Boris Johnson’s family: a guide to the PM’s colourful relatives

Tight-knit clan never shy about speaking out on Downing Street policy

The Johnsons
Boris Johnson’s father, Stanley, sister, Rachel, and brother, Jo, sit in the audience as he is announced as the new prime minister
(Image credit: Stefan Rousseau/WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Prime ministers are accustomed to fending off criticism as part of their role, but few have had to contend with public scrutiny from their own family.

Boris Johnson is an exception. From an outspoken patriarch staunchly opposed to leaving the EU to a sister who switched parties to stand against the Tories – the Johnsons are a microcosm of the divisions that have split British society. Yet despite their differences, and unlike much of the UK, they remain a remarkably loyal family – with all the added intrigue that brings.

“No one could claim the platinum-plumed clan (plus the token brunette brother Leo) hides its light under a bushel,” wrote The Sunday Times when Johnson became the frontrunner to replace Theresa May in June 2019.

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Since taking office two years ago, his celebrity relatives have spoken out against his policies on everything from Brexit and Covid to education spending and planning reforms.

The “competitive, tight-knit, look-at-me” Johnsons hold a place in British life “somewhere in the large, amorphous space between the Kennedys and the Kardashians”, says The New York Times.

Here is The Week’s guide to the family:

Boris’s wives

Johnson’s first wife was Tatler cover girl Allegra Mostyn-Owen, daughter of Italian writer Gaia Servadio and art historian William Mostyn-Owen. She and Johnson met while studying classics at Oxford University and married at the age of 23 but divorced in 1993.

He later married Cambridge graduate and human rights barrister Marina Wheeler, daughter of BBC correspondent Sir Charles Wheeler and his Indian wife Dip Singh. The couple announced that their 25-year marriage had come to an end in September 2018.

In May, Johnson became the first prime minister to wed in office in nearly 200 years as he tied the knot with his girlfriend Carrie Symonds. Daughter of The Independent co-founder Matthew Symonds and Josephine Mcaffee, one of the newspaper’s lawyers, the 33-year-old is a former director of communications at the Conservative Campaign headquarters and now head of communications for conservation group the Aspinall Foundation.

Boris Johnson and Carrie Symonds

Carrie and Boris Johnson on their wedding day
(Image credit: Rebecca Fulton/Downing Street via Getty Images)

Symonds has “played a significant role in tearing down Johnson’s old Number 10”, run by his former aide Dominic Cummings, and “in advising the prime minister on how to put together a new one”, says the Financial Times.

Boris’s children

Johnson has four adult children with Wheeler: Lara Lettice, Milo Arthur, Cassia Peaches and Theodore Apollo. He also has another child, Stephanie, born in 2009 to arts consultant Helen Macintyre while he was still married to his second wife. And, last April, Symonds and Johnson welcomed a baby son, Wilfred.

Boris’s parents

His mother Charlotte Johnson Wahl is a British artist. She read English at Oxford University and has painted work commissioned by collectors such as author Jilly Cooper. His father is the author and conservationist Stanley Johnson, who was Conservative MEP for Hampshire East and the Isle of Wight in the first ever elections to the European Parliament.

“Over the first 14 years of Johnson’s life, his family moved 32 times, including to Washington DC, where Stanley worked at the World Bank,” writes Tom McTague in The Atlantic. After their mother had a nervous breakdown while they lived in Brussels in 1974, Johnson and his sister were sent to boarding school in Sussex, travelling there each term unaccompanied by their parents, says McTague.

Johnson’s father backed Remain ahead of the EU referendum but has since said “the time has come to bail out”. Last month, he spoke out against the PM’s proposed planning reforms, saying they risked undermining efforts to protect nature. (He also appeared on I'm a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here! in 2017.)

Boris’s siblings

Johnson is the eldest of four. His sister Rachel is a staunch Remainer and joined Change UK to run in the latest European Parliament election. She is also a novelist, columnist, former editor of The Lady magazine and starred in Celebrity Big Brother in 2018. Like her father, she had to “perform a complicated jujitsu around her big brother’s candidacy”, says the NYT.

“Whether because of sibling loyalty, or because they have been warned to behave, or because they just want to burnish their personal brands in preparation for Boris’s ascent, the Johnsons appear to be taking the approach that blood is thicker than political conviction,” adds the newspaper.

His brother Jo, also a Remainer, was a journalist and investment banker before becoming MP for Orpington in 2010, serving in several ministerial roles under David Cameron and Theresa May. He quit as transport minister last November and called for a second referendum, before rejoining the government when his brother took over the party in July 2019. Two months later, he resigned again, citing an “unresolvable tension” over Brexit between his family loyalty and the national interest.

He is married to The Guardian journalist Amelia Gentleman, who broke the Windrush scandal. Before attending Eton and Oxford, he began his schooling in Brussels at the European School in Uccle - and later did his postgraduate studies in Europe. Last year, he was made a lord “in a move which prompted accusations of cronyism”, reported the i newspaper.

Johnson’s youngest brother Leo, who has an Afghan-born Muslim wife, describes himself as “the non-political one”, although he backed Remain and spoke out against Boris’s burka comments in 2018. He was the co-presenter of BBC Radio 4’s FutureProofing show and co-founded an advisory firm Sustainable Finance, which has been acquired by PwC Group.

The four Johnson siblings also have a half-brother, Maximilian, and half-sister, Julia, from their father’s second marriage to Jennifer Kidd. According to the Sunday Times, Julia has no interest in a career in politics, saying: “I have steered clear of any professional comparisons with my xanthic-haired, Roman-nosed, Latin-spouting relations.”

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