Janet Street-Porter interviews Boris Johnson

Janet Street-Porter tracks down Boris Johnson ahead of the London mayoral elections and quizzes him on drugs, infidelity and Ken...

Born in New York, Boris came to London when he was five and briefly attended state school before going on to Eton and then Oxford. He’s had an excellent career in journalism, editing The Spectator for six years and, at the same time, becoming MP for Henley. He works very hard, but he’s legendary for putting his foot in it. Behind the buffoonish exterior, Boris is deeply ambitious, and he’s become the most famous Conservative in the country.

He’s also been put forward by the Tories as their candidate for mayor of London – and the race, which will be decided on 1 May, looks like it’s going to be close. A load of famous artists, from Anthony Gormley to Banksy, have donated work to be auctioned to raise funds for [current London mayor] Ken Livingstone’s campaign for re-election. Elton John and David Furnish held a fund-raising dinner for the Lib Dem candidate Brian Paddick. So, I start by asking which celebrities Boris has rooting for him…

BJ I’m not going to win this election with a handful of celebrities; I’m going to win by appealing to all Londoners, whatever their background. I’m getting a huge response on the street – people want someone who is going to take a positive approach to issues like disorder and crime.
JSP [I can hardly get a word in edgeways now, as Boris has launched into his manifesto.]

What a mayor can do is think about what is happening to the urban environment, the kids that are growing up in it and the nightmare choices they’re making: the way they’re getting sucked into gangsterism, not only destroying themselves but causing real damage to the fabric of society and all the rest of it.

What do you think when our Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, says that she’s too frightened to walk the streets of north London at night?

It’s ridiculous that she said that. I send my kids on the Tube.

Three of your kids go to private schools and one goes to a state school? [Boris is visibly uncomfortable with this line of questioning.]


That’s not exactly a vote of confidence in London’s state education, is it?

There is a real issue for parents who want to educate their kids in London. The point I want to make is really about transport. It is far more scary than it should be.

You’ve decided to run for mayor. If you’re not successful, where does that leave you?

It’s a possibility I don’t even contemplate. I’m going to win it.

But haven’t you got a problem in that the press still harp on about ‘Boris the buffoon’?

No, I think that’s changed.

How does your wife feel about Andrew Gimson’s biography of you? [Boris: The Rise of Boris Johnson details Boris’s affairs.]

I don’t want to say anything.

Have you taken a vow of fidelity during your election campaign?

I think people in London don’t give a monkey’s.

But your wife might.

She’s wonderful, and I really don’t think the public cares about this. What they want is someone with energy and commitment and passion.

I agree, but they might want someone with all that energy and passion going into the job, and not into bonking someone down the road.

[Laughs.] Janet, they want someone with energy and commitment and passion for the job, and that’s what I can deliver.

Are you prepared for what’s going to be slung at you as this election campaign gets under way? Your past is going to be raked over. What about drugs? In an interview, you said, ‘I’ve snorted coke, but I sneezed.’

I thoroughly disagree with drugs, and…

You smoked dope before you went to university.

That’s true, but the stuff you and I may have smoked is not the same as what the kids are having now. I think skunk and this stuff is very, very dangerous.

Well, you’re a father and you’ve got four children.

I don’t want my kids having drugs.

Some of the kids at their school may be taking drugs, Boris, even if it’s a posh school.

I don’t want kids to take drugs. And I think, as a society, we need to be very rigid about this.

So, how do you lay down the law at home?

[Sighs.]. You can sense if something is up and… I don’t want to talk about it, actually. But, as far as I’m aware, there’s nothing to worry about at the moment.

You said in interviews that you’ve snorted coke.

Well, that was when I was 19. It all goes to show that, sometimes, it’s better not to say anything.

I don’t think you have that choice because, in a political campaign, everything you’ve ever said or done is going to be picked up. Tell me, can you remember losing your virginity?

I can, but I just don’t think it would be appropriate to talk about it. The public don’t give a monkey’s about all that.

But they might be interested if you were having an affair. They might say, ‘He’s supposed to be mayor, and he’s got this big family. How can he have a fling on the side?’ What will you say to the electorate?

I’m going to work extremely hard to give complete dedication to the people of London.

You’ve earned a lot of money over the last few years from books and telly appearances. Are you earning as much money now you can’t do them?

I don’t want to go down that route, but the true answer is yes.

You earned shed loads before. I remember reading you’ve earned over £500,000 on top of your MP’s salary.

I think you’re exaggerating.

Tell me what your hobbies are. When we were both on Have I Got News for You, you said you did watercolours.

I love painting. And I write poems. In fact, I brought out a book of my poems. Have you not got it?

What is it? Love poems?

Unfortunately not.

This is an edited version of the full feature, which appears in the May 2008 issue of Marie Claire, on sale this Thursday.

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