Stanley Johnson a force of nature in his own right
Ham&High reporter Katie Davies is adopted into mayor Boris Johnson s clan, as she chats to London s First Father Stanley Johnson on his home turf of Primrose Hill WITHIN five minutes of meeting the head of the Johnson dynasty, I must be doing well a
Ham&High reporter Katie Davies is adopted into mayor Boris Johnson's clan, as she chats to London's 'First Father' Stanley Johnson on his home turf of Primrose Hill
WITHIN five minutes of meeting the head of the Johnson dynasty, I must be doing well as I'm already part of the family.
Though I distinctly lack the famous white-blond mane and Etonian tones of Stanley Johnson - made famous in replica by his son Boris, the new mayor of London - meeting him for lunch our waiter presumes I'm his granddaughter.
A lesser man would have had his pride dented but Stanley gives it a typically bemused laugh.
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"Well now, that's how you have to start your article," he chuckles. "'The opening line should be: 'The waiter asked Stanley if I was his granddaughter'. I think you can say Stanley wasn't best pleased."
The work of Primrose Hill resident Stanley Johnson - author, environmentalist, EU politician and sometime Tory prospective parliamentarian - has been upstaged by his most recent position, that of London's First Father.
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Eerily reminiscent of his son, he arrives by bicycle confident and cocksure, hair flapping in the wind and dismounting at full speed while people gather to say hello. For 30 seconds he is the centre of attention, but just as soon the spotlight shifts to Johnson junior.
"How's Boris?", "Congratulations to Boris", "Did Boris have a good time in Turkey?" come the questions.
It's not surprising that before the interview he requests that we "don't just talk about Boris" and what little he does say is very reserved.
"I am tremendously pleased and proud of Boris's success," he says. "It's superb and very well-earned, no doubt about it. But it's not just success which makes you proud, it's effort as well.
"I have five other children and none of them has made a hash of it yet and you can't do better than that. And they probably hope their parents don't make a big hash of things too."
Perhaps election fatigue has caused this quietening down of Padre Johnson, although it also smacks of a silencing order from Party HQ.
Stanley, for example, refuses to attack David Cameron for not letting him take over as Tory candidate for Boris's old seat of Henley, despite being evidently enthused by the idea.
"The Tories decided, and probably rightly, they would have a local candidate," he shrugs. "There are plenty of other things to do, but as a politician you can do things for people in your constituency and if you are interested in wider things, like I am with the environment, you can work through the political process.
"Politics is where things get done. Although, that said, I am seeing an enormous amount of fun is to be had as a journalist. It's a jolly good life with all these free lunches you get."
As far as appetite for life goes, the 67-year-old is hungrier than most. After working at the World Bank, he went on to the European Commission and the European Parliament. He ran as an MP in 2005, although his fondest memory of the campaign was his non-political "charity squash game" with Boris.
He has had 10 books published, received the Greenpeace Prize for Outstanding Services and is currently writing his mischievously entitled autobiography Stanley, I Presume, to be released in February next year.
"The idea that you stop at 65 is complete nonsense," he says. "The way I look at it is it's the time when you've got to rev up. You need to hit the barrier at 100mph."
Stanley, thankfully, likes to break the speed barriers by keeping his brain active rather than flying down Primrose Hill on his bicycle, although one suspects he probably does that as well.
He has always lived around the park - "a lovely place to be" - firstly with his then wife and Boris's artist mum, Charlotte Johnson Wahl.
"I sold that house to Simon Jenkins, who still lives there to this day," he says.
Then he and his second wife Jenny lived in the Rocking Horse House and have only just moved down the road to Regent's Park.
Perhaps his desire to live around the greenery is unsurprising given his eco credentials. "I would describe myself as an environmentalist. I guess it came from growing up on a farm, but also from looking around and seeing what was happening," he explains.
"I have been on very long journeys across the world to see endangered species, in places like the Congo, the Amazon, Darfur and Borneo."
His nature-loving inclinations are delicately balanced with his small government/individual freedom-based Conservatism. "It is tricky - you have to get a balance to sort these things out," he says, mentally weighing it up.
"People are extremely distrustful of environmental taxes if they feel it's just a way for the government to make money. We can't let that happen.
"Maybe economic downturn is going to be so severe that the carbon emission growth projections will have to be revised anyway."
His recent trip to "a tent in Botswana - communicating with elephants and lions", kept him away from much of the Back Boris campaign. But he's brought his love of wild animals back to the city under his son's charge, working as a trustee for the Gorilla Organisation based on Gloucester Avenue.
He insists that we go to their offices and within five minutes I've met everyone down to the temp - Stanley knows them all by name.
Commentators may say Boris's networking skills are down to the Bullingdon Club but I would counter that it came from closer to home, as well as his electable affability.
Stanley's own adventures often took him on long trips abroad and he admits with a hint of sadness he was a "hands-off father."
However, as the latest addition to the family, I think I can safely say he has had more influence than he thinks.