By David Epstein / ProPublica

The former mayor of London was head of the Brexit Leave campaign. (BackBoris2012 Campaign Team)

This piece originally ran on ProPublica.

We in the U.S. of A. are very cosmopolitan and have been following #Brexit since at least last Thursday, so, naturally, most Americans are now suitably expert in the nuanced and far-reaching implications of the British electorate’s decision to part ways with the European Union. Who knew your work buddy, “the Chuckster,” was such a perspicacious interpreter of global market volatility?? It’s been such a thorough education that some Americans can probably maybe even now name the countries that comprise the United Kingdom. (England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales … but you knew that. I’m only saying it so I’ll remember.) Even so, you may have a friend who isn’t familiar with Boris Johnson, the man who convinced the Brits to bid “cheerio” to the E.U. Your six W’s:


BoJo is the tousle-haired towhead who went to the most haute of all British high schools for boys — it costs $13,000 just to drop out in the middle of a term, and that’s a bargain thanks to the falling value of the Great British pound — and yet, he managed to convince vast swaths of the plebeian old country (and I do mean old: “Leave” crushed among British seniors) that he should be their medium for social change. Johnson was previously the mayor of London, which voted heavily to stay, before he became the hair of the Leave Campaign.

Wait, who?

Prior to Brexit, if Americans had ever seen the 52-year-old Johnson before, it was probably when he was very publicly stuck hanging from a zipline during the London Olympics in 2012. The man also has a way with words, particularly words that the entire U.S. Congress has never heard of; his version of Trump’s “Sad!” was to call his rivals “a void within a vacuum surrounded by a vast inanition.”

What else about him?

Like British soccer (which just lost to … wait for it … Iceland) and black pudding, take a look inside and Boris starts to look less scrumptious and more bumptious. In 1988, according to The Guardian, he was fired from the Times of London for making up a quote. Or, as the ever frothy Daily Mailput it: “Johnson decided to spice up the story with a reference to gay sex among the royals and then fabricated a comment from an Oxford don, Sir Colin Lucas.” Thing is, Sir Colin is BoJo’s godfather, and when he complained, young Boris got sacked.

What else?

He later lost a political appointment for lying to a superior about an affair he was having with a columnist at the magazine he was editing. He might’ve gotten away with that one if, according to the Daily Mail, the columnist hadn’t been a famous socialite whose mother revealed publicly an abortion stemming from the affair with Johnson. Johnson had previously dismissed the affair rumors as an “inverted pyramid of piffle.” Natch.

Wait, there’s more?

Is there ever. In 2009, Britain’s Channel 4 got its hands on a nearly two-decade-old recording of Johnson — then a reporter — talking to his friend Darius Guppy. (I know, you thought that was the lead singer from Hootie & the Blowfish.) According to The Independent, Guppy was planning a smidge of insurance fraud, and wanted Boris to get him the info of a journalist who was making annoying inquiries so that Guppy (can’t stop laughing) could have the journalist beat up. A transcript of the recording makes it sound as though Boris is cool with it as long as the beating doesn’t go beyond a cracked rib. Phew! (Johnson has said that he was merely humoring an upset friend in a private conversation.)

What now?

Johnson seemed likely to become the new prime minister, but yesterday stepped aside after his pal and political ally Michael Gove said that Johnson couldn’t unite the party … and announced his own candidacy. Gove had previously said he’d “sign a piece of parchment in my own blood” that he didn’t want to be prime minister. Great! Now we have a Game of Thrones fix until season seven.

They Said It

“If it means we can go back to using decent light bulbs … and choose high-powered hairdryers and vacuum cleaners if we so wish, I’m joining Brexit for sure.” –model/actress Elizabeth Hurley

…Brexit/Bremain opinions completely aside, there is no way Elizabeth Hurley does her own vacuuming.

#facepalm Of The Week

The Red Cross apologized this week for a pool safety poster bearing its name. Or, as ProPublica’s @eisingerj called it: “diving while black.”

Additional research by Kate Brown.

Tips are appreciated. The paper kind, or the green paper kind.

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