Petronella Wyatt

Petronella Wyatt: The time I saw Boris cry

Boris Johnson is nothing like Churchill, a view with which my friend Andrew Roberts concurs. But in the 20-odd years I have known Boris, I have often been struck by his similarity to John Wilkes, 18th-century politician, journalist and catnip to women. A wit and a showman, Wilkes, who denounced European entanglements and championed the rights of the electorate over parliament, was the first politician to achieve celebrity status. One of Boris’s endearing traits is that he has never regarded himself as an enticing proposition in the looks department. Wilkes had a squint, but he said: ‘Give me half an hour to talk away my face and I can seduce any woman ahead of the handsomest man in England.’ He stole Casanova’s favourite mistress and had numerous illegitimate children, and it was for him that Dr Johnson coined ‘Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel’. Yet he was a genuine patriot and the ‘common people’ saw him as a saviour. Once I took Boris to see Wilkes’s tomb in west London. It is a simple slab with the inscription: ‘A Friend to Liberty.’ I have a feeling that our prime minister, who shed what used to be called a manly tear at this, will also prove worthy of the epitaph.

My mother suffers from a condition called ‘unspecified dementia’. The other day I was telephoned by a social worker assigned to her care home. Some of these people are only mildly less imaginative than the patients they represent. ‘Your mother wants to become a concert pianist. She needs piano lessons.’ It transpired that I was also required to buy her a grand piano. At this, my inner sense of penury rose up in protest. ‘Do you know how much these things cost?’ The social worker replied: ‘But you must be one of the richest women in London.

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