The Colourful Life of Boris Johnson

Christened Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, he is known to the British public simply as “Boris”. Recognised by his trademark blonde, ruffled hair and famous for his record of gaffes and plum-voiced wit, he is one of Britains best known and contradictory politicians and is now a runaway favourite to become the UK’s next Prime Minister.

The journalist, historian and politician was born on born on June 19, 1964, in New York to English Parents, has Turkish ancestors and spent a formative part of his childhood in Brussels. His father Stanley, had been one of the first British bureaucrats appointed to work at the European Commission after the United Kingdom joined the bloc, in 1973. Although Boris’ upbringing has always been described as idyllic and privileged, according to his siblings, Brussels had been a deeply unhappy place for Boris as a child.

Johnson was a clever child and was awarded a King’s Scholarship to study at Eton College, the prestigious boys’ boarding school that has produced a phalanx of British prime ministers. He attended the University of Oxford where he read Classics and became president of the Oxford Union, a position held by former Conservative leader William Hague and ex-Prime Minister Edward Heath. He is the oldest of four successful siblings - he has two brothers and a sister. Politics and journalism run in the family. Boris’ brother, Jo Johnson, is also a Conservative politician following a career as an investment banker and as bureau chief at the Financial Time. His sister Rachel is also a prominent journalist. 

Like his political career, Boris’ career in the media was marked by controversy. His job as a reporter at The Times ended dramatically when he fabricated a quote from his godfather who was an Oxford historian. A couple of years later in 1989, he was appointed the Brussels correspondent at The Daily Telegraph where he made a name for himself mercilessly mocking what he saw as petty EU rules and regulations. His articles contained many of the claims widely described as “Euromyths”, including plans to introduce “euro coffins”, establish a “banana police force” to regulate the curved yellow fruit, and ban prawn cocktail crisps. He later became the assistant editor. In 1994, he became a political columnist for The Spectator, and in 1999 he was named the magazine’s editor, continuing in that role until 2006.

In 2001, Boris was selected for the Conservative seat on Henley-on-Thames in Oxfordshire and was embroiled in a scandal in his early years as a politician. In 2003, while still Spectator editor, he said the city of Liverpool revelled in a “victim status” over the 1989 Hillsborough disaster and blamed drunken Liverpool fans. He was forced to apologise for misrepresenting events. In the same year, Michael Howard gave Boris two new jobs after becoming the leader of the Conservatives - party vice-chairman and shadow arts minister. He was sacked from both in 2004 after assuring Mr. Howard that the tabloid reports of his affair with Spectator columnist Petronella Wyatt were false and an “inverted pyramid of piffle.” When the story was found to be true, he refused to resign. 

In 2008, Boris Johnson became the Mayor of London. The flamboyant MP gained notoriety for his idleness and sloppy dress sense. A keen cyclist, he introduced a public bicycle scheme called “Boris Bikes” which proved to be popular. During his 8 years as Mayor, he became embroiled in several controversies, including the failed garden bridge project which cost taxpayers £43 million. But despite the repeated mistakes and gaffes, people warmed to him and he continued to enjoy popularity in the eyes of his ardent supporters. Some critics, however, charged that Boris was less involved in his job as mayor than he was in self-promotion and his burning desire to be prime minister or, failing that, as he told his family a boy: “The world king”

Even before leaving the office of mayor, Johnson became the leading spokesman for the “Leave” campaign in the run-up to the June 2016, national referendum on whether the United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Union. This move made Boris a far more divisive figure. He also backed the infamous claim on the side of the bus that the UK was sending £350m a week to the EU, followed by “let’s fund our NHS instead”. When Britain officially voted to leave the EU and Cameron announced that he was resigning, Boris was a favourite to become the new prime minister. But in a shocking turn of events, he announced that he would not seek the office of prime minister after his ally Michael Gove announced his own candidacy. 

Theresa May ultimately emerged victorious in the race for prime minister. She appointed Boris as secretary of state for foreign and commonwealth affairs on July 13. Johnson was not a particularly effective diplomat and his two-year reign, marked by repeated gaffes and offensive comments, did his reputation no favours. In 2017, for example, he caused uproar after joking that Libya could be the next Dubai if it clears the "dead bodies away" first. In 2018,  His misleading comments about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe's purpose in visiting Iran saw the British-Iranian mother, jailed by Tehran, hauled before a court where his remarks were used as "proof" she had been engaged in "propaganda against the regime”. Johnson resigned as foreign secretary in July 2018 in a rebuke of May's approach to Brexit and became among her harshest critics.

Following Theresa May’s announcement that she would resign as Conservative leader on June 7, Boris stood in the leadership contest to replace her. His ambitious leadership bid suffered a blow when he was summoned to court over claims he lied in the EU referendum campaign - but the case has since been thrown out of the High Court and he remains the front runner by a large margin. Boris has said that he is willing to take the UK out of the EU without a deal and ahead of the nominations he announced that he would bring in a tax break for 3 million Brits in a bid to woo high earners. Boris is still hugely popular among conservative party members - more than half them back Johnson in the leadership race- but over the years he has become a polarising figure with a lot of baggage. If he is announced as the new Prime Minister in the second half of July, he will be faced with the daunting task of trying to finalise the UK’s break up with the EU, which is currently scheduled for October 31.

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