“Boris has confounded his critics”


First Sister Rachel Johnson wrote her new book “Rake’s Progress” to describe her brief career in politics. And her brother’s ascent to Downing Street.




Rachel Johnson, 54, is a journalist and author. She is often invited toin political talk shows but also went to Celebrity Big Brother in 2018. Since her older brother Boris became the leader of the Brexit campaign four years ago Sunday lunches at the Johnons have become slightly more stressful. If they happen at all, since Boris is Prime minister since last July and brothers Leo, Jo and father Stanley are, as Rachel, staunch remainers. Rachel even ran as an MEP for European parliament iin the European elections last May for the newly found Change UK party. She was not elected. In her book “Rake’s Progress” Johnson describes her short political career and her role as First Sister.


Profil: How do you judge your brother’s first months in office?

Johnson: Boris has confounded his critics. He has got off to a good start. Al – as I call him - is dynamic, decisive, clever, he gives the people the feeling he is getting things done. I think my brother is an optimist and he thinks that everything will turn out for the best.


Profil: How will the Coronavirus influence the situation? Optimism alone will probably not work. Is it responsible to isolate elderly people but keep schools and pubs open?

Johnson: He will have to take counterintuitive, tough decisions now. We now have the experts back in the center of the debate. What Michael Gove used to say about “Project Fear” and all that – it is over. We are heading possibly to Armageddon. Experts have got to lead on this and I think they are. A few days ago I still went to the rugby game in Twickenham. So did Boris and Carrie. Carrie is pregnant. My father came, too. We all went. 80.000 people were there. That’s how we are! We Brits always keep calm and carry on.


Profil: Did your brother like your book?

Johnson: I had to give a copy to the Prime minister and he was flipping through it and he started frowning. I hate it, when people read my stuff in front of me. We were sitting in my mother’s hospital room and he read it and got to the bit, where I wrote about Checkers. And he said: Did you have to write this? And I said: I did not allow this to be serialised! And then he said: Now I have to write my own memoirs after all this farago of nonsense!


Profil: Is this a book about the competition between a brother and a sister?

Johnson: It is a book about how I lost this competition immediately! I already lost it on the day I was born, because I was born after him.


Profil: So why then did you write this book?

Johnson: I wrote it to annoy. I think it is an incredible loving and honest book. My problem in life is that I am congentially incapable of lying, of hiding the truth. Especially with people I love. I know it is goning to upset some people. And there is stuff in there that I should not have put in there. But when you are writing a book you are not in control completely, the narrative has its own momentum.


Profil: Who besides your brother will be upset?

Johnson: I just gave David Cameron a copy and he sent me a text saying: I wished that you as a friend would have understood why I called the referendum. It was in the manifesto after all, it was party policy, he said.


Profil: So Cameron is still trying to explain that it was not his fault that all went wrong? Because it was written in the party program of the conservative party?

Johnson: Yes, and do you know, who wrote the manifesto in 2015? Joe Johnson. My other brother. Cameron was kind enough not to point that out to me. But he also said: I wish you would not have said that I “foisted” the referendum. So I wrote back. If it goes to paperback, which I think it will, you can choose a new word.


Profil: Was your father very ambitious for the sons and less about you? You write in the book that he praised his sons career and said about you only: “Rachel has nice teeth.”

Johnson: No, that is not fair. I will say that my father, and this is the job of fathers, always made me feel that I as a daughter could do and become anything I wanted to. He was not happy when I was only a wife and mother. He is an incredily enabling dynamic father. He is such a positive person that makes you feel that you can do anything. I am not a very positive person. What I have of positivity I have from my grandmother. She would sit with us in the house in Somerset where I grew up. My grandmother made me read at the age of four. She handed me “The Times” and said: Read me the leader! And I did. I was four years old. And I could read. And my brother could not. And he was a year older. This was a defining moment of his life. He saw that granny thought that I could read better than him. And from that moment on he had to prove that he was better than me.


Profil: So it is a story of competition between a brother and a sister after all.

Johnson: Which he has won. I don’t want to run the country. I just want to have a dog and have a nice life.


Profil: You were against his politics, but do you still enjoy to be First sister?

Johnson: I don’t know what the advantages are. I mean, I am very happy for him, but for me it is not so easy. I don’t want to upset my brother. My book is quite Jungian. I get quite analytical about the family. But the book is important for me because I kept my mouth shut for four years. I tried to be careful in the book but probably not careful enough.


Profil: You are not too harsh with him in the book although you oppose his politics.

Johnson: Why would I not be nice to him, I love him! It is no secret that I think its really stupid whats going on. Especially now the way ideology is trumping sensible decision making – if it is terorism or aviation: We just cannot do this by consciously uncoupling ourselves from the outside world and certainly not the EU. Brexit, sadly, is a fact, it is a finished argument and the next generation will have to fight to come back.


Profil: Has Boris changed since he is Prime minister?

Johnson: I think he hugely enjoying the job. It is also hugely demanding and he looks tired. But I think he is really good on his feet in the Commons. They also like him in cabinet. He is also a good delegator. I don’t do PR, but this is what I am hearing.


Profil: And your own political career is over?

Johnson: Yes. I wrote this book to describe the rise and fall of a political party in record time. A failure of Remain. Why? Because it was a bubble. When I got out to the South-West I knew it was over. As soon as you leave London you knew, Brexit was not something we could stop.


Profil: Did your brother not care about the consequences of Brexit?

Johnson: He was absolutely torn. There is no question. You have to ask him, why he, coming from such a European family like ours, came out for Leave. I think he feels very European. I was with him on the day before he decided…


Profil: A great scene in your book: You played tennis in the rain. And then you read the two columns he wrote, one for Remain and one for Leave...

Johnson: In the end it is just much more fun to be a Viking than a bureaucrat. That is what essentially happened.


Profil: At least you yourself tried to be on the right side of history?

Johnson: I don’t know, was I? Maybe the Coronavirus is affecting my brain, but I am not so sure anymore.