July 24, 2019

COMETH THE HOUR, COMETH THE MAN: A Profile of Boris Johnson.

My uncle had described him as a “genius” and as a boy he’d been regarded as something of a wunderkind. There was the occasion when he was holidaying with his family in Greece, aged 10, and asked a group of Classics professors if he could join their game of Scrabble. They indulged the precocious, blond-haired moppet, only to be beaten by him. Thinking it was a one-off, they asked him to play another round and, again, he won. On and on it went, game after game. At the prep school he attended before going to Eton, Britain’s grandest private school, he was seen as a prodigy. A schoolmaster who taught him back then told his biographer, Andrew Gimson, that he was the quickest-learner he’d ever encountered. In the staff room, the teachers would compare notes about the “fantastically able boy.”

He was without doubt the biggest man on campus—the person most likely to succeed. He made no secret of his desire to be Prime Minister one day, and not just a run-of-the-mill, common-or-garden PM, but up there with Gladstone and Disraeli. And this was a scaling back of his ambitions—as a boy he’d told his younger sister Rachel that he wanted to be “world king.” (There was an intermediate stage during his teenage years when he harboured fantasies of becoming President of the United States—something that’s technically possible, given that he was born in New York.) He was by no means the only member of the Oxford Union to express such hopes during that period, but in his case you felt it might actually happen. Unlike so many other privileged undergraduates, with their vaulting sense of entitlement, Boris’s gargantuan self-belief seemed of a piece with his outsized personality. He had an electrifying, charismatic presence of a kind I’d only read about in books before. Our mutual friend Lloyd Evans, who knew Boris better than me at Oxford, put it well. “He’s a war leader,” he told Andrew Gimson. “He is one of the two or three most extraordinary people I’ve ever met. You just feel he’s going somewhere. People just love him. They enjoy going with him and they enjoy being led.”

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