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Sunday, 23 July, 2000, 11:26 GMT 12:26 UK
Boris Johnson: Tory blond bombshell
By Andrew Walker of the BBC's News Profiles Unit

Boris Johnson's appointment as editor of The Spectator was likened by one wag to "entrusting a Ming vase to the hands of an ape".

In one way, the comment was not far off the mark: Boris Johnson is a larger-than-life figure with a mop of straw-coloured hair straight from the pages of Just William. He comes across as a hearty, archetypal Young Fogey, even somewhat of a buffoon.

Johnson in a pub
"Like an ape with a Ming vase"
But Boris Johnson should not be under-estimated. His louche demeanour disguises a formidable intellect. A talented Classicist, he became Brackenbury Scholar at Balliol College, Oxford, and was an assistant editor at The Daily Telegraph at the tender age of 30.

Under his leadership The Spectator has continued to be Britain's most successful political weekly, with a circulation of 60,000 and an annual profit of 1m.

Now he finds himself the Conservative Party's parliamentary candidate for Henley - that rarest of political commodities, a safe Tory seat, and the domain of another vivacious blond, Michael Heseltine, since 1974.

The similarities between the two men are obvious. Besides their hair, both were President of the Oxford Union and both have the star quality so sadly lacking in current British politics.

Dark forces dragged me away from the keyboard

Boris Johnson explains the lateness of his work
There, though, the comparison falls down. Johnson is as Euro-sceptic as Heseltine was Europhile. Strange for a man whose father, Stanley Johnson, was an enthusiastic Member of the European Parliament and who, despite having fathered six children, is a noted advocate of population control.

Boris Johnson made his reputation as The Daily Telegraph's witty and feisty Brussels correspondent, exposing what he perceived as the rot at the heart of the European Commission years before the whole structure suffered death and resurrection in 1999.

He had earlier been sacked from The Times for falsifying a quotation from his uncle which he believed would not be noticed. It was and he went.

Addressing a meeting in Henley
Addressing supporters in Henley
His disorganised lifestyle and tardiness with copy is legendary, indeed he once explained the lateness of his work by claiming that "Dark forces dragged me away from the keyboard, swirling forces of irresistible intensity and power".

Like his fellow Tory Euro-sceptic, Michael Portillo, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson has impeccable family connections to both the Continent and the liberal establishment.

His grandfather was the last interior minister in the Imperial Turkish government, his first wife, Allegra, is the daughter of the art dealer Gaia Servadio and Marina, his second wife and mother of his four children, is the daughter of the distinguished journalist Charles Wheeler.

His personal friends include Earl Spencer, brother of the late Diana, Princess of Wales. Another, the convicted fraudster Darius Guppy, once telephoned Boris Johnson asking for the address and telephone number of a News of the World reporter who had been investigating him, making it clear that he wanted to beat the reporter up.

He is a very peculiar person

Peter Wilby, Editor, New Statesman
Though no aspersions have been cast upon his character, Boris Johnson replied: "Okay, Darrie, I said I'll do it, and I'll do it."

When those words came back to haunt him, during an appearance on the television show Have I Got News For You, he hit back decisively by claiming that the free-flowing wit which characterises the programme was, in fact, totally scripted.

For all his bonhomie, there seems to be a certain vitriol in Boris Johnson's character which only the courageous or foolish would provoke.

Johnson appearing on the BBC's Question Time
A regular TV pundit
But, even with a safe seat in the bag, why should a high-flying journalist give it all up for the arguably less-important role as House of Commons lobby-fodder?

Peter Wilby, editor of The Spectator's arch-rival, The New Statesman, says, "Boris Johnson is a very peculiar person and politics is a very peculiar profession." He believes that Johnson will only bring "an obsession with the euro and anti-European politics" to the political scene.

But, with the debate on European integration and a single currency set to take off after the next general election, Boris Johnson may be well-placed to capitalise on his new-found status as a politician.

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14 Jul 00 | UK Politics
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