In Depth

Boris Johnson’s new baby: what it’s like to grow up in Downing Street

The prime minister and his partner Carrie Symonds announce birth of son

Boris Johnson and his fiancee Carrie Symonds have announced the birth of their son.

The baby was born at a hospital in London earlier this morning, with both Symonds and the baby “doing very well”, said a spokesperson for the prime minister.

The couple are “thrilled to announce the birth of a healthy baby boy” and “would like to thank the fantastic NHS maternity team”, the spokesperson added.

Symonds announced at the end of February that she and Johnson were engaged and expecting their first child together.

In a message on Instagram, Symonds wrote: “Many of you already know but for my friends that still don’t, we got engaged at the end of last year... and we’ve got a baby hatching early summer. Feel incredibly blessed.”

The 32-year-old and Johnson, 55, are the first unmarried couple to live in Downing Street, after taking residence last July, meaning the PM might become the first in 250 years to get married in office.

Johnson only returned to work yesterday for the first time after being hospitalised with the new coronavirus. Symonds also suffered symptoms of Covid-19 but did not need hospital treatment.

They spent time apart while Johnson recovered at Chequers in Buckinghamshire and Symonds self-isolated in Camberwell, South London, with their dog Dilyn, but moved back to No. 11 Downing Street at the weekend.

Johnson will take a “short period” of paternity leave at some point later this year, a Downing Street spokesman has said.

So what might the future hold for the new baby in the long-term?

Previous No. 10 babies

Theresa May is the only PM this century who has not brought school-age offspring to Downing Street or welcomed a new child while living there. 

Tony Blair’s wife Cherie gave birth to the youngest of their four children, son Leo, in 2000 while living at No. 10. In a 2007 interview, during the final days of his premiership, Blair said: “Downing Street and Chequers, it’s the only life he’s known.”

David and Samantha Cameron also welcomed a child, daughter Florence, shortly after moving into Downing Street in 2010. The couple had already had three children together, including Ivan, who died from a rare neurological disorder in 2009. 

Describing Florence’s early years in his autobiography On the Record, Cameron wrote: “‘Hello, Flo,’ beams the first police officer she passes, his finger on the trigger of a machine gun... This is the only world she has ever known.”

The former PM also recalled how the then chief of the defence staff arrived at No. 10 for a briefing, only to be confronted by a toddler Florence “sitting on the black-and-white checkered floor of the hallway, asking him, ‘What are YOU doing in MY house?’” 

Media scrutiny

As one of the most high-profile couples in the country, any birth announcement by a prime minister and their spouse is sure to spark a media frenzy.

Cherie Blair wrote in her autobiography Speaking for Myself that being an expectant mother in the media spotlight was “hard hard hard”.

Indeed, she says that after going into labour, knowing that the press was gathered outside the hospital stopped her contractions. “The thought of that phalanx of photographers was enough to freeze me,” the former first lady wrote.

The latest birth for No. 10 should guarantee equal levels of scrutiny for Symonds, who previously worked on Johnson’s London mayor re-election bid in 2012 and then as Conservative Party director of communications.

Symonds quit her Tory party role in 2018 and is now employed as an advisor to global marine protection charity Oceana. However, she has recently appointed a personal adviser, paid for from Tory party funds, to help with her other charitable work, says The Telegraph.

Work-life balance 

Cameron said that for his children, there was “no distinction between home areas and work areas, it was all theirs. It was one giant labyrinth to explore.”

Blair’s son Leo also made himself at home at No. 10, says former Times editor Peter Stothard in his book 30 Days, a diary of his time tracking the then PM in the lead-up to the Iraq War.

Recalling a war cabinet meeting that he was allowed to attended, Stothard writes that “in the half-darkness the rooms resemble the site of a hastily finished children’s party. The Thomas the Tank Engine train set is overflowing its box. At the bottom of the stairs, as though beguiling the prime minister to stumble, is a baby-sized drum kit with BAND in large letters on the bass.”

He also describes how after another meeting a week later, Leo brought his father a Wagon Wheel biscuit, which Blair shared with spin doctor Alastair Campbell.

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Family ties

Although other No. 10 residents have become parents to new babies during their stints in power, this time round “there is a crucial difference. The present ‘first lady’ of Downing Street will be its first first-time mother, according to records going back to the establishment of the role of prime minister in 1721”, says The Times

However, while Symonds is new to parenthood, “Boris occupies the other end of the spectrum”, the newspaper continues. “He will, notoriously, not confirm the number of his children from his multiple relationships; it is known that he has four with his second wife, offspring who will become adult half-siblings to the new addition.”

But with Johnson’s estranged wife said to be “in pieces” and their children “furious” at the news of his engagement to Symonds, according to the Daily Mirror, No. 10 may not be hosting any get-togethers between the extended family any time soon.

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