Prime Minister marries for third time after Covid-dominated leadership of UK

·6-min read

Boris Johnson celebrates his apparently secretly planned third marriage after a tumultuous 15 months of leading the country through the Covid-19 pandemic.

Reports of him exchanging vows with Carrie Symonds at Westminster Cathedral said that even Downing Street aides were unaware of the ceremony in advance.

It is an approach that is perhaps characteristic of a Prime Minister who has long been reticent when it comes to sharing details of his private life.

The wedding comes just days after the couple were said to have sent save-the-date cards to friends and family for an event in July next year.

The pair announced their engagement and that they were expecting a child in February last year, three weeks before the country was plunged into its first Covid lockdown.

London Mayoral election
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his then fiancee Carrie Symonds arrive to cast their vote during local elections in May (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

By March 27, Mr Johnson had tested positive for Covid-19 and on April 5 he was admitted to St Thomas’ Hospital in London. A day later he was moved to intensive care after his condition worsened.

He was discharged on April 12 to continue his recovery at Chequers and thanked NHS staff for saving his life.

On April 29, Ms Symonds gave birth to the couple’s first child, a baby boy.

Wilfred became the third baby born to a serving prime minister in recent history.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has been drafted in to deputise for the Prime Minister while he was incapacitated but Mr Johnson bounced back to negotiate his way through policy U-turns, two further Covid lockdowns and the launch of the UK’s biggest vaccination drive.

Along the way he lost his controversial chief adviser Dominic Cummings, who he had to defend over his apparent breaking of lockdown rules in March 2020.

The exit of Vote Leave duo Mr Cummings and Lee Cain, the Prime Minister’s former spin doctor, was widely blamed on the influence of Ms Symonds within No 10.

Mr Cummings came back to haunt Mr Johnson this week as he appeared before MPs for seven hours to lacerate the Government over its handling of the Covid pandemic.

He declared the Prime Minister as unfit for office and suggested that Government failings led to tens of thousands of people dying unnecessarily.

Ms Symonds had been “desperate” to get rid of Mr Cummings, he told MPs.

Prime Minister visits Colchester Hospital
Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a visit to Colchester Hospital in Essex (Glyn Kirk/PA)

In recent weeks, the prime minister has faced scrutiny over how renovations at his Downing Street flat, reportedly reaching up to £200,000, were paid for.

A ministerial sleaze watchdog concluded Mr Johnson “unwisely” allowed the work on the apartment to go ahead without “more rigorous regard for how this would be funded”, but cleared him of breaking the rules.

Despite the ups and downs of leading through the pandemic, local elections earlier this month provided something of a boost for Mr Johnson and his party.

The Tories had 12 net council gains in England and more than 280 seats.

They also pulled off a shock victory in the Hartlepool by-election and held onto the Tees Valley and West Midlands mayoral posts.

The results came a matter of months after Mr Johnson’s government finally secured an 11th hour UK-EU trade deal in December 2020.

But charting a new post-Brexit course for the country has been overshadowed by the months of the Covid pandemic.

Prime Minister’s Questions
Mr Johnson has had to lead the UK through the Covid-19 pandemic (Parliament/Jessica Taylor)

Mr Johnson entered Number 10 despite a string of gaffes and scandals that might have ended the careers of other politicians.

Instead, he has been able to survive and prosper despite – or possibly because of – his capacity for attracting attention.

A row with Ms Symonds that saw police called to their home in the early stages of the Conservative leadership race was a glimpse into the complicated private life about which Mr Johnson tries desperately to avoid answering questions.

His previous provocative columns have prompted much scrutiny and he has been repeatedly criticised for using racially charged or offensive language.

This week an independent review into alleged Islamophobia and discrimination in the Conservative Party said Mr Johnson’s comments about women wearing the burka have given an impression that the Tories are “insensitive to Muslim communities”.

Mr Johnson was also previously criticised for his blunder as foreign secretary in the case of jailed British-Iranian Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who he mistakenly said had been training journalists – comments which were seized on by the authorities in Tehran.

He met his first wife, Allegra Mostyn-Owen, while they were students at Oxford, and they wed in 1987 but the marriage was annulled in 1993.

His second marriage, to Marina Wheeler, ended after 25 years, during which they had four children.

The marriage was turbulent. In 2004 he was sacked from the Tory front bench over a reported affair with journalist Petronella Wyatt, and the Appeal Court ruled in 2013 that the public had a right to know that he had fathered a daughter during an adulterous liaison while mayor of London in 2009.

Claims that Mr Johnson squeezed the thigh of journalist Charlotte Edwardes, at a private lunch at The Spectator magazine’s HQ shortly after he became editor in 1999, overshadowed his first Conservative Party conference as PM.

Allegations about his relationship with American entrepreneur Jennifer Arcuri, and whether she enjoyed preferential treatment while he was mayor, also dominated the headlines in September 2019.

Mr Johnson’s ability to reach out to voters who traditionally shun the Conservatives was demonstrated by his election as mayor of London in 2008, and retention of the powerful position four years later.

But his status as a favourite of the Conservative grassroots was confirmed in the leadership election, which saw him trounce rival Jeremy Hunt.

Mr Johnson’s decision to back Brexit in the referendum was a significant boost for the campaign, giving Vote Leave the high-profile frontman it needed.

After taking office as prime minister, Theresa May made him her foreign secretary – although he resigned in July 2018 over the direction she was taking on Brexit.

An old Etonian, Mr Johnson was a member of the notorious elite dining society the Bullingdon Club at Oxford.

Although he has had his sights set on Number 10 throughout his political career, as a child he held even loftier ambitions.

According to his sister Rachel, the young Boris’s goal was to be “world king”.

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