Boris Johnson’s family: a guide to his colourful relatives
The PM’s brother Jo Johnson quits as MP and minister in tumultuous week for Tories
Boris Johnson’s younger brother Jo Johnson quit as a Tory MP and minister today, saying he was “torn between family loyalty and the national interest”.
The Orpington MP, who was appointed business minister when his brother became PM in July, voted Remain in the 2016 EU referendum.
“It’s been an honour to represent Orpington for 9 years & to serve as a minister under three PMs. In recent weeks I’ve been torn between family loyalty and the national interest - it’s an unresolvable tension & time for others to take on my roles as MP & Minister. #overandout,” he tweeted.
David Gauke, one of the 21 Conservative MPs who had their whips removed earlier this week for voting against the Government, said: “Lots of MPs have had to wrestle with conflicting loyalties in recent weeks. None more so than Jo. This is a big loss to Parliament, the government and the Conservative Party.”
Jo is not the prime minister’s only well-known relative.
The Sunday Times has described the Johnsons as Britain’s “first fully fledged first family - close-knit but with the modern trappings of exes and half-siblings, in the Trumpian mould”.
Bar a few exceptions, most relatives of UK prime ministers have been “background figures”, says the newspaper: “Enter stage right the Johnsons.”
From an outspoken patriarch staunchly opposed to Brexit to a sister who switched parties to stand against the Tories – the Johnsons are a microcosm of the divisions that have ripped British society apart. Yet despite their differences, they remain a remarkably loyal family – with all the added intrigue that brings.
The “competitive, tight-knit, look-at-me Johnson clan” holds a place in British life “somewhere in the large, amorphous space between the Kennedys and the Kardashians”, says The New York Times.
Novelist and political commentator Robert Harris has revealed that they all call Boris “Al”, short for his actual first name Alexander, claiming he “is like some sort of public construct that is wheeled out” on non-family occasions.
Here is The Week’s guide to Boris’s clan:
Johnson’s first wife was Tatler cover girl Allegra Mostyn-Owen, daughter of Italian writer Gaia Servadio and art historian William Mostyn-Owen. She and Johnson met while studying classics at Oxford University and married at the age of 23 but divorced in 1993.
He later married Cambridge graduate and human rights barrister Marina Wheeler, daughter of BBC correspondent Sir Charles Wheeler and his Indian wife Dip Singh. The couple announced that their 25-year marriage had come to an end last September.
In May, The Sun suggested Johnson, who is still in the process of divorcing Wheeler, could become the first prime minister to wed in office in 250 years as he is reportedly planning to tie the knot with his PR guru girlfriend Carrie Symonds. Daughter of The Independent co-founder Matthew Symonds and Josephine Mcaffee, one of the newspaper’s lawyers, 31-year-old Symonds is a former director of communications at the Conservative Campaign headquarters and now works on Bloomberg’s ecological initiative Vibrant Oceans.
Johnson has four adult children with Wheeler: Lara Lettice, Milo Arthur, Cassia Peaches and Theodore Apollo. He also has another child, Stephanie, born in 2009 to arts consultant Helen Macintyre while he was still married to his second wife.
His mother Charlotte Johnson Wahl is a British artist. She read English at Oxford University and has painted work commissioned by collectors such as author Jilly Cooper.
His father is the author and conservationist Stanley Johnson, who was Conservative MEP for Hampshire East and the Isle of Wight in the first ever elections to the European Parliament. He backed Remain ahead of the EU referendum but has since said “the time has come to bail out”. (And he appeared on I'm a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here! in 2017.)
Johnson is the eldest of four. His sister Rachel is a staunch Remainer and joined Change UK to run in the latest European Parliament election. She is also a novelist, columnist, former editor of The Lady magazine and starred in Celebrity Big Brother in 2018. Like her father, she had to “perform a complicated jujitsu around her big brother’s candidacy”, says the NYT.
“Whether because of sibling loyalty, or because they have been warned to behave, or because they just want to burnish their personal brands in preparation for Boris’s ascent, the Johnsons appear to be taking the approach that blood is thicker than political conviction,” adds the newspaper.
His brother Jo, also a Remainer, was a journalist and investment banker before becoming MP for Orpington in 2010, serving in several ministerial roles under David Cameron and Theresa May. He quit as transport minister last November and called for a second referendum, before rejoining the government when his brother took over the party in July. He is married to The Guardian journalist Amelia Gentleman, who broke the Windrush scandal. Before attending Eton and Oxford, he began his schooling in Brussels at the European School in Uccle - and later did his postgraduate studies in Europe.
Johnson’s youngest brother Leo, who has an Afghan-born Muslim wife, describes himself as “the non-political one”, although he backed Remain and spoke out against Boris’s burka comments last year. He is the co-presenter of BBC Radio 4’s FutureProofing show and co-founded an advisory firm Sustainable Finance, which has been acquired by PwC Group.
The four Johnson siblings also have a half-brother, Maximilian, and half-sister, Julia, from their father’s second marriage to Jennifer Kidd. According to the Sunday Times, Julia has no interest in a career in politics, saying: “I have steered clear of any professional comparisons with my xanthic-haired, Roman-nosed, Latin-spouting relations.”