Boris Johnson Biography

Boris_JohnsonBoris Johnson is a leading Conservative Politician. He served as Mayor of London for two terms 2008-16, overseeing the 2012 London Olympics. He also played a leading role in the 2016 “Vote Leave” campaign on the EU referendum, afterwards becoming Foreign Secretary. He is one of Britain’s most high profile politicians, renowned for his eccentric approach to life. He has been touted as a potential future leader of the Conservative party.

Early life of Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson was born on 19th June, 1964. His full name is actually, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, but chooses to use the shortened version of Boris.

Boris is the son of Stanley Johnson, who is descended from Turkish ancestry and a former member of the European Parliament. Boris was educated at Eton, and Balliol College, Oxford University, where he studied classics. During his time at Oxford University, he became president of the prestigious Oxford Union. It is claimed that he was the preferred candidate of the Social Democrat party, although Boris claims he was never an active participant in the centre-left party. During his time at Oxford, he also became involved in various drinking clubs, such as the Bullingdon Club. This drinking society was associated with a “Hurray Henry” mentality. Boris has maintained this impression of being an Oxford toff, into his political and public life. In his own words Boris has said:

“A wise guy playing the fool to win” [2]

The media have often referred to him as “Bozzer”.

On graduating from Oxford he spent one week as a management consultant, before having to resign he memorably said:

“Try as I might, I could not look at an overhead projection of a growth profit matrix, and stay conscious” [3]

boris johnsonInstead he pursued a career in journalism. In 1987 he worked as a journalist for the Times, but he was sacked from the Times by editor Charles Wilson for inventing a quote by historian Colin Lucas. After the Times, he moved to the Telegraph were he was appointed to Brussels to cover European issues. At the Telegraph he carved out a niche – writing humorous, Europsceptic articles, which were warmly received by the Telegraph readership. Johnson was criticised by fellow journalists for writing untruths and making up stories to discredit the European Commission. However, the articles had a powerful impact on UK politics, increasing tensions within the Conservative Party, and raising the profile of Euro scepticism.

In 1999, his profile led him to be hired as editor of the Spectator, His position  led to considerable controversy. Not least, over an editorial criticising the people of Liverpool for being “overly sentimental” in response to the murder of British hostage Ken Bigley. The editorial created uproar in Liverpool; Boris Johnson was forced by his party leader Michael Howard to travel to Liverpool to apologise for his behaviour. Boris did go to Liverpool though he faced a frosty reaction.

Boris Johnson as MP

boris johnsonIn 2001, Boris Johnson was elected a MP for Henley on Thames, replacing Michael Heseltine. In 2004 he was appointed shadow minister for the arts. However in November 2004, he was forced to resign over allegations of an extra marital affair with Petronella Wyatt. In 2005, he was reprieved and given the position of shadow minister for education. In 2006, allegations of another extra marital affair arose, but David Cameron did not consider it sufficient to deserve a sacking. In 2015, he was elected MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip.

Boris Johnson and Mayor for London

In July 2007, Boris Johnson resigned from his position as shadow education secretary so that he would be free to stand as Conservative candidate for Mayor of London. He was successful in beating the incumbent Ken Livingstone. As Mayor of London, Boris Johnson has forged a strong political identity, often criticising his own party, for example over placing a cap on housing benefits, which hurts London more than other areas. Describing his own political views, Johnson states:

“[I am] free-market, tolerant, broadly libertarian (though perhaps not ultra-libertarian), inclined to see the merit of traditions, anti-regulation, pro-immigrant, pro-standing on your own two feet, pro-alcohol, pro-hunting, pro-motorist and ready to defend to the death the right of Glenn Hoddle to believe in reincarnation.”

Boris Johnson

From 2008-16, Johnson served as Mayor of London becoming one of the highest profile politicians in the UK. He has often been rumoured as a credible leadership candidate for the Conservative party, though he often denied this. In 2012, Johnson was re-elected Mayor of London, again defeating Ken Livingstone.

How did Boris Johnson become Mayor for London?

  • Developed high media profile through appearance on TV
  • Ability to turn gaffes into public relation successes.
  • An appeal to young people across traditional party boundaries.
  • Gave impression of charismatic and unique personality, an increasing rarity in modern politics.
  • It was partly a backlash against the Labour government in 2007, but primarily because of Johnson’s personal profile. It is rare for Conservatives to do well in London.
  • Ken Livingston had his own high public profile after 8 years in the job, but there was some desire for a change

Boris Johnson and Cycling

Boris is well known for his love of cycling and frequently commutes to work through the busy streets of London. As mayor of London he implented an exisiting idea to provide hire bikes in London. For a time, they became known as the “Boris Bike”.

He has had many bikes stolen and has written extensively on the injustice of bike theft. For example, he notes that on having a bike stole people usually respond by criticising the cyclist for not taking sufficient precautions or buying a bike that is too flash. He admits that he has fantasised over leaving dummy bikes as bait for thieves and then setting the Navy Seals on to the criminals.

Boris Johnson and Have I got News for You

In 1998 Boris Johnson first appeared on Have I Got News for You. His appearance was considered a success, and he was invited back for future episodes and also twice to host the show. Johnson’s comedy persona of playing the ‘Upper Class Twit’ made him a media celebrity and raised his profile beyond the political class. Usually the show lasts for 30 minutes. With Boris in the chair there were frequent pauses and extra time getting through questions. Merton and Hislop affectionately refer to Johnson as “Wodehousian”, and agree that “every time he’s on it gets better”.

Some of his quotes from the show include:

“We’re moving irresistibly towards a conclusion.”

“Badgers badgers badger badger badgers.”

“There may be a reason I can’t think of but the problem with that reason is that I can’t think of it now.”

“I think I was once given cocaine but I sneezed so it didn’t go up my nose. In fact, it may have been icing sugar.”

“I could not fail to disagree with you less.” [1]

– Boris Johnson, Have I Got News for You

Boris Johnson and London Olympics

Boris was a key figurehead for the successful 2012 London Olympics. Even getting stuck on a high wire, did Boris no harm. At the end of the London Olympics, Johnson said:

“But I suppose there are two emotions – one is obviously some sadness that it is all over, because it’s been an amazing experience, but also a great relief because there is no doubt it has been a prodigious exertion by London and by Londoners.”

Boris Johnson and EU Referendum

In February 2016, Boris Johnson announced he would back the Vote Leave campaign. His decision to support Vote Leave rather than the PM’s ‘Remain’ campaign was seen as a highly influential decision – as his high profile could swing many undecided voters. Johnson, who had previously spoken of the benefits of the Single Market, stated it was a difficult decision. Indeed Boris Johnson wrote two articles – one supporting Leave, one supporting Remain. He stated he wrote two different articles to help make up his mind. Critics argued it should his insincerity and some feel his decision to support Vote Leave was partly motivated by belief it would help best his political career.

On the eve of the Referendum, Johnson appeared on a live TV debate and declared 23 June could be “Britain’s independence day”. Against many expectations, Britain voted to leave EU by a majority of 52% – 48%. After the result, the Prime Minister David Cameron resigned, leading to a leadership campaign for the Conservative Party. It was expected Boris Johnson would be the front-runner as he was the most popular with party activists. However to many people’s surprise, his fellow Vote Leave campaigner Michael Gove announced his decision to stand, causing Johnson to re-evaluate and unexpectedly announce he would not stand after all. In the end, Theresa May, who nominally supported Vote Remain was chosen as party leader.

Despite differences with Theresa May, she appointed Johnson as Foreign Secretary.

Citation: Pettinger, Tejvan“Biography of Boris Johnson”, Oxford,, 11th Feb, 2013. Updated 3rd February 2017.

Books on Boris Johnson

Johnson’s Life of London

Boris Johnson has authored several books  on Ancient Rome, Winston Churchill and a best selling account of the history of London.

Book Cover



[1] 2004 winner of the Foot in Mouth Award from the Plain English Campaign, for his comment on the 12 December 2003 edition of Have I Got News For You [1]

[2] Boris Johnson, Sunday Times, 16 July 2000, p. 17.

[3] The Herald (Glasgow), 13 November 2004, p. 15.

Boris Johnson Links

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