Britain’s coronavirus death toll surged past 10,000 today, marking a grim milestone in the country’s epidemic.
A further 737 people have lost their lives, bringing the total number of fatalities to 10,612 as of Easter Sunday.
Cases also hit 84,279 after an additional 5,288 tested positive in the last 24 hours following 18,000 new tests, down slightly from yesterday.
Only the United States, France, Italy and Spain have officially broken the 10,000-death threshold, making the UK among the worst-hit places on the planet.
A top scientist today warned that more people could lose their lives in Britain than any other country in Europe, as the public was braced for further deaths.
Amid today’s bleak figures, there was a glimmer of good news as Boris Johnson was discharged from hospital after fighting for his life with the disease.
Speaking from Downing Street before heading to his Chequers country retreat in Buckinghamshire for bedrest, the Prime Minister said: ‘It is hard to find the words to express my debt to the NHS for saving my life.’
He rallied the nation and vowed: ‘Together we will overcome this challenge, as we have overcome so many challenges in the past.’
As Britons spent an unprecedented Easter Sunday under lockdown:
- The Prime Minister’s pregnant fiancée Carrie Symonds thanked ‘incredible’ NHS staff in ‘dark times’;
- Boris Johnson’s half brother Max, 35, slammed the care his elder sibling received in Downing Street when slef-isolating as a ‘shambles’;
- Actor and comedian Tim Brooke-Taylor died aged 79 after contracting coronavirus;
- Ex-Bank of England governor Lord King said some schools and business should reopen;
- The Queen stressed the importance of maintaining the coronavirus lockdown, but insisted: ‘Easter isn’t cancelled; indeed, we need Easter as much as ever’;
- Police faced renewed criticism for being heavy-handed as it emerged that 1,084 fines have been issued for breaches of coronavirus lockdown rules;
- Cabinet Ministers are divided between the ‘hawks’ who want Britain to leave lockdown early in May and the ‘doves’ who want to delay lifting the restrictions until the summer;
- This newspaper has found that the laboratory in Wuhan at the centre of scrutiny over Covid-19 carried out research on bats from a cave that scientists believe is the original source of the pandemic;
- A leading Tory MP accused a China-backed company of seeking to exploit the crisis to ‘launch a raid on British technology’;
- A new ‘online school’ is being planned to cater for children facing months out of the classroom as Minister plan a ‘phased return’ for some pupils after half-term;
Amid today’s bleak figures, there was a glimmer of good news as Boris Johnson was discharged from hospital after fighting for his life with the disease
His pregnant fiancee Carrie Symonds tweeted her praise for staff at St Thomas’s Hospital, adding: ‘There were times last week that were very dark indeed
Only the United States, France, Italy and Spain have officially broken the 10,000-death threshold, making the UK among the worst-hit places on the planet.
Each individual nation earlier released their own daily figures, which differ slightly from the Department of Heath UK total due to data collection differences.
NHS England announced a further 657 deaths, including 42 with no known underlying health problems, taking the its total to 9,594.
The youngest to die in English hospitals was 26 and the eldest was 100, both believed to suffer existing medical issues.
Wales recorded a further 18 deaths, raising the fatality tally to 369. An additional 367 people have tested positive, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 5,297.
Scotland reported an extra 24 deaths which puts the nation’s death tally at 566 and a total of 5,912 people have tested positive for the virus.
The number of people with coronavirus who have died in a hospital setting in Northern Ireland has risen to 118, with 11 further deaths reported on Sunday.
There were 89 new cases of the virus, bringing the total of confirmed positive tests in the region since the outbreak began to 1,806, officials said.
His time in the care of the NHS included three nights in intensive care receiving oxygen treatment at a tense nation waited for news of his condition.
Mr Johnson, 55, will now head to his official country residence of Chequers in Buckinghamshire to rest, with a spokesman saying that ‘on the advice of his medical team, the PM will not be immediately returning to work’.
As his release was revealed, his pregnant fiancee Carrie Symonds, 32, tweeted her praise for staff at St Thomas’s, adding: ‘There were times last week that were very dark indeed.
‘My heart goes out to all those in similar situations, worried sick about their loved ones.
‘I cannot thank our magnificent NHS enough. The staff at St Thomas’ Hospital have been incredible. I will never, ever be able to repay you and I will never stop thanking you.’
Because the PM will need time to recover, it means that Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is likely to remain in day-to-day charge of running the Government, for the time being at least.
He will now head to his country retreat of Chequers in Buckinghamshire to rest, with a spokesman saying that ”on the advice of his medical team, the PM will not be immediately returning to work’
One of his first acknowledgements that the energy-sapping disease was taking its toll on the PM came during the daily 9.15am morning coronavirus meeting on April 2, when he started coughing and branded the disease a ‘b****r’ (pictured, one such meeting on March 28)
An anonymous member of his family likened the recovery to a biblical resurrection, and upon hearing he had been discharged from critical care made a timely Easter allusion, saying: ‘He is risen’. Pictured: PM with sister Rachel and father Stanley in 2012
Intensive care unit at Derriford Hospital in Plymouth held up individual signs which read ‘get well soon Boris’
Devouring his Tintin books (one such story, left) in bed, Number 10 advisers have now reportedly turned their attention to how to tell their determined boss he needs time to recover (right, a well-wisher displays a sign)
PM’s half brother slams Downing Street care
Boris Johnson’s half brother Max has branded the Prime Minister’s coronavirus treatment a ‘shambles’ after claiming he was not examined by a doctor before hospitalisation
Boris Johnson’s half brother has branded the Prime Minister’s coronavirus treatment in Downing Street a ‘shambles’ after claiming he was not examined by a doctor before hospitalisation.
Max Johnson, 35, said his elder sibling’s medical care during his 10 days in self-isolation had been woeful.
In a rare intervention, the Hong Kong-based businessman weighed in after the PM was moved from intensive care and was last night revealed to be making ‘very good progress’.
Casting a withering eye over the PM’s stint in isolation, Max told CNN: ‘From what I gather, and I wasn’t there, no one asked a doctor to mask up and physically examine him the whole time – more than 10 days.’
‘He’d tested positive so there was no doubt what he was dealing with. The word ‘shambles’ comes to mind.’
He added it was ridiculous that the head of government is flanked by a phalanx of bodyguards but is not examined by a medic.
Responding to the remarks, a Number 10 source stressed that the PM had been in contact with his doctor and had access to medical advice when he was confined to his Downing Street flat.
It came as friends revealed how close the Prime Minister had been to death.
They relayed a message from the premier who said he owed his life to the NHS medics and added: ‘I can’t thank them enough.’
Indeed, a delighted member of his family likened the recovery to a biblical resurrection, and upon hearing he had been discharged from critical care made a timely Easter allusion, saying: ‘He is risen’.
When ‘the boss’ was first moved into intensive care on Monday night, cabinet colleagues took to the airwaves to assure the stricken PM would pull through and hailed him a ‘fighter’.
But behind closed doors, his team of ministers and advisers exchanged private calls where they were forced to swallow the grim reality that the PM’s chances were on a knife-edge at ’50-50′.
Crushed aides who eulogise Mr Johnson as the glue binding together a tight-knit Downing Street team were even moved to prayers.
After three nail-biting nights, they finally celebrated as the physically drained but ‘euphoric’ PM was released from intensive care and moved back into a general care ward.
The hospitalisation of the country’s head of government hammered home the indiscriminate nature of the virus and shook ministers to the core.
One cabinet member told the Sunday Telegraph: ‘It took us all by surprise. We all think we’re sort of invincible.’
Devouring his Tintin books which tell the adventures of a Belgian journalist – Mr Johnson made his name as a correspondent in Brussels – the PM is thankfully on the road to recovery and is being boosted by scans of his unborn baby sent by his fiancée Carrie Symonds.
Number 10 advisers have now reportedly turned their attention to how to tell their determined boss he needs time to recover.
‘It will have been a shock and hopefully enough to convince him that he needs to take it easy,’ a source told the Sunday Times.Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is likely to continue deputising for the PM and will hold on to the reins of government as the UK’s epidemic reaches its peak.
When Mr Johnson first began self-isolating with the disease on March 27, he had a stripped-back workload but continued taking his red box and steering the government’s crisis response.
One of his first acknowledgements that the energy-sapping disease was taking its toll came on April 2, the day before his seven-day isolation period ended, during the daily 9.15am morning coronavirus meeting.
After coughing over videolink from his Number 11 flat, Mr Johnson told his Covid-19 taskforce: ‘I’ve got it and, I can tell you, it’s a b****r this thing,’ according to the Telegraph.
When the PM was moved out of intensive care on Thursday following three days of oxygen treatment, a member of his family compared his recovery to the resurrection and remarked: ‘He is risen’, according to the Times.
His condition was described as ‘exhausted but euphoric’, the Sun on Sunday reports.
While in hospital, Mr Johnson has been boosted by a love letter from his fiancee, Carrie Symonds, which included a scan of their unborn child.
The Prime Minister plans to recuperate at Chequers after his release from hospital but his allies insist he will control the vital process of when – and how – Britain emerges from the lockdown.
One source told the Times: ‘Who is going to make the speeches conditioning the nation for the big decisions and lifting national morale, if not Boris?’.
Speaking at the daily press conference yesterday, Home Secretary Priti Patel said: ‘It is vital that our Prime Minister gets well. We want him to get better and he needs time and space to rest, recuperate and recover.’
Overnight, the PM’s half brother Max Johnson, 35, branded the care the premier received while self-isolating in Downing Street a ‘shambles’.
In a rare intervention, the Hong-Kong based businessman told CNN: ‘From what I gather, and I wasn’t there, no one asked a doctor to mask up and physically examine him the whole time – more than 10 days.’
‘He’d tested positive so there was no doubt what he was dealing with. The word ‘shambles’ comes to mind.’
The PM’s steady recovery came as fears grew of a surge in deaths.
The government has begged the public to stay indoors, but still this weekend police were forced to have words with people enjoying the good weather in parks.
Ministers have been warned that coronavirus is now affecting more than 15 per cent of care homes, with many deaths in the social care sector not included in the current total.
Meanwhile, the Government apologised for a lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for health workers after medical groups accused Health Secretary Matt Hancock of implying that it had been wasted.
Announcing that 19 NHS workers had died since the Covid-19 outbreak began, Mr Hancock said he didn’t want to put ‘blame on people who have used more PPE than the guidelines suggest because I understand the difficulties in the circumstances. What I would say it is very important to use the right PPE and not overuse it.’
Taking questions during her first appearance at the daily virus press conference yesterday, Ms Patel was challenged about the shortage of PPE.
She said: ‘I’m sorry if people feel that there have been failings. I will be very, very clear about that, but at the same time, we are in an unprecedented global health pandemic right now.
‘It is inevitable that the demand for PPE and the pressures on PPE are going to be exponential. They are going to be incredibly high. And of course we are trying to address that as a Government.’
Dame Donna Kinnair, General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said no piece of PPE could ever be ‘more precious a resource than a healthcare worker’s life, a nurse’s life, a doctor’s life’.
Hinting that Parliament may have to be convened virtually, Ms Patel admitted: ‘There are many discussions and I can’t really elaborate any further on those discussions about how Parliament will resume and function’.
Meanwhile, America reached an unwanted milestone as it became the first country in the world to record more than 2,000 deaths in a single day. Brazil became the first in the southern hemisphere to exceed 1,000 in a 24-hour period.
By contrast, Sweden – which has rejected tough social distancing measures – recorded just 17 new deaths from coronavirus, its lowest daily rise in a fortnight.
Doctors waiting at St Thomas’s hospital for Boris Johnson to arrive only realised he wasn’t coming when they saw him clapping the NHS on TV, reveals HARRY COLE, as he shares the dramatic inside story of the PM’s coronavirus battle
Medics were expecting Boris Johnson to be rushed to hospital three days before he was finally admitted – and only realised that he wasn’t coming when they saw him clapping for the NHS that evening on their television screens.
The doctors at St Thomas’ Hospital in London were wearing full protective clothing on Thursday April 2 after managers warned they could expect Mr Johnson to arrive at short notice.
But then they saw the Prime Minister applauding from the steps of No11 Downing Street at 8pm.
Mr Johnson was boosted by a love letter from his fiancee, Carrie Symonds, which included a scan of their unborn child (pictured together)
As Mr Johnson continued his recovery last night, friends finally conceded just how desperately ill he had been by the time he was taken into intensive care on Monday.
He was so unwell that he believes he owes his life to the care he received from the NHS.
For days after it was announced on March 27 that the Prime Minister had tested positive for the coronavirus, Mr Johnson’s symptoms were described as ‘mild’.
But after struggling through the 9.15am Covid-19 ‘War Cabinet’ meeting on April 2, the PM conceded that he could not shake his persistent cough and temperature and would not be ending his seven-day isolation as scheduled the next day.
In frank talks with both his doctor and his private secretary, Martin Reynolds, insiders say he agreed to a significantly reduced workload and was sent to his bed.
A Government source described Mr Johnson as ‘resistant’ to the idea of going into hospital for fear of it looking like he was receiving preferential treatment, but Downing Street last night insisted that he acted on the advice of his doctors.
It was agreed on April 2 that he would remain in self- isolation above No11 with his symptoms reviewed on Saturday morning.
However, Ministers, aides and friends now say privately that he should have gone into hospital much earlier. ‘It was clear he was in a terrible state all week,’ said one.
According to NHS sources, the team at St Thomas’ were already ‘scrubbed up and in PPE’ [personal protective equipment] at a secret entrance to the hospital on Thursday evening when they were told that the PM was no longer coming.
Preparations had followed a clearly defined plan created by NHS chiefs after news that the then Prime Minister Tony Blair had been admitted to Hammersmith Hospital with a heart scare in October 2003 was leaked to the media.
The protocol set out how the PM would use a secret entrance and take a designated route along sealed corridors and lifts to a private ‘magic room’ on level 12. A secure computer system would be used to ensure his medical notes were inaccessible to all but a tight group of experts.
By Saturday April 4, the check-up quickly established that Mr Johnson’s condition had worsened. Mr Reynolds ‘cleared the PM’s diary completely’, but by the following afternoon it was clear there was no choice but to take him to hospital.
A source said Mr Johnson was conscious when he arrived, but ‘very, very unwell’.
He was put on oxygen via a tube through his nose within ten minutes of arrival.
Concerned by the possible public reaction to the PM’s incapacitation, Downing Street described his admission as a ‘precautionary step’ for tests, adding that Mr Johnson would be receiving a ministerial red box so he could continue to work from his hospital bed.
In reality, his condition worsened throughout Sunday evening and Monday. An added complication was the poor mobile phone reception at the hospital, coupled with a warning to Mr Johnson not to use the public wi-fi for security reasons.
Hancock repeats claims of PPE over use
Health Secretary Matt Hancock speaking this morning
A row has erupted between the Government and nurses after Matt Hancock again cautioned coronavirus medics against overusing personal protective equipment.
The Health Secretary insisted there was enough protective clothing to meet demand, but urged health workers to treat the gear like a ‘precious’ resource.
His remarks doubled down on comments made at yesterday’s Downing Street press briefing where he responded to reports from the frontline of a dire shortage of protective equipment.
Royal College of Nursing’s Donna Kinnair said no amount of PPE was ‘more precious a resource than a healthcare worker’s life, a nurse’s life, a doctor’s life’. She told BBC Breakfast: ‘I take offence actually that we are saying that healthcare workers are abusing or overusing PPE.
‘I think what we know is, we don’t have enough supply and not enough regular supply of PPE. This is the number one priority nurses are bringing to my attention, that they do not have adequate supply of equipment.’
Sources say engineers were sent to boost the signal in Mr Johnson’s room, but in any event by Monday he was too unwell to even look at his phone or respond to texts and WhatsApp messages.
Despite the upbeat comments from No 10, the ashen-faced appearance of Dominic Raab – who had been asked to deputise for Mr Johnson at the Monday afternoon press briefing – betrayed the mounting concern.
At about 6pm on Monday, shortly after Mr Raab assured the nation that the PM was ‘in good spirits’, Carrie Symonds received the call from her fiance’s doctors that she had been dreading.
Despite the oxygen treatment, she was told that Mr Johnson was not improving and the likelihood of him having to be put on a ventilator in intensive care was quickly growing. It was ominous news.
A study of some 1,400 patients by the Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre found that more than half of Covid-19 patients who are admitted to intensive care died.
Anguished, yet prevented from being by his bed, Ms Symonds wrote her husband-to-be a love letter, attaching a scan of their unborn child. Meanwhile, aides and doctors faced the logistical problem of moving the PM to the intensive care unit, which was on a different floor from his room.
A source said transferring such a high-profile patient required a ‘big operation that cannot be done quickly… so the decision was made to move him sooner rather than later’, adding: ‘We don’t want to do this stuff at 2am.’
Back in Downing Street, staff were left in stunned silence by the news.
‘It was terrifying how fast things happened. I couldn’t believe it,’ one senior official said. Having already spoken to the PM, Mr Reynolds alerted Buckingham Palace and Mr Raab was summoned to No10, where he was briefed by Cabinet Office bosses Sir Mark Sedwill and Helen MacNamara on the PM’s condition and on his new duties.
Meanwhile, the PM’s spokesman James Slack prepared a public statement and a BBC camera crew sent to film an address by a visibly shaken Mr Raab.
A conference call was arranged for the Cabinet during which Michael Gove said: ‘I think I speak for everyone when I say our thoughts and prayers are with the Prime Minister.’
David Blunkett blasts ‘Sermon on the Mount’ daily coronavirus briefings by ministers
Former Home Secretary David Blunkett has blasted the daily coronavirus briefings, saying they have become like a ‘Sermon on the Mount’.
The Labour life peer made the comments in an interview on the Today programme on BBC Radio 4, during a discussion on the reaction to the coronavirus pandemic.
When asked about the police and political reaction to the crisis, Blunkett responded saying people are being ‘hectored’, including during the daily coronavirus briefings which have been running since March 16.
He said: ‘Actually we talk, talk, talk and we hector people, I mean the daily press briefings now just become a Sermon on the Mount’.
An official said: ‘It was one of those nights where all there really was was prayer.’ As Mr Johnson fought for his life on Monday night, a bizarre – and undignified – public relations battle was being played out through the switchboard of St Thomas’ hospital.
‘We had the drug companies contact his doctors at the hospital in London, and they’re talking right now,’ US President Donald Trump told Fox News – wrongly, as it turned out.
The White House had contacted the hospital but, in fact, had been politely directed toward to Foreign Office rather than to Mr Johnson’s team. The Americans were not alone – China was offering drugs as well.
‘The switchboard went into meltdown,’ an NHS source said.
‘First the White House rings and offers to send drugs to treat the PM, then a series of Chinese firms call on behalf of their government also offering to send drugs.’
None of the offers was accepted. ‘We’re confident the Prime Minister is receiving the best possible care from the National Health Service,’ No10 said curtly on Tuesday morning.
While the nation reeled, Mr Johnson had a better night than expected and his temperature began to fall on Tuesday morning.
Messages of support from royalty, celebrities and thousands of public well-wishers were compiled by Ms Symonds and sent to the PM.
They included an image of NHS workers on the Nason Ward at the George Eliot Hospital in Nuneaton posing with a Get Well Soon Boris sign.
Downing Street staff endured a ‘terrible wait’ for twice daily medical updates from the hospital, fed through Ms Symonds.
‘Every day we were waiting to hear from the hospital, hoping for a bit of good news,’ said one senior official.
‘You can’t get the fear out of your head that he could take a turn for the worse.’
Slowly but surely, the PM was ‘going the right way’ during Tuesday and Wednesday, as he responded to the oxygen given to him in intensive care.
However, he endured three long nights before he was well enough to leave the unit on Thursday afternoon.
Abandoning the secrecy in which he had entered the hospital, the PM was described by one hospital insider as ‘euphoric’ and waving at doctors and nurses on his way out of ICU. Incredibly, he again joined in the applause for NHS workers at 8pm on Thursday – this time from his hospital bed.
Mr Johnson has since told friends of the ‘exemplary’ care he has received from doctors and nurses.
‘I can’t thank them enough. I owe them my life,’ he said on Friday. He is continuing his recovery this weekend, helped by home-baked chocolate brownies sent by Ms Symonds.
But he remains weak and will take some weeks to rebuild his strength. No10 aides have provided Mr Johnson with an iPad loaded with his favourite films, but he has spent most of the time sleeping or making short FaceTime video calls to Ms Symonds.
Under doctors’ orders to limit his time on the phone, he has read a thriller dug out by a nurse and stories of Tintin, his childhood favourite, sent by his worried family.
He is expected to recuperate at Chequers, the PM’s Buckinghamshire retreat, with a phased return to work, but is understood to want to oversee the decision on when – and how – to end the lockdown.
Meanwhile, finger-pointing over the timing of Mr Johnson’s admission to hospital has begun.
One friend said last night: ‘Those who care about Boris and have known him for a very long time and could say to him ‘Mate, you’re unwell you need to look after yourself’ have been frozen out by the No10 gang.
‘And it seems they were too frightened to stand up to the PM when he needed advisers the most. ‘That can never be allowed to happen again.’
Getting sick? That’s for wimps! With titanic self-belief, Boris Johnson has always ignored illness, says author TOM BOWER, as he explains why a sense of his own invincibility lies at the heart of all the PM’s strengths and flaws
By Tom Bower for the Mail on Sunday
Like the Incredible Hulk, the comic book superhero with whom he’s compared himself, Boris Johnson has made it his trademark to defy the odds.
Overcoming a career littered with gaffes and blunders has required cunning and stubborn single-mindedness, while facing down the constant torrent of envy and abuse from his many enemies has needed awesome self-control.
But never before has Boris’s resolution to triumph been more challenged, as his body tackles this frightening disease and what could still be his ultimate test.
It was in an interview with The Mail on Sunday last September, at the height of the Brexit crisis, that Boris pledged he would bust Britain out of Brussels’ manacles like the Incredible Hulk.
Boris Johnson boxes with a trainer during his visit to Fight for Peace Academy in North Woolwich, London, 2014 while he was mayor of London
Brought up to ignore illness and dispense with the need of doctors, many will suspect that Boris’s current plight owes much to his natural recklessness. Believing in the survival of the fittest, he was taught that Real Men are never ill.
Infused by willpower and belief in his infallibility, he undoubtedly brushed aside medical advice with the same ebullience that has always been his way – until he was forced to go to hospital last weekend.
Six days ago, the media were rapidly assembling obituaries – fearing the worst. For 48 hours, the nation held its breath.
Many asked, how could a Prime Minister have allowed himself to get so close to the edge?
The fact is that such brinkmanship was simply another chapter in the rollercoaster life of Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson.
Only by studying key moments in his 55 years, as I have been doing over the past months while preparing to write his biography, can one understand the pattern of behaviour which explains his current predicament.
Chronically competitive from childhood, spent with three siblings, he perfected his bulldog iron will on the playing fields of Eton, a school renowned for its brutal expectations. Both at rugby and Eton’s uniquely physical Wall Game (which, aptly, to the uninitiated seems to have no rules), Boris led the charge, breaking bones and egos with one sole objective – to win.
In addition, he owes his political achievements to the ability to perfect brilliant camouflage. Acting the bumbling English gentleman buffoon, he has deployed charm and wit to escape sticky corners and save himself from disaster. Equally, his comic performances – enjoyed even by his critics – have concealed his fierce intellect and ambition.
Boris Johnson, as captain of the Eton wall game team in 1982. Johnson threw himself into all sports he played with one ambition: To win
I have witnessed countless people predict Boris’s downfall many times, yet repeatedly his resilience has been the force for his resurrection, be it from his sacking from his first job, his dismissal from the Tory front bench, or his failure to win the race to succeed David Cameron as Prime Minister.
And, of course, those people include the many who have been outraged by his flagrant adultery.
In Westminster, his relationship with women is breathtakingly exceptional. Boasting at least six mistresses during his two marriages, he has had an unknown number of one-night stands with women apparently attracted by his ‘animal magnetism’.
Judgmental outsiders are aghast at his betrayal of Marina Wheeler, his long-suffering second wife and mother of four of his five children. To them, the way he set up with Carrie Symonds (his now-pregnant fiancee) before his divorce was agreed was appalling.
At the heart of their dislike, and jealousy, is Boris’s public persona: his joshy smile, merriment and love for the ‘girly swot’ language redolent of Just William and Nigel Molesworth, the 1950s schoolboy known as the Curse of St Custard’s.
Boris’s other fictional alter ego is, of course, Bertie Wooster, P. G. Wodehouse’s buffoonish upper class character who is repeatedly saved from disaster by Jeeves, his erudite manservant.
Like Boris, Wooster got away with everything. Absolution is always at hand.
Boris’s critics cannot understand how the ‘buffoon’ is also an accomplished master of the classics.
First encouraged by his grandfather, Boris reveres Homer’s Iliad where heroes are more virtuous than the gods because mortality compels them to develop the supreme virtue of courage.
At Eton, Boris also found a hero – Pericles, an Athenian who, with charisma and shameless populism, pleased the crowds to win constant re-election.
Blending the influences – Wooster, Molesworth, Just William and Pericles – in school debates, Boris developed a unique oratorical style mixed with humour. ‘Humour,’ he would say, ‘is a utensil that you can use to sugar the pill and get important points across’.
Martin Hammond, his Eton classics master, despaired about his pupil’s ‘effortless superiority’, excelling without apparently much effort. ‘I think he honestly believes that it is churlish of us not to regard him as an exception,’ wrote Hammond, ‘one who should be free of the network of obligation which binds everyone else’.
Spreading his huge talents thinly, Boris mastered the art of ‘winging it’ – engaging in every activity, which meant missing deadlines, falling asleep in class and often spouting claptrap.
And yet he won a scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford.
On his arrival there, all the gossip was about ‘this amazing person just up from Eton’. With his mop of blond hair and raffish clothes, he became the unrivalled star at the Oxford Union debating society. Not only was he, at just 18, already being mentioned as a future Prime Minister but he also forged a relationship with Oxford’s ‘most beautiful woman’, Allegra Mostyn-Owen.
The complicated love life of Boris Johnson: Young Boris Johnson with fellow student Allegra Mostyn-Owen at Oxford, who would go on to be his first wife
Inevitably there was huge envy, particularly when he was voted Union president at his second attempt, having learnt that to win he had to pretend he was a liberal.
In truth, Allegra (later his wife) says: ‘He wasn’t a libertarian. He was a Thatcherite, spouting trickle-down nonsense.’
This customary politician’s deception has been portrayed by critics as evidence of his dishonesty.
However, Anthony Kenny, former head of Balliol, says: ‘So far as I know, he told no actual lies, but his strategy recalls Talleyrand, the French diplomat who never told a lie and deceived the whole world.’
Loyally, Allegra insists: ‘He never lies. He just has his own attitude to the truth.’
The common accusation of ‘Boris the liar’ arose from his sacking for fabricating a quotation soon after he started his first job as a journalist at The Times, aged 23.
Asked to rewrite a dull report about Edward II’s London palace, he spiced it up by quoting his godfather, Colin Lucas, an academic, saying the King enjoyed the sexual company there of a young boy. In fact, the boy was killed 13 years before the palace was built.
Not surprisingly, Lucas complained. In his defence, Boris told his editor that most quotations in The Times were fabricated. Shocked by such insolence, Boris was fired.
Boris’s father Stanley, who was Lucas’s best friend, was furious with the academic, saying indignantly. ‘He put a whole new interpretation on the word Godfather.’
In what was to become the pattern of Boris’s career, this sacking was a godsend.
Ever positive and charismatic, he was hired by Max Hastings, the Daily Telegraph’s editor, to report on the EU in Brussels.
Stanley Johnson (L) and Carrie Symonds (R), father and girlfriend of Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson, watch as he delivers his keynote speech at the Conservative Party Conference
Wearing a torn jacket, dirty trousers and a crumpled shirt, Boris refused to mix with other journalists. In life, Boris is a loner and in Brussels he hunted by himself.
Convinced that European Commission spokesmen were lying and that Brussels ‘panjandrums’ wanted to turn the EU into a super-state, he sleuthed out secret documents. His lazy rivals, who spent much time in bars, accused him of making up his stories. These included scoops about ‘the threat to British pink sausages’, diktats about the shape of bananas and sizes of condoms, how women had been ‘ordered to return old sex toys’ and how euro notes made people impotent.
‘We never had a single complaint that Boris was lying,’ recalls Jeremy Deedes, the Telegraph’s managing editor. ‘Boris understood better than anyone what was going on in Brussels.’
At the time, the Tory Eurosceptic MP Bill Cash regularly visited Brussels, where he found a soulmate who explained the dangers of creeping federalism.
Cash reported back to Margaret Thatcher: ‘Boris is the only journalist who knows the detail of what is happening. He’s telling things from the front line that are true.’ Inevitably, though, Boris found himself another pitfall.
Tape-recorded conversations emerged between him and Darius Guppy, a close school friend. Guppy, a fraudster, had phoned Boris for the address of a red-top Sunday tabloid reporter who was investigating him. Guppy admitted he wanted to arrange for the journalist to have his ribs broken.
Instead of refusing, Boris humoured his friend but didn’t provide the address.
After listening to the tape and Boris’s explanation, his boss Hastings was satisfied that Johnson was innocent. Against this background of allegations of skulduggery, in 1999, Boris was appointed editor of the Spectator magazine.
Predictably, Boris-baiters claimed giving the job to ‘a lazy, disorganised journalist with no interest in detail’ would destroy the prestigious magazine. One said it was ‘like entrusting a Ming vase to the hands of an ape’. Instead, with the new editor’s flair and flamboyance, the magazine’s circulation rose.
Although Boris had promised his proprietor, Conrad Black, that he would not try to become an MP, he knew it was a false undertaking. But he felt he could take the risk as he realised he wouldn’t have been offered the editorship if he’d told Black the truth.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and partner Carrie Symonds arriving at the Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey, London on Commonwealth Day
Boris assumed that Black, being ruthless and brazen himself, would respect those who behaved like he did. The Canadian tycoon himself said: ‘Boris is a very cunning operator. He is a fox disguised as a teddy bear. I don’t know how he’s kept it going for so long.’
As for his lie, Boris said: ‘The blessed sponge of amnesia has wiped the chalkboard of history. I want to have my cake and eat it.’
Not only did the Spectator thrive, its editor was elected MP for Henley, a safe Tory seat, in 2001.
It was another step up the ladder; but there were yet more brickbats. He was denounced as a poor MP, rarely seen in the Commons tea room and mocked for his stuttering speaking manner. A notable exception was his passionate defence of pig farmers in his constituency.
‘Boris did not enjoy parliament,’ concluded Iain Duncan Smith, the then Tory leader. ‘He seemed to be only interested in getting himself noticed.’ Three years later, he did get attention – and it seemed his career was over.
An editorial in the Spectator callously criticised Liverpool’s excessively emotional reaction to the murder of a Liverpudlian charity worker by Muslim extremists. It said the city was ‘hooked on grief’ and wallowing in ‘victim status’. The article also blamed drunken Liverpool football fans for causing the deaths at the Hillsborough football ground.
Michael Howard, the new Tory leader, ordered Boris to apologise in person to Liverpudlians. Any other MP would have been destroyed but Boris had turned apologies into an art form.
Although his refusal to make a full apology meant that everyone was dissatisfied, his numerous interviews and notoriety somehow quelled the controversy.
Relieved, he blundered into another mess three weeks later.
His adulterous affair with Petronella Wyatt, his deputy editor, was exposed by a Sunday newspaper. When contacted, Boris blustered: ‘I have not had an affair with Petronella. It is complete balderdash It is an inverted pyramid of piffle. It is all completely untrue and ludicrous conjecture.’
Boris Johnson was treated for the coronavirus at St Thomas’ hospital in London, pictured. In the background, Westminster Palace can be seen in the distance
But confronted with an eyewitness account of his adultery, an emissary of Michael Howard asked him: ‘Did you lie?’ Boris replied: ‘It’s my private life and I have the right to lie about my private life.’
He was sacked for the second time in his life. Hours later, his wife Marina ordered him out of the family home. Not long after came his third sacking, as Spectator editor. ‘I needed it run on a commercial basis,’ recalls Andrew Neil, the magazine’s new publisher, ‘not on a whim and a prayer.’
Although re-elected as an MP, Boris was furious that the new Tory leader David Cameron didn’t appoint him to the Shadow Cabinet. Although both were at Eton and Oxford, the pair were not friends.
As a loner anxious about his income and concealing his mistresses, Boris was detached from Cameron and his ilk who enjoyed shooting with the aristocracy and holidaying with their fellow Notting Hill set.
Cameron did not want an untrustworthy and uncontrollable celebrity only interested in furthering his own career. Above all, Cameron judged Boris to be a man without convictions – or just one, recently for speeding.
The snub provoked a riposte: ‘I dimly remember Cameron as a tiny chap known as Cameron minor,’ said Boris, contemptuous of that ‘second-rate’ fellow.
Boris appeared to be bust, a position summarised perfectly some years later by the then-BBC broadcaster Eddie Mair, who, during an interview, asked him: ‘Aren’t you making up quotes, lying to your party leader, wanting to be part of someone being physically assaulted? You’re a nasty piece of work, aren’t you?’
Later, Boris jovially retorted: ‘If a BBC presenter can’t attack a nasty Tory politician, what’s the world coming to?’
As always, the illusionist’s gift was self-preservation.
After two years in the wilderness, Boris was unexpectedly asked to be Tory candidate as London Mayor. With Labour leading in the national polls by 40 per cent against 33 per cent for the Tories, it seemed a poisoned chalice.
Polly Toynbee, the Guardian’s matriarchal loather of Tories, denounced ‘this buffoon, jester, serial liar and self-absorbed sociopath… who has never run anything except his own image’.
Yet, his celebrity triggered a ‘Boris Bounce’ with a six per cent lead over Labour’s Ken Livingstone. Against all the odds in a Labour city, Boris’s ‘Honesty and competence’ campaign prevailed. Despite eight years as two-term Mayor, successfully creating the Olympic Park, building a record number of houses and getting Crossrail funded, Boris’s tenure, as ever, elicited sniping
For example, many Tories, such as Clare Foges, Cameron’s former speechwriter, described his legacy as ‘curiously slim’ and claimed that he’d been ‘pretty useless as a public administrator’.
Boris Johnson still needs time to rest after his stint in intensive care, Home Secretary Priti Patel said today as No10 say he’s making ‘very good progress’
After becoming an MP again in 2015, Boris seemed a lost soul. But the following year, he agreed to lead the Brexit campaign despite Remain being ten per cent ahead in the polls. Again, against the odds, he took Leave to victory.
What this proved was that, despite a catalogue of sins and chaos, Boris Johnson’s public popularity was pretty impregnable. It seems that, with their dislike of the dishonest pretensions of many mainstream politicians, Boris was seen as a man on their side. ‘The public,’ suggested Professor Tony Travers, an expert on London, ‘saw the mistakes as evidence of Boris’s authenticity.’ And so Boris’s brand became authenticity.
On a high after the Brexit vote, over the following days in June 2016, Boris organised his bid for the Tory Party leadership. However, he found most Tory MPs were sceptical about him as a potential Prime Minister. Boris the Buffoon would be seen as Boris the Betrayer, reported The Times. It said: ‘He’s completely untrustworthy – or, rather, you can trust him completely to always let you down.’
To Boris’s amazement, he was stabbed in the back by his friend Michael Gove. Distraught, he withdrew. ‘I was a fool to trust him,’ admitted Boris.
Once again he was devastated.
‘You’re as popular as the man who’s just told his wife that he’s got a dose of genital herpes,’ laughed a friendly MP. Their conversation was interrupted by a summons to see the new Prime Minister, Theresa May, in No 10. The vicar’s daughter had a reputation for enjoying mocking men. She offered Boris the job of Foreign Secretary. Another poisoned chalice? Regardless, he accepted.
Over the following two years, Boris believed that May repeatedly tried to humiliate him. A fellow Tory MP also told him: ‘You must stop making gaffes!’
‘It’s my personality,’ Boris replied. ‘I gaffe.’
But in July 2018, May’s tactics backfired. Boris resigned over what he saw as her ‘surrender’ Brexit deal. Rather than be humiliated, his period as Foreign Secretary had established his reputation as the champion of all Brexiteers.
Eight years earlier, Boris had said: ‘I’ve got more chance of being re-incarnated as Elvis Presley or as an olive than being Prime Minister.’ This was after it had been revealed that he had adulterously fathered an illegitimate daughter.
And yet… last July, to the dismay of that chorus of naysayers, Boris Johnson became Britain’s 76th Prime Minister. All those who predicted that a lazy liar would fail were soon staggered by his industry and ruthlessness.
With deft cunning, and once again with many opinion polls predicting the career risk-taker would be defeated, he won a landslide majority in the December Election. Only Boris could have lured so many Labour voters to back their traditional enemy.
All his critics were flabbergasted. Not least the BBC. Now, of course, their tune has changed. Even Boris Johnson’s detractors recognise his indispensability.
No other British politician could have persuaded the nation to embrace the sacrifices and joyfully collaborate to defeat this invisible enemy. Only his worst enemies prayed that the thread keeping Boris alive would break but, once again, he seems to have defied the odds.