It’s a surprising move, some could argue, for Rishi Sunak to hire a woman who once mocked his height on Twitter as his new hotshot communications guru.
But I guess that’s the price the new Prime Minister has to pay for sticking the knife into his old boss-turned-arch-rival, Boris Johnson – as well as being a highly regarded news hack at ITV, his new press chief Amber de Botton is also among the award-winning team who helped to expose Johnson’s Partygate antics and ultimately open the door back up for him at Number 10 (after a brief interlude lost out to Liz Truss, of course).
De Botton, a politics graduate and mother of two, was announced as Sunak’s new director of communications over the weekend, in a move that is likely to anger Johnson and is widely considered as a sign that Sunak – known for his slick campaign videos – is serious about communication in his new era in No 10.
But it’s not just de Botton’s Partygate exposure that got her the job. She’s widely considered a smart and serious hire, with former colleagues describing her as a “talented political operator” and a “brilliant news editor” during her stints at ITV and Sky News.
She’s reportedly been considered for the role before. According to insiders, she was among the top names put forward for the No 10 role when Downing Street put out an advert to replace Allegra Stratton – whose own Downing Street career de Botton helped to bring down – in July 2020. De Botton never publicly expressed an interest in the role at the time
She is expected to be paid more than £100,000 in her new role at No 10, with previous Downing Street comms chiefs paid anything from £80,000 to £144,999.
So what’s her background and what does her hiring mean for No 10?
Here’s what we know so far about the PM’s new mouthpiece.
A politics graduate with a nose for hard news
De Botton graduated from Durham University with a degree in history and politics in 2007 and swiftly embarked on a powerhouse media career, according to LinkedIn.
Her CV includes stints at Sky News, Total Politics and ITV News, mostly in politics, but her new Downing Street gig won’t be her first time on the comms side: she reportedly worked as a press officer for the Greater London Authority for eight months in the year after she graduated.
The mother of two was Deputy Head of Politics at Sky News for five years until 2017, but it’s her time at ITV News – as Head of Politics, then Head of UK News – that really cemented her reputation as one of broadcasting’s top news hacks.
ITV’s political editor Robert Peston celebrated her appointment on Sunday, calling her a “brilliant news editor and journalist” who would leave a “huge hole at ITV News”. Another former Sky colleague, political editor Beth Rigby, seconded Peston’s remarks over the weekend.
Knappers was at the heart of our team in Westminster and we will all miss him a lot. You may not have known him but you will have seen work on the news - he shot some of the most significant moments in recent political history. Carl’s tribute below says it better than I could. https://t.co/KrmlsOm4Dp pic.twitter.com/qU50b7oAQ1
— Amber de Botton (@amberdebotton) February 3, 2022
“She’s a seriously talented news editor & political operator, now heading to No 10 to direct PM’s communications strategy,” said Rigby. “They mean business.”
Mothering and memes
“TV news, antics and kids.” That’s how de Botton describes herself on her private Instagram page.
Little is known about de Botton’s personal life, but Johnson’s wife Carrie Johnson is, interestingly, among her 600 followers.
The kids are really digging this new year’s day walk (thanks for the pic @jessique44) pic.twitter.com/RCkLtqAbUo
— Amber de Botton (@amberdebotton) January 1, 2018
Have the two put their Partygate differences aside and bonded over their similarities as busy working mums in the political spotlight? Woman’s Hour host Emma Barnett is another high-profile follower on there, too.
On LinkedIn, de Botton describes her skills as “breaking news, media relations, government relations, corporate communications, team management and print” and her Twitter bio simply includes her job title at ITV news, alongside a profile picture and cover photo in black and white.
Her feed is mostly retweets of other news hacks and their political scoops, but it does provide some insight into her personality and sense of humour.
In May 2021 she posted a selfie of her Covid vaccine card, where her surname is accidentally written as “Bottom”. A few months earlier, in March 2021, she was seen to mock a now iconic shot of then-Chancellor Sunak holding his red budget box at the top of the Downing Street stairs in what some consider an attempt to hide his height difference from other ministers and make him look more powerful.
The meme de Botton shared set the Sunak image alongside a picture of a baby on a set of moving staircases from 1986 film The Labyrinth, starring David Bowie, giving it dystopian, horror-type feel.
Whether No 10 bosses will ask her to remove the image from her Twitter feed when she starts the job is yet to be seen, but Sunak has at least made comments about his own height (just 5ft 6in, making him the shortest PM since Winston Churchill) in the past. “I am incredibly grateful that 18 years ago you chose to give up your high heels and take a chance on the short kid with a backpack,” he once said when talking about how he met his wife.
‘Amber de Bottom’ has had her first jab pic.twitter.com/CCUm8cptXh
— Amber de Botton (@amberdebotton) May 27, 2021
The next Allegra Stratton – or a fresh start?
Dominic Cummings’ leaks about the goings-on at Number 10 and damning Partygate exposures including Alegra Stratton joking about a “fictional party” – these are just some of the bombshell stories de Botton has been credited for as part of her role at ITV News over recent years, some of which have won awards for their role in helping to trigger the demise of Johnson’s premiership.
Many say it’s no wonder, then, that Sunak was so keen to welcome de Botton into his team, as he attempts to restore faith in politics and right the wrongs of the Johnson era.
Poaching journalists for the press role at No 10 is nothing new. Johnson’s former comms chief Guto Harri was an ex-BBC journalist and had a habit of making himself the story, with commentators asking if he risked becoming the next Anthony Scaramucci after he described Johnson as “not a total clown”.
Before him, Stratton – an ex-ITV journalist like de Botton and, interestingly, a godmother to Sunak’s children – also ended up attracting headlines for all the wrong reasons, resigning from the role after a clip of her laughing about “cheese and wine” nights in Downing Street was revealed by – you guessed it – de Botton’s team.
Former Foreign Office special adviser Adam Jones briefly took the role under Truss and Johnson’s former Foreign Office press secretary Simon McGee was lined up to share the role with Jones until Truss resigned.
Now, it’s de Botton’s turn to take the comms baton.
Let’s hope her record in Downing Street remains rather cleaner than Stratton’s and she avoids putting herself at the centre of any stories – or her future successor (another ITV hack?) could be in for quite the scoop.