The Untold Truth Of Boris Johnson

Unless you live in the U.K. or are unusually obsessed with politicians who have unkempt blonde hairdos, you might not have heard of Boris Johnson, at least not until recently. If you haven't, here's the summary: Boris Johnson looks bizarrely similar to Donald Trump, has a seriously long history of what Brits like to call "gaffes," and was just elected as the prime minister of the United Kingdom as leader of the Conservatives (commonly known as "Tories"). And since you're going to be hearing a lot more about this dude, we thought maybe you'd like to read a list of his untold truths (or not so untold, if you're British and have to hear about this guy on a daily basis).

You may balk but hear us out — yes, politics and entertainment are usually mutually exclusive, but Boris Johnson is actually plenty entertaining. He says thoughtlessly offensive things, he's famous for his goofy antics, and did we mention the part where he looks like a clone of the president of the United States? He may not be a reality TV star like our commander in chief, but it seems pretty likely that he's going to turn the whole of the U.K. into a reality TV show. Fun times are ahead for us all.

Boris Johnson was once an American (it's true!)

Boris Johnson was born in New York City to British parents, which means he came into this world blessed with dual citizenship. Mostly, dual citizenship means you can escape unencumbered to another country as soon as you realize how much your medical bills are going to be in the U.S., so that's points if you otherwise plan on staying in America. Boris Johnson didn't stay, though (his family moved back to the U.K. when he was 5), and he decided later in life that having dual citizenship was tantamount to having "ambiguous loyalties." Also there was the tax bill.

According to the Guardian, Johnson sold his home in London and then got a tax bill from the IRS in the amount of around $50,000. So renouncing his U.S. citizenship isn't just a way to show everyone that he's a Brit through-and-through; it's also a nice way of telling the IRS what to go do with themselves.

Is it really that easy, though? Johnson evidently renounced his citizenship in 2016, but also told NPR that it wasn't exactly an easy thing to do. It also doesn't absolve him of past tax obligations, either, so there's that. Anyway, the sum total is that the guy doesn't really want to be associated with America, for financial reasons or otherwise.

Boris Johnson was fired for fabricating a quote, and also he shouts at plants

Most politicians start their careers as something other than a politician, and being a journalist certainly does give you some qualifications for public service. When you write about politics and policy, you have a pretty good understanding of how those things work, so it's going to be a lot easier for you to fall into a future political career.

According to the Independent, Johnson began his career as a journalist but was fired from his first job at The Times of London (which is now The Times). And it wasn't because he was doing anything noble like defying the orders of his editor in order to dig deep into an important but politically dangerous subject or anything like that. Nope. He got fired for making up a quote. "Somewhere in my copy I managed to attribute to [historian Colin Lucas] the view that Edward II and Piers Gaveston would have been cavorting together in the Rose Palace," Johnson explained. But Gaveston was actually executed 13 years before the Rose Palace was built, and historians don't tend to make those kinds of errors. Oops.

That's not the only thing that rattled Johnson's former coworkers, either. One of his former deputies said he has a "frightening temper," and that he once screamed and swore at a potted plant so he could get himself worked up enough to write an angry column. Yeah, that's the guy you want running your country.

Boris Johnson was once recorded plotting to have some guy beat up

Okay, so Boris Johnson is a danger to potted plants, but is he a danger to humans? Or is he mostly just a harmless buffoon? Well according to the Guardian, Johnson once secretly discussed plans to beat the crap out of a fellow journalist and what's more, there's a recording of him doing it.

In 1990, Boris Johnson was recorded on a telephone call with a guy named Darius Guppy, who was annoyed that a journalist named Stuart Collier had been investigating him. "I am telling you something, Boris, this guy has got my blood up," Guppy said during the call. "...and there's nothing which I won't do to get my revenge." He later goes on to outline exactly what his revenge might entail: "A couple of black eyes" and a "cracked rib." Somewhere during the conversation, he asks Johnson to help him get Collier's address.

Now most people would be all, "What the heck, dude, I'm going to need to tell the police about this," but not Johnson. No, Johnson said, "Okay, Darry ... I'll do it, don't worry." And then he later tried to brush off the whole thing as "a joke." So what does Collier think about Johnson's ascension to the highest office in the land? "I just don't think [he's] fit to be prime minister." How very Britishly understated.

Boris Johnson's comments once got a woman extended prison time in Iran

In 2016, British-Iranian dual national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was visiting family in Iran when she was arrested at the airport and accused of spying. But Boris Johnson, who was foreign secretary at the time, made things infinitely worse for her by telling a Commons committee that she was actually training journalists in Iran, and if there's one thing the Iranian government hates it's the American government, and if there's a second thing it would probably be people who are training journalists within their borders.

According to the Independent, Johnson quickly brushed his comments off as inconsequential, but Zaghari-Ratcliffe's husband (above) says they actually ignited a propaganda storm in Iran, which ultimately led to a second court case against his wife and Iran's claim that Zaghari-Ratcliffe was indeed there as a spy at the behest of Boris Johnson. But that's not all — at one point someone at the Foreign Office publicly said the British government was planning to pay off a £400 million debt to Iran, which temporarily made the Iranians happy and might have helped Zaghari-Ratcliffe's cause, if it had been true (which it wasn't). Zaghari-Ratcliffe's husband puts the blame for that public briefing directly on Boris Johnson.

As reported by Amnesty International, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was eventually released from prison in 2022. No thanks to her Prime Minister, the man who by all accounts probably should have had her back at what we can all agree must have been a rather stressful time.

Boris Johnson was Brexit before Brexit was cool

Boris Johnson is one of Brexit's strongest proponents — in fact he was Brexit before Brexit was really a thing. According to the Independent, Johnson made a name for himself in journalism not because of his hard-hitting, compelling, investigative reporting but because he was "a hack."

In 1989, Johnson moved to Brussels to work as a foreign correspondent for the Telegraph. While he was there, he found his journalistic voice — instead of writing in support of the European Union, he wrote inflammatory pieces that portrayed the EU as inept, foreign bad guys who weren't looking out for the interests of the good guys in the U.K. What no one really recognized or acknowledged, though, is that most of Johnson's stories were not based on the truth. He made bizarre and outlandish claims. He said the EU was planning to standardize coffins and the smell of manure. And there was some weird tangent about standardizing condom sizes, too, which included a thinly veiled insult about the size of Italian sausages, and not the kind you can buy packaged in styrofoam. 

As if this wasn't enough, during the campaign to leave the EU, Johnson notoriously claimed that doing so would free up an extra £350 million per week for the National Health Service. According to the fact-checking organization Full Fact, this was a gross abuse of statistics. Yet people believed it enough to vote for Brexit. Thanks BJ! All of this really just served to fan the flames of EU mistrust, which ultimately helped make Brexit an idea. And a few decades later, well, here we are.

Boris Johnson has made some really racist and homophobic comments

Politicians usually try to watch what they say. Usually. And when racist, misogynistic, and homophobic things accidentally come out of their mouths, there's usually a lot of backpedaling and apologizing. Usually. Boris Johnson, though, has given himself no such personal limitations. Over the years he's said some unabashedly racist, misogynistic, and homophobic things and isn't really the sort of guy who thinks he needs to apologize for those things, either, beyond excusing those racist, misogynistic, and homophobic comments as "wholly satirical." Wow, if only everyone could excuse their own obnoxious behavior by calling it satire, what a virtuous world we would live in.

Anyway, here are a few examples, just in case you're thinking to yourself that it couldn't possibly be that bad. According to Business Insider, he once wrote an article for the Telegraph in which he reviewed the "hot totty" who were attending the 1996 Labour conference, and he wasn't talking about a nice warm alcoholic beverage. On various occasions he's also referred to women as "fickle," "emotional," and "bubbling blondes." He's called gay men "tank-topped bumboys," and he's called African people "piccaninnies" with "watermelon smiles." We could just keep going because the racism, misogyny, and homophobia is pretty bottomless where this guy is concerned. But you can only read so much of that kind of thing before the nausea sets in.

When Mayor Boris Johnson went mad with power

Then somehow this guy becomes the mayor of London and goes mad with power. Okay, he was already sort of mad, but when he became mayor it was definitely power-driven madness. According to the Guardian, as mayor, Boris Johnson seemed especially fond of "vanity projects," which loosely translated are dumb, useless projects that cost the taxpayers tons of money. Example: "The Garden Bridge," which would have crossed from London's South Bank to the Temple underground station. The Garden Bridge wasn't just any bridge, though ... it was going to be covered with flowers. The plan didn't get very far, but it still cost the city a ton of money. The bill for all the events leading up to the cancelation of the project was £53 million, and that included design, engineering, lawyering, executive salaries, and the cost of surveying the river to make sure there weren't any World War II bombs in it. The project's website alone cost £161,000.

Boris Johnson's other vanity projects included the "Routemaster buses," which cost £321.6 million and had to be retrofitted with new windows because they were so stiflingly hot no one wanted to ride in them. And then there was the time Johnson spent £300,000 on three water cannons, which he planned to use for crowd control in the event of social unrest. (Spoiler alert: You can't legally use water cannons to control people on the streets of London.) Johnson's successor later sold the cannons as scrap for £11,025.

In 2012 Johnson somehow got stuck in the middle of a zip wire during a trip to promote London's Olympic attractions that went spectacularly wrong, as highlighted by The Guardian. Given that he was waving several British flags while doing so, the more thoughtful observers perhaps saw it as a metaphor for Britain's stagnating global influence. Either way, enough people somehow failed to see it as a sign that he perhaps shouldn't run a country. Seven years later, he won a landslide victory in the general election of 2019. Meanwhile, foreign spectators suddenly understood how Britain lost its empire.

Boris Johnson says really stupid, insensitive things

We've already established that Boris Johnson says a lot of racist, misogynistic, and homophobic things, and also things that make the Iranians imprison British citizens for long periods of time, so it won't surprise you to hear that he also says other insensitive things.

According to the Independent, he once said the Libyan city of Sirte would make a fine luxury resort after investors "cleared the dead bodies away," which is less insensitive and more terrifying. And on another occasion, while clad in an orange turban and standing in a Sikh temple, he rambled on about signing a trade agreement that would make it easier for the U.K. to trade alcohol with India, and complained that he had to bring whiskey with him in his suitcase whenever he traveled to Mumbai or Delhi. (His comments horrified everyone in attendance, since alcohol is forbidden in the Sikh religion.) Another time, he called a golden statue in a Myanmar temple a "very big guinea pig."

There are also comments that are not so much insensitive as just bizarre, like the time he said he'd cried (literally cried) over the theft of his beloved bicycle, which was called "Bikey." (Adorable or creepy, your pick.) Except as it turned out, Bikey hadn't actually been stolen at all but was wrecked when he rode it into a pothole. He might have literally cried when he wrecked it, though. No clue.

Not all of the Johnsons are Brexit supporters

Political leanings don't always run in the family, but politicians do tend to come from families who are very strongly in one political party or another. Not so for Boris Johnson, though. In fact, according to the Wall Street Journal, there's some real familial unrest in the Johnson family over the whole Brexit thing.

The Johnsons don't just grumble quietly about Brexit over Christmas dinner, outside the public eye. No, Boris Johnson's siblings in particular have made no secret of their disdain for their brother's pro-Brexit policies. Johnson's youngest brother even went as far as quitting his government job so he could dedicate himself to the anti-Brexit cause. And his sister went on television to protest Brexit, too, though her methods were a little stranger (she took off her top, Woodstock style). And Johnson's dad, though publicly supportive, wrote a passive-aggressive novel about a fictional referendum to leave the EU and all the dirty politics surrounding it.

It hasn't gone so far as creating a rift in the family or anything, though. The Wall Street Journal said the family feud has been handled "in the most British way possible: tepid jokes and general avoidance." Ha.

He has how many kids?

No one knows how many kids Boris Johnson has. That's because he's not exactly a one-woman man. His current girlfriend is Conservative Party communications officer Carrie Symonds, who is over 20 years his junior. Also, the couple don't seem to get along very well — in June 2019, someone called police on them after they had a loud screaming fight at Johnson's home. He and Symonds then took the sensible decision to get married (admittedly in secret) in May 2021 and now have two children, Wilfred and Romy (as reported by the Evening Standard).

According to the tabloid Metro, Johnson was married twice before Symonds. His first marriage was to Allegra Mostyn-Owen in 1987, but that ended when he cheated on Allegra with Marina Wheeler (whom he married 12 days after his divorce). He stayed married to Marina for 25 years, but then divorced her shortly before his relationship with Carrie Symonds came to light, so there appears to be a pattern.

His marriage to Marina lasted 25 years, but their relationship wasn't exactly sunny. In 2004 she threw him out temporarily because of the four-year affair he was having with journalist Petronella Wyatt. And after that he had an affair with Anna Fazackerley. And then with Helen Macintyre. His wife finally got wise and gave him the boot, just before the world found out he was now with Carrie Symonds.

So how many children does that equal? Well, he had four with Marina, one with Helen Macintyre, two with Carrie, and there are rumors he might have an eighth, though they appear to be unsubstantiated. And somehow, he still has time to plan assaults and flowery bridges.

Boris Johnson has a weird hobby

So besides all that, does the guy have a hobby? Well yes, actually, it turns out that he does. And he didn't just pick a normal-guy hobby, you know, like carpentry or drone-flying or collecting LPs or something. No, he chose a hobby that's as bizarre as he is: turning wooden wine crates into buses.

What the what now? Yes, you read that right. "I have a thing where I make models of buses," he told Talk Radio. "What I make is, I get old, I don't know, wooden crates, and I paint them. It's a box that's been used to contain two wine bottles, right, and it will have a dividing thing. And I turn it into a bus."

But wait, there's more. "So I put passengers — I paint the passengers enjoying themselves on a wonderful bus — low carbon, of the kind that we brought to the streets of London, reducing CO2, reducing nitrous oxide, reducing pollution." There it is; didn't take long for the politician to come back.

He has admitted to using illegal drugs

So by now you've concluded that Boris Johnson is a little, um, quirky. He doesn't appear to have a speech filter, his moral compass is malfunctioning, he's not especially loyal to anyone but himself, and he has a weird hobby. The only thing that seems to be missing is a vice, you know, like 12 espressos a day, or lip balm, or hiding whiskey in his suitcase when he travels — oh, wait. Well surprise, Boris Johnson also has some experience with the harder stuff. Sort of. If you believe ... Boris Johnson.

Johnson's retelling of his experiences calls to mind how Bill Clinton "didn't inhale," but it's even funnier. "I think I was once given cocaine," he said on a BBC comedy quiz show in 2005. "But I sneezed and so it did not go up my nose. In fact, I may have been doing icing sugar." Haha, no one believes you, Boris.

In 2007 he again admitted to trying cocaine, and also marijuana, but said that they "achieved no pharmacological, psychotropic or any other effect on me whatsoever." Okay, that's cool, Boris, but you probably wouldn't have tried them if you thought they would achieve no pharmacological, psychotropic or any other effect on you whatsoever, so your excuse is lame. That's all.

Boris Johnson tried to show Britain that COVID-19 was no big deal

When coronavirus arrived in the United Kingdom, you know, after marching boldly across the Asian continent and into Europe while waving its skull and crossbones flag of doom, Boris Johnson went, "coronavirus, shmuronavirus, it's not a big deal, watch me shake hands with all these people." Okay that's paraphrasing just a little bit, but on March 3, 2020, he totally bragged about all the normal things he was still doing in the midst of the pandemic. "I am shaking hands," he said at a press conference (via Sky News). "I was at a hospital the other night where I think there were coronavirus patients and I was shaking hands with everybody, you will be pleased to know, and I continue to shake hands."

Now the implication was that COVID-19 patients were among the "everybody" that he was shaking hands with, but it came out later that it was just hospital staff. Still, the public was rightly appalled, especially considering that he had a pregnant girlfriend and was supposed to attend regular meetings with the elderly queen of England. But hey, at least he filled the United Kingdom with a strong sense of all's well, go about your daily business, the coronavirus is no big deal and that's got to count for something, right? Besides thousands of deaths and tens of thousands of sick people, of course.

And then, Boris Johnson got COVID-19

Just weeks after Johnson's visit to the UK hospital where he shook hands with "everybody," Johnson announced that he had mild symptoms of COVID-19. To be fair, this was three weeks after he went to that hospital, and COVID-19 isn't thought to have an incubation period much longer than two weeks, so he probably picked the virus up while shaking hands with "everybody" in some other location. But anyway, the absence of precaution in Johnson's life seems to have had consequences.

According to the Guardian, Johnson self-isolated on March 27, and by March 30 there were whispers that he'd been "coughing and sputtering his way through conference calls." By April 1 he'd lost that air of "coronavirus, shmuronavirus" and was urging people to stay home, but his aides were publicly confident that he'd be out of isolation by the next day. Well, that didn't happen — five days later Johnson was admitted to the hospital. At first, staff tried to downplay what that exactly meant about the prime minister's health, saying that it was "a precaution only," but then Johnson was moved to intensive care. As of the early hours of April 8, Johnson's spokespeople say he's in stable condition and is receiving oxygen but is not on a ventilator and does not have pneumonia. We may poke a little fun at you, Boris, but we do hope for a speedy recovery. 

He's finally gone ... or is he?

Boris Johnson was widely criticized for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly when it was revealed that members of his government had attended parties at 10 Downing Street when the rest of the country was in lockdown and people were forcibly separated from their sick and dying relatives (via the BBC). Given that at least 181,000 people have died of the virus in Britain so far (via Our World in Data), the outrage this caused was perhaps understandable. 

The final straw came when he was accused of having known about the unsavory track record of the Conservative politician Chris Pincher, who was forced to step down after being accused of sexual misconduct, as reported by Axios. Johnson survived a vote of "no confidence" but was eventually pressured into resigning in July 2022 after swathes of his party jumped ship, citing his poor leadership as the main reason.

Yet the anti-Johnson campaigning group Led by Donkeys recently released a video cataloging all the times Johnson went back on his word, including his promise to the editor of the Spectator magazine that he wouldn't run for Parliament (he did) as well as his promise to his future constituents in 2001 that once elected as their representative, he would no longer be a journalist (he was, for four years). So really, when Johnson says he will step down in October, many British people could be forgiven for assuming he'll still be here next year. And still with that ridiculous hair. Be afraid. Be very afraid.