Proms at St Judes: Stanley Johnson on his television gaffes, political sons and playing the ‘fool’

Stanley Johnson

Stanley Johnson - Credit: Archant

Ahead of a talk about his latest memoir, Stanley Johnson tells Alex Bellotti why his future plans are open as he leaves the politics to Boris and Jo.

‘Stanley Johnson: one-time spy, politician, animal rights crusader – and irresistibly brilliant raconteur.’ So reads the blurb of the 74-year-old’s second volume of memoirs. And while he no doubt lives up to such praise, he is also aware that most will commonly know him as the Mayor of London’s dad.

This in itself is no problem – indeed he’s “as pleased as punch” at the fact. In a typically calamitous recollection from Stanley, I Resume however, he recounts the trouble of being introduced as such by William Hague on the BBC panel show Have I Got News For You.

“‘Well actually chairman,’ I said, ‘I am not just Boris’s father, I am also Rachel’s father and Leo’s and Jo’s and Max’s and … Er. Er.’

“My mind went blank. Hague looked at me. ‘Well, how many more are there?’

“Of course, the studio audience loved that. The ice was broken. A good time was had by all.”

Returning to his then-Primrose Hill home, Stanley found his only unnamed child, Julia – born, like Max, from his second marriage to Jennifer Kidd – not quite as amused. As memoir entries go though, the incident demonstrates its narrator’s enjoyable ability to lampoon himself with regular gusto – a fact which should make for an entertaining author talk at Proms at St Jude’s on June 21 with broadcaster Sue MacGregor.

Most Read

Elsewhere in the book, Stanley regales us with tales of his campaign to ban the importation of seal skins in Canada, writing a dozen spy novels, travelling to Antarctica and of course the rising fortunes of the Johnson clan.

“Of course I’m absolutely delighted that both Jo and Boris have joined the government in some form,” he tells me regarding his two MP sons. He has “no line” on whether the latter’s dual role as mayor may prove problematic, but – eager to say something nonetheless – adds that Boris “played a blinder” in winning voters over on the election trail.

Similarly, a mere mention of ambition in the Johnson household immediately gets shut down – “Oh I don’t know about that… no, I don’t think so… we just get on with our things” – but the Regent’s Park resident suggests his sons are in politics for the same reason that he became an environmentally-campaigning MEP in the late ‘70s.

“In a very practical way, I’ve always thought that if you want to get something done then politics is a pretty good way to get something done. If you want to lobby people, well, that’s one thing, but why not get in there and do it?”

Nonetheless, at an age where returning to the political stage is realistically out of the question, Stanley’s future ambitions are open. Two of his novels, The Viper and The Warming, are set to be re-published in America, and having once co-presented Channel 4’s The Last Word for a short time, he retains an interest in television.

“I have had occasional feelers from TV producers who would like me to eat worms in the Australian forests or go on Big Brother,” he writes, “but whenever these overtures have seemed likely to turn into hard offers, a ‘family veto’ has been applied. Frankly I never mind making a fool of myself. That’s what I do for a living.”

A modest appraisal perhaps, but as the Johnsons well know, the joker in the pack can often play the most important role of all.

Stanley Johnson will be in conversation with Sue MacGregor at Proms at St Jude’s on June 21. Stanley, I Resume is published by The Robson Press in paperback for £10.99.