LONDON—Centuries of tradition celebrated by Britain’s ruling classes have been upended by the election of a new prime minister who is a twice-married serial philanderer with a live-in girlfriend.
For the first time, an unmarried partner will be moving into the prime minister’s official residence in Downing Street. Boris Johnson’s living arrangements are unlikely to have much impact on his electoral chances, but they do mark his partner out as an interloper in the eyes of Britain’s head of state.
When Johnson was formally invited to form a government by the Queen at Buckingham Palace on Wednesday, Carrie Symonds was conspicuous by her absence. Johnson’s predecessors—dating back decades—all went to the palace accompanied by their partners.
Symonds, who is more than 20 years younger than Johnson, refused to shy away from the snub. When Johnson pulled up to No. 10 in a silver Jaguar, she was standing front and center among his backroom staff in a striking pink floral dress.
Royal-watchers predict that she will be absent, again, when Johnson is invited for the traditional prime ministerial visit to the Queen’s summer residence at Balmoral in Scotland.
“The girlfriend will not be welcome,” royal biographer Penny Junor told The Daily Beast. “When Charles was with Camilla before they were married, she wasn’t seen at any of the royal palaces, and if Camilla was at Highgrove, the Queen wouldn’t be there. To put it simply: The Queen does take a dim view of adultery.”
Even Meghan Markle wasn’t allowed to stay at Sandringham when she accompanied her fiancé Prince Harry, the queen’s grandson, to her first royal Christmas in 2017. They stayed at nearby Anmer Hall to spare royal blushes.
If the Queen has ensured traditional rules apply to her own son and grandson, it’s probably best not to ask what she thinks of Johnson’s love life.
He has been married twice—the second divorce is still working its way through the courts—and he has had more than one high-profile affair.
We don’t know how many children he has in total.
Johnson definitely had four kids with his second wife, Marina Wheeler, whom he married a few weeks after his first divorce came through.
During a privacy case at the High Court in 2013, a senior judge ruled that the public had a right to know about a fifth child if he were to continue running for office. At the time of fathering the love child—while he was still married to Wheeler—he was mayor of London.
Master of the Rolls Lord Justice Dyson said it was reasonable for the public to know that “a man who is said to be the baby’s father, and who is a major public figure, has fathered a child after a brief adulterous affair (not for the first time).”
During the hearing, the court was told about another alleged child. Perhaps Johnson’s sixth?
The prime minister’s highest-profile affair resulted in him being fired by the Conservative Party leader for lying about it. For four years, while he was editing The Spectator magazine, he had an on-again, off-again affair with one of his writers, Petronella Wyatt.
When it was reported that he had initially refused to help pay for an abortion, Johnson denied the affair to the media and to his party boss, Michael Howard. “I have not had an affair with Petronella,” he told the Mail on Sunday at the time. “It is complete balderdash. It is an inverted pyramid of piffle.”
The affair was subsequently confirmed, and Johnson missed out on his first chance to run for the leadership in 2005, when David Cameron won the race, going on to become prime minister five years later.
Wheeler took him back after that humiliation but “put him out as if he was a tom cat” after the second high-profile affair, which landed him at the High Court in 2010.
His daughter Lara reportedly said at the time: “Mum is finished with him. She will never take him back now… [he] is a selfish bastard.”
After the collapse of his second marriage, Johnson settled down with Symonds, 31, the former head of the Conservative Party’s press department. She’s been credited by the British media for encouraging Johnson to improve his appearance by reducing his weight and tidying up his hair.
Since leaving Conservative Party HQ, Symonds has become a conservationist, fighting plastic pollution in the oceans. She has also bravely campaigned for one of Britain’s most notorious serial rapists to stay in prison. Symonds was attacked by John Worboys, a taxi driver who drugged female passengers, in 2007. When he was due for parole last year, she successfully campaigned for him to stay in prison.
When she moves into Downing Street, Symonds will be one of the most politically astute prime ministerial partners in history.
But that’s unlikely to cut any ice with the Queen.
Symonds missed the moment her partner has been dreaming of since he was a child, when he said his ambition was to become “world king.”
Traditionally, the new prime minister enters a room with the Queen alone for a few minutes, during which he is formally asked to form a government on Her Majesty’s behalf. The Queen then presses a buzzer and the partner is invited in.
“The Queen’s meeting with the new prime minister yesterday was under an official capacity, which may be the reason why the primary guest’s unmarried partner was not invited to join,” Lucy Hume, associate director of Britain’s etiquette bible Debrett’s, told The Daily Beast. Hume insisted that royal etiquette was evolving and that Symonds may still find herself invited to some royal formal occasions with her partner in the future.
Junor, whose books include The Firm: The Troubled Life of the House of Windsor, as well as biographies of princes Charles, William, Harry, and Lady Diana, said it was unlikely those invitations would extend to the royal palaces unless the pair were to marry.
“The Queen is head of the Church of England and it is against Church of England teachings for married men to be in adulterous relationships, even if they are prime minister of the land,” she said. “When the Queen first came to the throne, divorcees were not welcome at court. They were not even invited into the royal enclosure at Ascot [the home of British horse racing].”
Times have changed, but evolution is slow inside the royal family. Buckingham Palace declined to comment.
Tony Blair’s chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, wrote in his memoir that he was disinvited from a royal barbecue in Balmoral’s grounds in 2001 when it was discovered that he was not married to his partner. They ate alone in a separate property on the estate.
Partners of Prince Charles and Prince Harry experienced similar froideur, and Johnson would do well to remember that he may have ascended to the highest office in the land, but as far as the Queen’s concerned he’s no more than the 14th prime minister on her watch.