Just Boris, By Sonia Purnell

Woman's-eye view of Boris's No 10 odds

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The Independent Culture

A variety of anxieties would have confronted Sonia Purnell as she sat down to begin this biography of Boris Johnson. A vast amount is already known about him. His family are fierce in defence of their privacy, and exceptionally loyal to one another.

He has very few close friends; and even those who have spent many years in his company (including usually garrulous journalists) often refuse to speak on the record about Boris, fearing the consequences of falling out of favour with him.

But one great opportunity presented itself, and she grasped it: a woman's perspective. Of course it would be patronising gibberish to say this book should be read only for a female take on Boris; but it is sadly true that almost all that is written about Boris is by fawning, similarly privileged men to whom he is a hero. An earlier biography by Andrew Gimson was adulatory; most political commentary in the press is even more so.

Such commentary is imbued with anticipation. Will he become PM? A rise in tensions between Boris and Cameron has increased speculation, and Purnell, who was Boris's deputy in Brussels, with The Daily Telegraph, profits by framing her pages as an answer to that question.

She is less adulatory than the yah-boo types who make a career sketching his misdemeanours, and more sensitive to the emotional frag-ility of the man. For one, she plots a relation between the serial adultery of his father, Stanley, and his own philandering, and suggests that he will never fully recover from the hurt caused to his mother by the family break-up.

His school and university days are documented with appalling detail about the entitlement he had in childhood and early adulthood. He was a revoltingly pompous undergraduate at Oxford, not just in Bullingdon uniform but when cavorting with his friends Charles Spencer and Darius Guppy. At one point, Purnell suggests that Boris deserves credit for being unlike other boys at Eton in befriending black pupils, which is setting a low bar for a potential prime minister, let alone Mayor of London.

Boris shows no sign of mellowing, and retains the same willingness to court his natural enemies in pursuit of high office that ensured his election as president of the Oxford Union. Through fast prose and a vast array of interviews, Purnell offers no revelation, but portrays better than any predecessor the arrogance, opportunism, and irresistible buffoonery of our most celebrated politician.