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Boris Johnson: An Unlikely Sex Symbol

He's no David Beckham

He's no David Beckham

Boris Johnson, fondly known as Bojo, is London’s colourful mayor, sometimes touted as a future Prime Minister, and without question Britain’s most popular politician, with approval ratings (particularly among women) that the likes of David Cameron and Leader of the Opposition Ed Milliband can only dream of. So what makes him so popular, and why, when he’s hardly blessed with the looks and body of David Beckham, do so many women fancy him?

Unlike most politicians, Boris doesn’t take himself seriously, which is probably why the British public have taken to him with such enthusiasm. Remember, this is the country that produced The Monster Raving Loony party and that once voted a bloke in a monkey suit as mayor of Hartlepool. (His campaign slogan? ‘Free bananas for schoolchildren’.) The truth is we just don’t like our politicians much – we don’t trust them, we don’t take them seriously and we most certainly don’t fawn over them. But Boris breaks the mould. His blustering, posh-boy slightly out-of-his-depth demeanour, coupled with an honesty not normally associated with politicians and a self-deprecating sense of humour, have endeared him to the British public. Don’t get me wrong – Bojo has his detractors all right – but he is widely considered a breath of fresh air compared to the glib, PR-dependent politicians we Brits have got used to since Tony Blair.

The boy who would be king - far right

The boy who would be king - far right

Boris’s Background

Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson (you can see why he shortened it) was born in New York in 1964, the oldest of four children. According to Andrew Gimson, author of Boris: The Rise of Boris Johnson, Boris’s childhood was one of ‘cut-throat meal-time quizzes, fearsome ping-pong matches, height, weight and blondeness contests’.

He was educated in Brussels and at Eton, before going up to Oxford, where he studied Classics. He became a journalist, writing for two right-wing British broadsheets, The Times and The Daily Telegraph, before becoming editor of The Spectator, a right-wing weekly. During that time he became known to a wider audience thanks to his appearances on the satirical BBC2 show Have I Got News For You, where his blundering ineptitude won the hearts of the British public.

In 2001 Bojo was elected Conservative MP for Henley, a smart west London suburb, and in 2004 he was appointed to the front bench as Shadow Minister for the Arts. His career was to come undone later that year when it was revealed that he’d lied about having a four-year affair with Petronella Wyatt, The Spectator’s New York correspondent. (As is usual with British politics, it wasn’t the affair that caused his downfall, it was the lies.)

He didn’t remain in the political wilderness for long – David Cameron appointed him Shadow Minister for Higher Education in 2005, and in 2007 he announced that he was a potential Conservative candidate for the London mayoral election due in 2008. He won two terms, comfortably, and oversaw a hugely successful London Olympics – the highlight of which was his getting stuck on a zip wire in Victoria Park surrounded by a gleeful, photo-snapping crowd. Most politicians would have curled up and died at that point, but not Boris. You could be forgiven for thinking it happened deliberately…

Yes, Boris has his detractors. In a now infamous interview in March 2013, Boris was savaged by BBC presenter Eddie Mair. When reminded of some of Boris’s wrongdoings – lying about the affair with Petronella Wyatt, falsifying a quotation and wrongly attributing it to his own godfather, and offering to find the address of a journalist a friend wanted to have beaten up, Mair asked him, ‘You’re a nasty piece of work, aren’t you?’

Boris responded the following day with typical aplomb: 'He was perfectly within his rights to have a bash at me – in fact it would have been shocking if he hadn't. If a BBC presenter can't attack a nasty Tory politician what's the world coming to?'

Boris Bikes

Boris is a keen cyclist who regularly cycles to work and has pledged to make London a more cycling-friendly city. He introduced a bike hire scheme, officially called Barclays Cycle Hire but more affectionately known as Boris Bikes. During an interview with French TV he told the bemused reporter that Boris Bikes were the Rolls Royce of bicycles, while comparing ‘Velib’, the Parisian original, to a Deux Chevaux.

Would you take him home to meet your mum?

Would you take him home to meet your mum?

Boris, nasty? Surely not?

Former Spectator editor Max Hastings, writing in the Daily Mail puts it like this: ‘Most politicians are ambitious and ruthless, but Boris is a gold medal egomaniac. I would not trust him with my wife nor – from painful experience – my wallet… His chaotic public persona is not an act – he is, indeed, manically disorganised about everything except his own image management. He is also a far more ruthless, and frankly nastier, figure than the public appreciates.’

Sonia Purnell, author of Just Boris: a Tale of Blond Ambition, questioned his haplessness in The Observer: ‘Those wonderfully spontaneous bumbling speeches…are meticulously planned. Former staff reveal how the pauses, the non sequiturs, the rambling tangents are studiously prepared; the most successful jokes and "off-the-cuff" Boris-isms are rehearsed and recycled.’

On his ability to have one-to-one relationships, she continues: ‘One former female aide recalls how she dreaded car journeys with him as conversation would either be painfully stilted or simply non-existent. At gatherings, it has been his habit to avoid one-to-ones and escape the embarrassing intimacy of such encounters by constantly introducing people to someone else.’

Don't think much of yours

Don't think much of yours

Boris’s Tangled Love Life

So Boris is overweight, bumbling and avoids getting close to anyone. He’s also an inveterate philanderer who loves posh, intelligent women. He’s been married twice – his first marriage, to Allegra Mostyn-Owen, lasted six years but was dissolved in 1993. That same year he married Marina Wheeler, and they have four children, all of which they’ve lumbered with posh/showbiz names: Lara Lettice, Milo Arthur, Cassia Peaches and Theodore Apollo.

His four year affair with Petronella Wyatt resulted in her having an abortion. During their affair it was alleged they used to hire taxis and give the driver a cassette to play of Wyatt singing Puccini. (Whatever turns you on). Then there was a 2005 dalliance with Anna Fazackerley, a journalist on the Times Educational Supplement, and he is alleged to have fathered a love-child in 2009 with (married) art consultant Helen Mcintyre, who worked for him in an unpaid capacity.

So why do women fancy him? Sonia Purnell again: ‘I have seen women blush like schoolgirls if he approaches them. He has a rock star quality with a touch of Bill Clinton in his ability to make some women feel like the only person in the world for the brief period that he talks to them.’

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And clearly this appeal transmits even to those who haven’t met him. In a recent survey British women were asked to reveal their secret crushes – the men they were slightly embarrassed to fancy. Boris came third with 12% of the vote.

Boris Bites

Some of Bojo’s memorable quotes. (With thanks to the Daily Mail)

On Tony Blair

"It is just flipping unbelievable. He is a mixture of Harry Houdini and a greased piglet. He is barely human in his elusiveness. Nailing Blair is like trying to pin jelly to a wall."

On being sacked by Michael Howard

"My friends, as I have discovered myself, there are no disasters, only opportunities. And, indeed, opportunities for fresh disasters."

On how to vote

"Voting Tory will cause your wife to have bigger breasts and increase your chances of owning a BMW M3."

On why he voted for David Cameron as Tory leader

"I'm backing David Cameron's campaign out of pure, cynical self-interest."

On becoming Prime Minister

"My chances of being PM are about as good as the chances of finding Elvis on Mars, or my being reincarnated as an olive."

Boris the Author

When not clowning around, Boris has actually written several books. Among them are:

The Spirit of London (2012) – Life of London updated to include The Olympics 2012

Johnson's Life of London: The People Who Made the City that Made the World (2011) – a biography of a city

The Bigger Book of Boris edited by Iain Dale (2011) – a collection of Boris jokes and quotes

The British (2008) – what it is to be British

Have I Got Views For You (2008) – a collection of articles written in The Spectator and The Telegraph

Life in the Fast Lane: The Johnson Guide to Cars (2007) – articles from his GQ motoring column

The Dream of Rome (2007) – a history of the Roman empire

Seventy-Two Virgins (2005) – a comedy political novel

Lend Me Your Ears (2003) – a collection of articles written in The Spectator and The Telegraph

Friends, Voters, Countrymen (2002) – on how to become a politician

Much of Boris’ charm is that he looks and acts ridiculous. That unruly mop of white-blonde hair, the heavy figure, the ill-fitting clothes, the stumbling, gaffe-riddled sentences – but don’t be taken in by this. This is the boy whose stated ambition was, after all, to be ‘world king’. Underestimate the man’s intelligence and ambition at your peril.


Diana Mincher on June 09, 2019:

With respect, its going to take the electorate all its got to get him to stand down from being PM-we might have to impeach him or put him on a plane to Moscow?

Viva Jones (author) from UK on May 23, 2013:

Hi Lisa, thanks for commenting. He's a strange one but he does grow on you - not sure if women think he's vulnerable (he's not!) or just needs looking after?

lisa42 from Sacramento on May 22, 2013:

Sounds like an interesting character. But sex symbol? Not for me.

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