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CV POV

The UK’s new prime minister has a resume that would make anyone think twice

Boris Johnson, a leadership candidate for Britain's Conservative Party, attends a hustings event in Colchester, Britain July 13, 2019.
REUTERS/Peter Nicholls
He’s a winner.
  • Adam Rasmi
By Adam Rasmi

Reporter

The Conservative Party’s 160,000 members have elected Boris Johnson as party leader and thus prime minister of the UK. His immediate mandate will be to manage the country’s scheduled departure from the EU on Oct. 31, smooth relations with major powers like the US and China, and attempt to redeem the UK’s standing on the global stage after years of internal political upheaval.

Johnson, the overwhelming favorite to win, secured 66% of the vote against his rival, foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt. The former foreign secretary and London mayor has earned descriptions as wide-ranging as “colorful,” “moppy-haired,” “bumbling,” and a fun combination of “self-belief and self-sabotage.” He brings to the role three decades of experience in politics, journalism, car reviewing, and even game show hosting.

Here’s a look at Johnson’s CV:

Full name

Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson.

Provenance

Born in New York City on June 19, 1964 to British parents, Johnson spent his first five years in Manhattan while his father was studying economics at Columbia University. Johnson renounced his US citizenship in 2016, likely to avoid the capital gains taxes Uncle Sam levies on expat American citizens. He has English, French, Swiss, Russian and Lithuanian Jewish heritage, and his paternal great-grandfather was a prominent Turkish journalist and politician.

Education

1977-1982: Attended Eton College on scholarship. One of the country’s most elite boarding schools, Eton has educated 20 other prime ministers.

1983-1987: Student in classical literature, history, and philosophy at Balliol College, Oxford University. His results fell short of a coveted first degree (equivalent to getting a 4.0 GPA in the US)—a shortcoming “he has never forgotten,” according to a former tutor.

Experience

1987: Trainee Management Consultant, L.E.K. Consulting. Johnson found this role insufferably boring and lasted one week. “Try as I might, I could not look at an overhead projection of a growth profit matrix and stay conscious” he told magazine Management Today years later.

1987-88: Graduate Trainee, The Times. Family connections helped Johnson land this job but he lasted less than a year—he was sacked for inventing a quote, attributed to his godfather, on his first front-page story.

1989-1994: Brussels correspondent, The Daily Telegraph. Fluent in French after moving to Brussels with his family aged nine, Johnson covered the European Economic Community, a precursor to the EU. Johnson had a penchant for writing exaggerated stories and pushing the agenda that Europe threatened the UK’s way of life. Some notable headlines affixed to his pieces from this era include: “Threat to British pink sausages,” and “EC cheese row takes the biscuit.”

1994-present (intermittently): Columnist, The Daily Telegraph. Johnson returned to London and moved on from reporting. His columns were alternately praised for their eclecticism and criticized for their ham-handedness. In one, he referred to the “watermelon smiles” of Africans (something he has both apologized for, and defended, as “wholly satirical”). Johnson was forced to give up his column in 2016 to become foreign secretary; he rejoined the paper last year to write a weekly column for an annual salary of £275,000 ($339,000).

1998-2006: Guest, Have I Got News for You. Johnson first appeared in the comedy BBC quiz show in April 1998. He would return multiple times, including as a host, until at least 2006—introducing him to a wider audience.

1999-2005: Editor, The Spectator. Johnson took the helm of the magazine, then owned by Conrad Black, on the condition he gave up his political ambitions (he would break his promise two years later). Circulation under Johnson grew—but political predictions under his watch often missed the mark.

1999-2008: Motoring columnist, GQ. Johnson was dubbed by one writer as “once the world’s worst car journalist,” in part over the strangely sexual overtones in his automobile reviews. He irritated editors for routinely filing late copy, racking up steep parking fines, and even occasionally losing test vehicles.

2001-2008: Conservative MP, Henley. Johnson’s name recognition helped him win the Conservative candidacy and parliamentary seat in Oxfordshire.

2008-2016: Mayor of London. Johnson resigned his post as MP for Henley to run for leadership of the UK’s largest city. His first policy initiative in London was barring booze on public transport, and he oversaw a successful 2012 Summer Olympics. But charges of profligacy and failed projects dogged his tenure. He served two terms before stepping down in 2016.

2015-present: MP, Uxbridge and South Ruislip. He returned to parliament in the constituency of Uxbridge and South Ruislip, which overlapped with his time as mayor.

2016-2018: Foreign Secretary, UK Cabinet. Johnson was appointed to the role by prime minister Theresa May after he played an influential role in the Leave campaign, which narrowly came out on top in the 2016 Brexit referendum. The move was interpreted as a means to neutralize Johnson politically—reining in the post by creating a separate minister to handle Brexit negotiations. Johnson resigned from the job in July 2018 in protest of May’s proposed EU withdrawal agreement.

2019-?: Conservative party leader, UK prime minister. Like his predecessor, Johnson’s time will be dominated by Brexit. He has vowed the UK will leave the EU on Oct. 31, with or without an agreement in place. Johnson has said his willingness to allow a no-deal exit would bolster his bargaining position with the EU, though Europeans say they won’t renegotiate.

Selected works (and reviews)

2004: Seventy-Two Virgins: A Comedy of Errors. A political comedy, it centers around a bumbling UK lawmaker who foils an assassination plot against the US president.

“What a huge disappointment—I love Boris, but this book is SO bad I can’t get past the first fifty pages. As Terry Wogan says, ‘Life is too short to waste on bad books, go and read something else’. I almost never give up on a book, but this one is now in the paper rubbish. I can’t even give it to a charity shop (why inflict it on someone else?) Sorry!”—Amazon reviewer

2007: Life in the Fast Lane: The Johnson Guide to Cars. Another comedic work, Johnson dishes on what it was like to drive sports vehicles like the Jaguar XKR-R, the AC Cobra V8, and more.

“I hate this book! If anyone wants it they can have my copy for free! In fact it’s so bad I might just give it to a charity shop or even better…might burn it and make a video of it and upload it to youtube. Boris is like to Jeremy Clarkson like what Bill gates is to Steve Jobs! Enough said!”—Amazon reviewer

2007: Perils of the Pushy Parents—A Cautionary Tale. A self-illustrated book of poetry about two kids, Molly and Jim, who rebel against their overachieving parents and the high expectations they have for them.

“I got bored reading it so never got to the end, I like Boris but this one wasn’t for me.”—webjunky, Amazon reviewer

2014: The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History. Johnson was keen to draw parallels to himself in his book about the wartime UK prime minister.

“I gave up on this book halfway through because I got fed up of Boris inserting himself constantly in the narrative. “Look how clever I am. Not unlike Churchill eh?” If I want to read about Boris (I don’t) I’ll buy his biography.”—Amazon reviewer

Languages

Johnson is reportedly fluent in French, Italian, and Latin. He also speaks some German and Spanish.

Hobbies

Making cardboard models of buses. “I get old wooden crates and then I paint them,” he told The Guardian during one particularly offbeat interview. “I put passengers—you really want to know this?—and paint the passengers enjoying themselves on the wonderful bus.”

References

“I like him. I think we’re going to have a great relationship.”—Donald Trump, US president

“I have huge admiration for him.”—Michael Gove, Conservative MP

“The Tories’ best hope.”—James Forsyth, Spectator political editor

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