Who is Carrie Symonds - and how much power does she wield?
Zac Goldsmith rebuffs claims that Boris Johnson’s fiancee has too much influence in No. 10
Supporters of Carrie Symonds have rushed to rubbish fresh claims that she has too much say in key decisions in Downing Street.
The Mail on Sunday alleged yesterday that Boris Johnson’s fiancee had been pressing for the removal of Environment Secretary George Eustace. The paper’s Dan Hodges wrote that “it’s an open secret within Westminster how Ms Symonds’s influence extends over government”.
No. 10 has denied the claims, while Tory peer Zac Goldsmith said the “fabricated” speculation was “dunked in 1950s sexism”.
What is Symonds’ background?
Daughter of The Independent co-founder Matthew Symonds and Josephine Mcaffee, one of the newspaper’s lawyers, she grew up in southwest London and attended the private Godolphin and Latymer School.
In 2007, at the age of 19, Symonds was targeted by serial rapist John Worboys, who used his job as a black cab driver to offer his victims spiked drinks and then assault them while they were passed out or semi-conscious.
Symonds later found out about Worboys’ other victims and was among those who expressed outrage when a parole board ordered his release, eventually forcing a High Court ruling in 2018 to keep him behind bars, reports The Times.
Symonds studied at Warwick University and graduated with a first-class honours degree in art history and theatre studies. She joined Conservative HQ as a press officer in 2009, where the “gregarious, intelligent, ambitious, strong-minded and attractive” Symonds “quickly made a name for herself”, according to the Daily Mail.
How did she meet Johnson?
Symonds first met Johnson in 2012 when she was seconded to work on his London mayor re-election campaign, later becoming director of communications at Conservative Campaign headquarters.
“Eyebrows were raised” in March 2018 when social media posts revealed that Johnson, and his colleagues Michael Gove and Sajid Javid, had attended her “alcohol-fuelled 30th birthday bash”, says The Telegraph.
Johnson announced in September 2018 that he was divorcing his second wife, barrister Marina Wheeler, “swiftly thrusting the MP’s intimate relationship with Symonds into the spotlight”, says the newspaper.
The pair are believed to have hosted a champagne and canape party just before New Year’s Eve. “At one point, guests saw Boris drape himself around Carrie before leaning in for a kiss,” claims The Sun on Sunday, which in January published photographs showing Symonds “cheekily tweaking the ex-foreign secretary’s bottom in the street”.
Symonds dominated the headlines in the summer of 2019 amid reports that police were called to her house following an alleged bust-up with Johnson. Neither of them commented on the incident and police said no action was taken as all occupants of the address were “safe and well”.
On 29 April last year, the couple’s son Wilfred Lawrie Nicholas Johnson was born, just two weeks after the prime minister left hospital after falling seriously ill with Covid-19.
Their planned marriage will be the third for Johnson, who split with his first wife, Allegra Mostyn-Owen, in 1993 and agreed a divorce settlement with second wife Wheeler in February 2020.
How much influence does she have?
Symonds quit her role at Tory HQ in August 2019 to join Bloomberg as PR for the media giant’s ecological initiative Vibrant Oceans. She then took up a new role as head of communications at wildlife charity The Aspinall Foundation in February this year.
But while almost two years have passed since she left her day job at Downing Street, the extent of Symond’s political influence there is still hotly debated.
In February, Conservative think-tank The Bow Group called for an independent inquiry into her “possible influence” in government. “Media reports have claimed she advises the PM on an informal basis - from issues of animal welfare through to who to appoint in key roles - and that she clashed with his former chief adviser, Dominic Cummings,” the BBC noted at the time.
And according to the new claims by The Mail on Sunday, Symonds also tried to have Eustace moved from his role as environment secretary because he was “seen as being too close to the farmers and insufficiently robust on her cherished animal welfare issues”.
However, Goldsmith has insisted that the allegations are “the opposite of the truth” and were fabricated to “pour hate and bile” on her.
The latest row comes after Cummings published an explosive blog post on Friday that accused Johnson of being reluctant to implicate the source of a leak in his staff because of their friendship with Symonds - a claim that No. 10 has also denied.