FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
LONDON – But who really is Boris Johnson? The Gambler – the gambler – supports the subtitle of the monumental biography just released in Great Britain and which is making London newspapers spill rivers of ink.
The author is Tom Bower, a writer devoted to vitriolic portraits (he has experimented in the past with the lives of Mohamed al-Fayed and Richard Branson, of Tony Blair and Prince Charles): only this time the intent was to outline a character in a sympathetic, if not absolutive, way. He is, after all, part of the same circle (“Boris is not a stranger in my house,” she drops by the way), and above all he is married to the former director ofEvening Standard, the London newspaper that had launched Johnson as mayor of the capital. For the whole book, the protagonist is simply “Boris”, while all the others are obviously indicated by surname.
But despite this, the result is devastating: Johnson emerges as a fundamentally calibrated, psychologically devastated man devoured by his inner demons. IS the fault lies entirely with his father, Stanley: a scoundrel who beat his wife – until he broke her nose once and ended up in a nursing home for a nervous breakdown – a serial adulterer, one who convinced au pairs to go around naked in the house with the excuse that there is no it was water to wash clothes (and she took one to bed under the eyes of her children), which put her four boys in exasperated competition with each other and inflicted on them constant psychological torture.
It is against this nightmare background that Boris builds his armor: he could not tell outside what was happening within the walls of his house and so he withdraws into himself, decides that when he grows up he will become “the king of the world” to be invincible, inviolable, isolated from pain.
The public person Boris we all know – theatrical, buffoonish, exuberant, full of optimism at all costs, overwhelming and arrogant – is a mask that hides a lonely man, who has very few friends, insecure, in need of approval, but above all deeply unhappy. One who wants to please everyone and is constantly looking for affection, even from his enemies.
Of course, Johnson’s eventful love life occupies a large part of the book: starting with his first marriage to college mate Allegra Mostyn-Owen, where Boris forgets the wedding certificate in his borrowed pants and then loses his wedding ring. But the real victim is Marina Wheeler, the second wife, who sees a theory of lovers slipping under her nose (and illegitimate children), until he is thrown out of the house for good when he falls in love with Carrie Symonds, 24 years younger than him.
And it is a familiar picture, the most chilling of the whole reconstruction: when relatives quarrel at his bedside, while Boris struggles between life and death in the grip of Covid. We have to drag the children, now on the run with him, to give him a (possible) last farewell, while his father Stanley refuses to call Marina.
For his biographer, in short, it is the chaotic and painful background that explains everything that followed: Johnson’s ambition, exhibitionism, unreliability, vulnerabilities. But portraying him as a victim is not enough to absolve him: because this man found himself in the hands of one of the brightest nations on the planet in the midst of an epochal crisis. And read The Gambler it is not reassuring.
October 18, 2020 (change October 18, 2020 | 20:20)
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