been doing icing sugar."

Boris Johnson in Liverpool
"Operation Scouse Grovel", as it was dubbed, turned into an ordeal

Halfway through his first year, he met and fell in love with Allegra Mostyn-Owen, a fellow student who also modelled for Tatler in her spare time.

In 1987 - when they were both just 23 - he married Allegra in a grand ceremony at a Shropshire stately home, complete with an opera singer and a string quartet.

According to Andrew Gimson's account, Mr Johnson managed to turn up in the wrong clothes - walking down the aisle in trousers belonging to Tory MP John Biffen - and lost his wedding ring within an hour of receiving it.

The marriage lasted less than three years, by which time Mr Johnson was beginning to make a name for himself as a journalist in Brussels.

'Biggest cock-up'

His first attempt at forging a career, as a trainee management consultant, lasted a week.

"Try as I might I could not look at an overhead projection of a growth-profit matrix and stay conscious," he later recalled.

His career in journalism very nearly fell at the first hurdle too, after he was sacked by The Times for making up a quote.

Boris Johnson
The media discovered a new character in "Boris" and his gaffes

He had been trying to spice up a dull story about an archaeological dig but the editor - and the history don he "quoted", who also happened to be his godfather - failed to see the funny side.

He described the episode in an interview with The Independent in 2002 as his "biggest cock-up".

Luckily for him, the then Daily Telegraph editor, Sir Max Hastings, was prepared to overlook this indiscretion.

He took on Mr Johnson as a leader writer and then the newspaper's Brussels correspondent.

Sir Max was impressed by his young protege's energy, intelligence and unique personality.

'Flashes of instability'

"Over the next few years, he developed the persona which has become famous today, a facade resembling that of PG Wodehouse's Gussie Finknottle, allied to wit, charm, brilliance and startling flashes of instability," Sir Max wrote recently in The Observer.

Mr Johnson took to his new role with relish, merrily debunking the stuffy European institutions his father had served as a commissioner and Tory MEP.

But disaster loomed again, when a tape surfaced of an old Oxford friend Darius Guppy, who had been convicted of fraud, asking him to help locate a witness.

"He did not say yes, but neither did he say no," recalled Sir Max who interrogated him about the tape which had been sent to the Telegraph anonymously.

"He evoked all of his self-parodying skills as a waffler. Words stumbled forth...never intended...old friend...took no action...misunderstanding," added Sir Max in the Observer.

He said he was satisfied Johnson had not been guilty of any impropriety and "dispatched him back to Brussels with a rebuke".

His career at the Telegraph blossomed and he was promoted to assistant editor and chief political columnist.

Romantic pursuit

He was, by now, married to Marina Wheeler, his childhood friend from Brussels, who had become a successful barrister.

The two had never quite lost touch and after his divorce from Allegra, he set about pursuing her with characteristic persistence.

Their first child, Lara Lettice, was born in 1993, with three more children - Milo Arthur, Cassia Peaches and Theodore Apollo - following in quick succession.

Mr Johnson's journalistic career was now going from strength to strength and he had also developed an unlikely sideline as a TV personality, after an appearance on the BBC panel show Have I Got News for You in 1998.

Words poured from him - motoring columns, after-dinner speeches, TV documentaries, even a novel. Collections of his newspaper columns became bestsellers.

But it was not enough. He still harboured political ambitions.

Boris Johnson
The blond hair and the bicycle are Mr Johnson's trademarks

He had stood unsuccessfully for the Conservatives at the 1997 general election, in the Labour stronghold of Clwyd South.

Two years later, when he was made editor of The Spectator, he told its proprietor at the time, Conrad [now Lord] Black, he would give up politics to concentrate full-time on the magazine.

But he continued to agonise over his decision in private, confessing to friend Charles Moore: "I want to have my cake and eat it".

In 2001 he stood for Michael Heseltine's old seat, in Henley in Oxfordshire, and won.

But with The Spectator continuing to publish articles which proved embarrassing or irritating to some of his new Parliamentary colleagues it was, perhaps, only a matter of time before Mr Johnson came unstuck.

It was an unsigned Spectator editorial, accusing the citizens of Liverpool of wallowing in their "victim status" over the murdered Iraq hostage Ken Bigley, which finally did it.

The Tory leader at the time, Michael Howard, resisted calls to sack Mr Johnson. He had what turned out to be a far worse fate in mind - and dispatched his errant culture spokesman to Liverpool to apologise to the entire city.

The mission quickly descended into farce, however, as he was pursued by a media pack hungry for more gaffes. One reporter described it as an "Ealing comedy".

On a radio phone-in he was given a humiliating dressing down by Paul Bigley, brother of Ken, who told him: "You're a self-centred, pompous twit; even your body language on TV is wrong."

'Pyramid of piffle'

Mr Johnson bumbled his way through it as best he could.

"Are you trying to save your political career," shouted one journalist. "I haven't got a political career," came the reply.

Boris Johnson
Appearances on Have I Got News for You earned him a new following

He endured the ordeal, which he later dubbed "Operation Scouse Grovel", with good grace.

But he was sacked by Mr Howard a few weeks later in any case, for allegedly lying over an affair with journalist Petronella Wyatt - something he vehemently denied.

When challenged about the relationship by the Mail on Sunday, Mr Johnson denied everything, calling stories about it an "inverted pyramid of piffle".

He suffered the indignity of being thrown out of the family home - and was hounded by the tabloid press as he went for a run wearing a skull-and-crossbones bandana.

Mr Johnson was seen as good copy, always ready with an amusing quip or a fresh piece of buffoonery, but any hopes of climbing higher up the political ladder seemed to be over.

Celebrity status

In 2006, he had to apologise to an entire country after suggesting in a Telegraph column that Papua New Guinea was known for "cannibalism and chief-killing". He ruefully promised to add the nation "to my global itinerary of apology".

Boris Johnson tackles a German footballer
Mr Johnson made headlines by mistaking football for rugby

He was a major celebrity, recognised wherever he went. But he was becoming better known for his supposed gaffes - and subsequent apologies - than anything he had achieved as an MP.

The man who had dreamed of being in the Cabinet by the age of 35 watched as Mr Cameron, an Eton and Oxford contemporary two years younger than him, grabbed the Tory leadership.

Mr Cameron handed his old friend the junior role of higher education spokesman on the condition that he gave up editing The Spectator, which had seen its circulation soar under his guidance.

There was a new sense of seriousness about the way Mr Johnson tackled the higher education brief.

But his irrepressible refusal to remain on-message - coupled with the media's insatiable appetite for his antics - was to reach new heights at the 2006 Tory party conference in Bournemouth.

School dinners

A crusade by TV chef Jamie Oliver to improve school dinners had been praised by Mr Cameron at the start of the conference.

So when Johnson told a fringe meeting "if I was in charge I would get rid of Jamie Oliver and tell people to eat what they like", it was seized on by the media as another howler.

Marina Wheeler and Samantha Cameron
Mr Johnson's wife Marina (left) went campaigning with Samantha Cameron

Reporters - bored by a lack of stories elsewhere that day - began to gather outside the party's press cubicle, when word got round that the man himself was inside.

The media scrum that followed dwarfed all previous outbreaks of Borismania.

He later claimed he had been misquoted, describing Oliver as a "national saint".

Mr Cameron decided to make a joke of it, telling delegates that Conservatives did not mind people "going off-message".

"We love it, actually," he said, but added: "Just don't do it all the time!"

London mayor

Mr Johnson had once again demonstrated his pulling power, by upstaging the party leader at his first conference in charge.

But what did it all mean for his political career? Was he destined to a life on the margins, a colourful sideshow to the main event?

With hindsight, the job of London mayor seemed the ideal outlet for his talents.

But he was not persuaded to throw his hat into the ring until the very last minute.

Mr Cameron had been determined to draft in someone from outside the party, preferably a well-known celebrity, to take on Labour incumbent Ken Livingstone as part of his efforts to broaden the Conservatives' appeal.

Boris Johnson on Room 101
Mr Johnson has always been willing to send himself up on television

But when those efforts came to nothing, he turned to the party's own in-house celebrity.

There was no question Mr Johnson had the energy and the charisma to take on Mr Livingstone, the mayor since 2000, but did he have the discipline to avoid putting his foot in it?

The party was not taking any chances. It drafted in Lynton Crosby, the tough Australian who had masterminded Mr Howard's 2005 general election campaign, to keep him in line.

Mr Johnson knuckled down to the job of proving he was a serious candidate, displaying hitherto unseen levels of discipline and grasp of policy detail.

Opponents began to wonder what had happened to "old Boris" - when, they wondered, was he going to make some outrageous gaffe or turn in befuddlement to an aide, as he had done on a previous occasion, and ask: "What is my policy on drugs?"

Of course there will be the odd indiscretion
Boris Johnson

But he was having none of it.

"There is no distinction between the old Boris and the new Boris. They are indivisible, co-eternal... consubstantial," he would reply testily when challenged about his new, serious persona.

He said that the media had a "pent up rage" after spending the campaign "deprived of their prey - a Johnson blooper".

He has stressed he is serious about running London and making "Greater London greater". But as he put it in a BBC interview after winning the election: "Of course there will be the odd indiscretion."

Yes, given his track record, it seems likely that the next four years with Mayor Boris will be anything but dull.

Boris Johnson The Boris Story
A look at the colourful life and times of London's new mayor, Boris Johnson.
Gordon Brown Brown's fightback
The PM admits mistakes but says Labour can recover

  Councillors Councils
Party +/- Total +/- Total
CON 257 3155 12 65
LAB -334 2365 -9 18
LD 33 1804 1 12
PC 31 205 -1 0
OTH 10 898 0 0
NOC - - -3 64
159 of 159 councils declared.

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London Mayoral results
Overall results
Name Party Votes
Johnson CON 1,168,738
Livingstone LAB 1,028,966
Paddick LD 878,097
Berry GRN 409,101

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London Assembly Results
Overall results
Party Constit' Top-up Total seats
CON 8 3 11
LAB 6 2 8
LD 0 3 3
GRN 0 2 2
BNP 0 1 1

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