As Stanley Johnson gets ready to enter the jungle for the latest series of I’m A Celebrity... we look at the adventure-seeking father of the Foreign Secretary who was once a trainee spy
T Brisbane airport this week a ruddy-cheeked man with a shock of blond hair and the name Johnson on his passport made his way to a waiting limousine, the very image of the affable if slightly buffoonish Englishman abroad. You might be forgiven for assuming that this person was our Foreign Secretary on official business… but think again.
This Johnson is Stanley, Boris’s father. And he’s in Australia to join the Celebrity Jungle where he will spend the next few weeks eating kangaroo testicles and being buried under cockroaches with the likes of Saturdays’ singer Vanessa White, boxer Amir Khan and Coronation Street star Jennie McAlpine. And he is already among the bookies’ favourites to win.
Those unfamiliar with the head of the Johnson clan – as well as Boris, 53, he is father to five other children, including journalist Rachel, 52, and universities minister Jo, 45 – are in for something of an eye-opener. At 77 Stanley not only looks strikingly similar to his eldest son but has lived a life every bit as colourful and outspoken as anything Boris has managed.
Brought up in relatively humble circumstances on a sheep farm in Exmoor he has enjoyed careers as a trainee spy (he quit after six months, admitting he was worried his “incompetence might have cost people their lives”), at the World Bank, as Conservative MEP for Wight and Hampshire East and latterly as a passionate environmentalist travelling the world to research the plight of orangutans, tigers, elephants, whales and turtles.
He has also written 25 books, scaled Kilimanjaro twice and even rode a motorbike from Oxford to Afghanistan as part of adventurer Tim Severin’s Marco Polo Expedition.
However it is as Boris’s father that he is still best known, sometimes even being mistaken for the Foreign Secretary himself. “Bloody hell,” Boris is said to have exploded at a party after his father – also a guest – kept getting confused for him. “What is it with everyone? I’m 20 years younger than my father for God’s sake – can’t you tell?”
But the parallels don’t end there. And those who know them say that far from being an imitation of Boris it is Stanley who has set the standard which his son is now following.
A source close to the Johnsons said: “Stanley has that chronic, bottomless need for attention so him going on I’m A Celebrity makes perfect sense. He’ll do all sorts of silly things and will be absolutely game for a laugh or a silly photo op.
“But underneath it all is an iron ambition. Boris got his whole shtick from him, doing the endearing, bumbling thing. Stanley made Boris the public persona he is.”
THERE have been some remarkably Boris-like episodes in Stanley’s life. He claims to have got through no less than eight Kindle e-readers due to forgetting where he left them and he recently admitted to buying six leather jackets on a whim from a man at a motorway service station, only to discover later that they were fake.
“I was driving down to Somerset on the M4 and pulled into a service station and a man saw me and asked if I’d like to buy a leather jacket,” he said. “I not only bought one I bought six. I handed over HAPPY CAMPER: In I’m A Celebrity mode and on Mount Kilimanjaro in 2011, above £750 for the jackets and I’m not even sure they were leather. He must have been standing there waiting for someone like me.”
The air of slightly surreal buffoonery extends to his professional life. After Stanley lost out standing as a Conservative MP for Teignbridge in 2005 (defeated by Liberal Democrat Richard Younger-Ross) it emerged that he had not only misspelled the constituency’s name on his campaign leaflets but also declared on them: “The Conservatives believe in more talk and less action.”
His 2014 autobiography is packed with tales that further this image of eccentric chaos. There is the time he attempts to pollard a tree with a chainsaw: “I decided to attack a large, solid branch some 20ft off the ground. Unfortunately it happened to be the one I was sitting on.”
There’s the episode in which helping himself to a midnight snack at a friend’s house ends with the whole fridge destroyed. And there is the incident in which he forgets the names of his own children when being interviewed on live TV.
But as with Boris many close to Stanley take the bumbling act with a sizeable pinch of salt. According to Oliver Dawnay, the 21-year-old son of Rachel Johnson and a UT THERE is one more parallel between father and son that is perhaps not so professionally impressive – or so amusing. Boris’s fondness for the fairer sex is well-documented. He has been married twice and in 2013 it was revealed he had fathered a daughter through an extramarital affair. His wife Marina Wheeler threw him out of the family home for a while – just as she did when he had an affair nine years earlier with journalist Petronella Wyatt.
It would seem that it is another trait he has inherited from his father. Stanley has also married twice, firstly to artist Charlotte Johnson Wahl with whom he had four children: Boris, Rachel, Jo and Leo. She was later admitted to the Maudsley psychiatric hospital.
Subsequently after their divorce Stanley went on to marry Jennifer Kidd, who is a decade younger than him and with whom he had two more children: Julia and Maximilian.
And according to one friend of the family Stanley hasn’t completely lost his eye for the ladies, saying: “Although he is happily married I think Stanley will enjoy any one-on-ones with women on I’m A Celebrity. He certainly enjoys female company. I get the feeling that all of the women in the lives of both father and son are pretty long-suffering.”
As for Stanley himself, his own take on marriage seems to sum up both the charm and drive that characterises the Johnsons.
“I’m terribly happy with Jenny,” he says. “But then you’re a long time dead.”
JOHNSON AND JOHNSON: Stanley’s an eccentric presence in son Boris’s life