Contrary to his public persona as a flamboyant and garrulous figure, the Boris Johnson I met in 2004 on one of his frequent visits to Delhi was most unassuming and courteous. He came to the capital ever so often with his wife, Marina Wheeler, and their children and stayed in the plush homes of Wheeler’s relatives in Golf Links or Lajpatnagar. Wheeler’s mother, Dip Singh, is Indian and her late father was Charles Wheeler, a reputed BBC journalist who met Dip when he was posted in Delhi in the 1960s. (Boris Johnson and Marina Wheeler announced their separation last year.)
I first met Johnson at a dinner and being fellow-journalists we agreed to meet the following evening for a one-to-one chat in my flat. He was then the editor of the iconic British journal, The Spectator, and was also a Tory member of parliament representing the very snazzy constituency of Henley-on-Thames. He was very keen to be briefed about Indian political events. I explained the political situation as best as I could. He listened very carefully without any interruption. He had no preconceived notions to offer about the state of our country or its politics. Through the evening, he was most cordial, charming and low-key.
A year later, while visiting London, I phoned him. He suggested that I should write an article for The Spectator. On returning to Delhi, I wrote a colourful profile of Mayawati who had been the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. He asked me to “spice up” my piece. I revised it but the piece was never published, presumably because it was not spicy enough for Boris.
A reticent figure
Boris Johnson’s younger brother, Jo Johnson, was also a journalist and was in Delhi from 2005 to 2008 as the Financial Times Bureau Chief for South Asia. I met Jo Johnson several times. His public personality is totally different from that of his brother. Jo Johnson is a very reticent figure. In private, he proved to be as courteous and unaffected as Boris Johnson. Like his brother, Jo Johnson has also moved from journalism to politics.
During the British general election of 2015, I was in London again and accompanied Jo Johnson while he was canvassing to be re-elected from his posh, stockbroker-belt constituency of Orpington. I got a feel of the very genteel British style of seeking votes, which was for the candidate to knock gently at door after door and request a favourable veddict from each householder.
A long journey
Jo Johnson’s father, Stanley, accompanied us during our campaigning rounds. He is the most charming of the Johnsons with a constant twinkle in his eye. He told me that as a young man he had driven his motor-bike from London to Delhi in 1964.
On Wednesday, Boris became Britain’s Prime Minister and shortly after appointed his brother as minister for business, energy and industrial strategy. Stanley Johnson told the media that he was proud of his sons. It is nice to know that all three have a Delhi connection.
Jawid Laiq is a Delhi-based political correspondent and author of The Maverick Republic.