Will A New Baby Change Boris?
As the PM welcomes his sixth or seventh child, Jennifer Crichton ponders his stance on parenting
So, it’s Wilfred.
Did you have money on the name of the Prime Minister’s new baby? Nope, me either. Though if the media reaction to our dear leader’s newest progeny is to be believed, many people did. Bad luck if you opted for Winston – close, but no Churchillian cigar for you.
He’s been named after the PM’s other hero, his grandfather, and personally, I like it. It certainly could have been more outlandish. When the wife of Jacob Rees-Mogg gave birth to their youngest child in 2017, much hilarity ensued over his name – Sixtus Rees-Mogg’s moniker stems from his order of birth as the couple’s sixth child – but we can safely assume that particular naming convention was off the table for Boris given confusion over his virility.
The little one’s middle names, we have learned from the many column inches dedicated to his arrival, are Lawrie, after his mum’s grandfather, and Nicholas, after two of the doctors who helped save Johnson’s life so very recently, after he was struck down by Covid-19. That’s undoubtedly a shining little nugget of loveliness right there, as the doctors themselves acknowledged in a joint press statement following the birth.
Now, obviously, a new baby is a wonderful thing, and I’m sure his parents will be experiencing the same emotional response to his arrival as the many thousands of other new parents expanding their families at what we’ve become used to calling “these challenging times” – falling madly in love with their little bundle of baby boy while being simultaneously bone-tired, a little confused and more than a little scared about the state of the world he’s been born into.
But as I examine the acres of media coverage around this joyous event, I can’t help but notice the misogyny in our response. Because if Boris was a woman, welcoming his ?? child into the world with a new partner, the coverage would likely be a little more… spiky.
I know, those questions marks. I promise, I’m not trying to be arch. They’re there because we genuinely don’t know for certain how many children Boris Johnson has. His Wikipedia entry, famously, names them merely as “five or six” (presumably to be changed forthwith to six or seven), while The Times heralded Wilfred’s arrival with the slightly pointed admission that the NHS had ensured Boris “lived to see the birth of what is at least his sixth child.”
What we do know is that, officially, Boris now has five children, though it is widely accepted he has at least six. He shares four children, Lara Lettice, Cassia Peaches, Theodore Apollo and Milo Arthur Johnson-Wheeler, with his ex-wife Marina Wheeler. They are aged 20 to 26.
He also fathered another child, a daughter named Stephanie, in 2009 during an affair with art advisor Helen Macintyre – a fact that is now publicly recognised despite his initial denial of her paternity and attempt, in 2013, to secure an injunction to prevent their connection being reported.
Confused yet? You will be. He is also claimed to have fathered one other child during yet another affair, as reported by The Independent. And while he refused to answer questions about how many children he really has during last year’s election campaign, many believe Wilfred to be child number seven.
Now, in and of itself, I could care less. Boris’ bedroom shenanigans really shouldn’t have anything to do with me and, to be frank, it’s a subject I could happily live without exploring further. Sadly though, we continue to live in a society which punishes women who dare to have multiple sexual partners, let alone children by multiple partners. And that makes the whole thing somewhat less palatable.
From Kerry Katona, widely ridiculed in the press for many things, chiefly her blended family by multiple famous exes, to former glamour model Katie Price, who faced a similar smearing, our contempt for women with extended families is laced with classism and judgment. But we don’t reserve it only for those we view as being at the lower end of the celebrity pecking order. From ‘90s TV personality Ulrika Jonsson, whose fall from media darling status saw her nicknamed 4×4 for having four children by four fathers, to the undeniably classy Kate Winslet, the British media loves to sit in judgment of women considered to have too many notches on their bedposts.
“My kids don’t go back and forth; none of this 50/50 time with the mums and dads – my children live with me; that is it. That is it!” she raged to Hello! magazine back in 2013, following a somewhat snide press response to the birth of her third child by her third husband. “People go, ‘Oh, my God! Those poor children! They must have gone through so much.’ Says who?,” she added.
This game of playing judge and jury over women’s romantic lives is one the Prime Minister has happily played himself too, which only adds insult to injury.
I myself have written before about our PM’s somewhat hypocritical take on single parenting. During the last election campaign, his approach to fatherhood finally found itself in a critical spotlight, after a column he’d written previously for The Spectator came to light, in which he accused single mums of “producing a generation of ill-raised, ignorant, aggressive and illegitimate children.”
In it, he railed against men who leave women high and dry, and explored the argument that “You can call, if you like, for the odious and unfair humiliation of bastard children in the hope that it will cause a pang of regret in their parents and deter potential single mothers,” before deciding that sanctioning their parents was a better response.
He later claimed those quotes had been taken out of context. Though the fact that a couple of years after writing them he left his wife, and the mother of his four acknowledged children, while she was suffering from cancer adds some new context all by itself.
It’s hard to make these points without seeming churlish. I am sure Boris and his fiancée Carrie Symonds love each other, and their new son, very much. But as we gush over baby Wilfred’s birth, I’d like to think we could collectively take a moment to consider the sexism rife in the differing ways we view blended families.
Boris’ son, like so many children in modern life, has siblings who live in other homes. That does not make them any less a family, and it would be nice if we could recognise that for all children like him, not just those born into privilege.
Because every child deserves opportunities in life, regardless of their parentage or home life. One can only hope that a fresh stab at fatherhood helps Boris see the light.