Boris Johnson: Rise and fall of the 'tousled toff'

MP once tipped as future party leader dramatically dismissed in Saturday afternoon phone call from Michael Howard
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The Independent Online

In the end, it was not his conflicting roles as editor, MP, author and television host which caused Boris Johnson's downfall but his private life.

In the end, it was not his conflicting roles as editor, MP, author and television host which caused Boris Johnson's downfall but his private life.

The charismatic but chaotic MP for Henley and Spectator editor liked to style himself as a renaissance man but became notorious for his public gaffes.

His attempts to keep up his outside interests as he rose rapidly through the ranks of the parliamentary party threatened to be his undoing even without allegations about his private life.

The tension between the Tory leader and his celebrated shadow junior minister surfaced last week at the Spectator's annual Parliamentarian of the Year Awards last week, when - to some people's surprise - Mr Howard agreed to be the guest speaker.

The Tory leader made one of the funniest speeches of his long career, which brought gasps and cheers from his audience. The one person who was visibly not enjoying it was Boris Johnson.

Mr Howard described The Spectator as "political viagra" - which everyone present took as a coded reference to the sexual lives of some of the well-known figures associated with the magazine.

They included its publisher, Kimberley Fortier, who was recently revealed to have had an affair with the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, and the editor of the Today programme, Rod Liddle, who left his wife for an assistant on the magazine.

The audience at The Spectator lunch were also well aware of the rumours about Boris Johnson and Petronella Wyatt, which are repeated with extra details added in today's News of the World - where salacious allegations are made about the man they call "the tousled toff" - and The Mail on Sunday.

The Tory leader also congratulated Johnson on the "tremendous enthusiasm with which you've approached your front-bench duties" ending with the admonition: "Keep it up!" - a remark which was also assumed to have a double meaning. Witnesses claimed to have heard Mr Johnson muttering "outrageous".

Mr Johnson had barely recovered his dignity after the fiasco which began with an unsigned editorial in The Spectator, the weekly magazine he has edited since 1999, which accused Liverpudlians of being "hooked on grief" because of their reaction to the fate of Ken Bigley, and which revived an old canard about the disaster at the Hillsborough football stadium over a decade ago.

Mr Johnson did not reveal who wrote the article, but shouldered the blame as the magazine's editor, and went up to Liverpool, on Michael Howard's orders, to say sorry.

Since his schooldays, Johnson's friends have assumed that he was destined for fame and success, though it was not obvious whether as a Conservative Prime Minister, editor of The Daily Telegraph, or a television star.

His old Etonian manners, self-deprecating humour and blond hair made him one of the most recognisable personalities in modern politics. Some were surprised by his determination to get into Parliament, when he could earn much more money outside. He was elected for the safe Tory seat of Henley in 2001. After two shattering election defeats in a row, the Tories were understandably pleased to be joined in the Commons by a famous personality with a following among the depoliticised youth.

The author of Seventy Two Virgins, who is fond of playing the fool, was briefly married to socialite Allegra Mostyn-Owen. He then married barrister Marina Wheeler, by whom he has four children. Petronella 'Petsy' Wyatt, is the 35-year-old journalist daughter of the late Lord Wyatt of Weeford who was once a News of the World columnist and a Labour MP. They met when she was deputy editor of The Spectator.

She has not commented publicly on allegations of the relationship, but her mother has dismissed the claims as "absolute rubbish".

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