Magazine article The Spectator

Having Your Cake, Eating It and Selling It

Magazine article The Spectator

Having Your Cake, Eating It and Selling It

Article excerpt

BORIS by Andrew Gimson Simon & Schuster, £17.99, pp. 277, ISBN 0743275845

When Boris Johnson was selected as the Conservative candidate for Henley in 2000, a year after being made editor of The Spectator, he called up Charles Moore and asked for his advice on how to handle Conrad Black, the magazine's proprietor. The problem was that Boris had given him his word that he would not try to become an MP. After listening to Boris ramble on for a bit, Moore grew impatient and asked him what it was that he wanted.'I want to have my cake and eat it, ' he said.

What is remarkable about Boris Johnson, and the reason this biography is so fascinating, is that he has more or less been granted this wish. At Oxford, he became President of the Union in spite of being hopelessly unprepared for every debate he ever took part in. He was fired from the Times for making up a quote, and then immediately landed a better job on the Telegraph. After his first appearance on Have I Got News For You he wrote a scathing exposé of the programme -- and ended up as a guest presenter. He was sacked from the Conservative Shadow Cabinet for 'lying' to the leader, only to be given another front-bench job the following year. Perhaps most astonishingly, he is still married to Marina Wheeler, a prominent divorce lawyer, in spite of having had a very public affair with Petronella Wyatt.

At Eton, one of his masters chided him for thinking he was someone to whom the rules of society did not apply: 'I think he honestly believes that it is churlish of us not to regard him as an exception, one who should be free of the network of obligation which binds everyone else.' But the point about Boris is that he is an exception.

(Conrad Black's response on discovering the extent of his employee's treachery was to throw a party celebrating 'the Boris Phenomenon'. ) Throughout his life, Boris has been able to get away with things that the rest of us would have been hung, drawn and quartered for.

This biography is a case in point.

Andrew Gimson struggles manfully to produce a warts-and-all portrait -- every scandalous episode is dealt with in meticulous detail -- yet his affection for his subject shines through on every page. …

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