So Jennifer, is our Prime Minister a Y-fronts or boxers man?
The elegant, designer-clad blonde sitting in front of me — socially distanced of course — bristles: ‘I think it’s irrelevant whether I’ve seen someone in their underwear or not,’ she sniffs.
Come on Jennifer, don’t be a spoilsport! We know you know.
It’s all there in a new biography of Boris Johnson, along with how his dad broke his mum’s nose; his fisticuffs in a lift with former Chancellor George Osborne; his one-night stand with a brunette in Davos . . . and you and he in a London hotel room, with him ‘plodding around in his underwear, eating cheese, conscious about his looks and his need to lose weight‘.
Jennifer Arcuri, the 35-year-old American business woman who famously gave the then London mayor ‘tech tutorials’ in her flat (where she practised pole dancing) and who — until today — has never directly confirmed her four-year affair with Boris, demurs again.
‘[The author] took things that happened over the years and made it seem like it all happened on one night because it suited his narrative.’
But you did have an affair?
‘I think that goes without saying,’ she purrs throatily. ‘It’s pretty much out there . . . But I’m not going to talk about it.’
Then she proceeds to do just that.
Jennifer Arcuri, the 35-year-old American business woman who famously gave the then London mayor ‘tech tutorials’ in her flat (where she practised pole dancing) has — until today — never directly confirmed her four-year affair with Boris
In an exclusive interview, Jennifer tells me how Boris, who was married to second wife Marina Wheeler (mother of four of his children), bombarded her with ‘avalanches of passion’; how his aides conspired to keep the lovers apart; and dissolves into tears when she recalls how angry and upset he was to discover she was pregnant by the man she later married.
She talks about her ‘phenomenal heart-to-hearts’ with another of Boris’s mistresses, Petronella Wyatt, predicts his relationship with Carrie Symonds won’t go the distance and reveals her next project: a TV drama likely to make the beleaguered PM tremble in his boots.
Oh, and she’s heading back to Britain as soon as travel restrictions allow.
We meet in a hotel in Louisville, Kentucky, where Jennifer, her British husband Matthew Hickey and their three-year-old daughter, Madeleine, are visiting her mother following her father’s death.
‘It came unexpectedly but it wasn’t Covid-related,’ she says sadly. ‘He’d been in a coma since a week after my scandal hit [last year]. He’d known all about it and the last thing he said to me was: ‘I love you and I’m proud of the way you’re handling this.’
After two years in America, she and her family had planned to return to the UK — they were living in Cheshire — but are trapped there by Covid .
‘You have to embrace the chaos and find ways to rise above it,’ she shrugs.
Today, the va-va-voom body that has attracted oodles of male attention is draped in a fuchsia-coloured Chiara Boni dress and she wears Salvatore Ferragamo pumps. (‘I never wore more than a one-inch heel because I didn’t want to tower over Boris,’ confides Jennifer, who is 5ft 10in.)
With her big smile and effervescent personality, she attracts admiring glances from passing male guests. No wonder Boris clocked her when they met in 2012, a year after her arrival in London to set up Innotech, a business that introduced aspiring entrepreneurs to policy-makers.
She is, she tells me, incensed with how she is portrayed in the new Johnson biography, The Gambler, by Tom Bower, serialised in the Mail on Sunday earlier this month and for which today she confirms she was a source.
‘I was surprised when the book came out and Petronella sent me the [online] links and I read the excerpts.’
What irks her is being positioned as ‘this temptress American bimbo who came over to this country and took advantage of an emotionally weak leader . . . nothing could be further from the truth.’
She has no complaints about Bower’s description of her as being ‘partly mother/partly lover’ to Boris, a woman whose Shoreditch flat became a ‘sanctuary from the sadness in his own home’. His wife was often away and he feared ‘family life was withering’, the biographer claims. The ‘dalliance’ with Arcuri was his only real friendship.
‘There were times when I did feel he needed someone close to him and that was what I was trying to express [to Bower],’ Jennifer agrees.
But she takes exception to the claim that she ‘targeted’ Boris and flaunted her looks and body to ingratiate herself with anyone deemed potentially able to help her build her company.
‘I used sex to get people to come to my events,’ the book quotes her as saying.
‘It’s such a sexist attitude and I’d never say that,’ she protests.
So why did she agree to co-operate with Bower in the first place? She has, after all, danced around allegations of an affair with Boris ever since their ‘relationship’ was exposed last year.
‘[Bower] said he was interested in my insights into the mind of a man that few people are close to, and I spoke to him in the context of what I could provide if I did want to contribute to the book. I didn’t sign a release form. He said this stuff without my permission. It was rather cheeky.’
When I interviewed Jennifer a year ago — an utterly bonkers encounter with a very different woman from the one I meet today — she was coy about the liaison, insisting she ‘never gave him her virtue’ and she had modelled herself on Anne Boleyn, who supposedly withheld sexual favours from Henry VIII until their marriage.
Instead, Jennifer described it as a complicated friendship in which they bonded over a love of Shakespeare — something which was scarcely reflected in Boris’s sweet nothings, such as ‘Jennifer, you’re the Mount Everest every man wants to climb’.
Bower quotes Arcuri as saying: ‘I fell in love. I have never admitted how much I loved him.’
Is that true, I ask her.
Boris Johnson and Jennifer Arcuri, pictured together a the Innotech Hacking and data conference in London, 2014. As London’s mayor, Boris didn’t conceal his relationship with Jennifer Arcuri from his political advisers — but they did not approve
There is a long silence before she replies: ‘At the time I cared for him very deeply, but I never used the L word. I wouldn’t have recognised being in love.
‘I cared very much about this man and I think that’s resolutely clear. That’s all I want to say.’
Her ‘ambiguity’ about the affair — which Boris has never denied — was because ‘I’ve always tried to protect Boris’ and she expected him to remain married to Wheeler.
It is clear that she and Boris had a deep emotional attachment, and I suspect she still holds a torch for the PM who she decided, according to Bower, was an introvert and prone to depression.
Bower reveals how Boris would send her ‘recklessly amorous’ texts, although she could never be certain of his sincerity.
‘That’s the kind of man he is,’ she tells me. ‘Boris has a record of falling madly, truly, deeply. He meets a woman and has an amazing way of making her feel as if she’s the most important thing in his life.
‘There was a kind of reckless, blind passion that he showed me. He reeked of it. He cared about me — when I walked in a room, everyone knew.’
The pair would contemplate outlandish schemes such as establishing a ski centre in Bulgaria — or becoming a political power couple in New York.
‘Boris falls fast and hard and he loves being over the top,’ says Jennifer fondly. ‘It was one of the reasons why it was so infectious to be around him.’
But a ski centre in Bulgaria?
She was there for business when Boris called her. ‘He said . . .’ — she breaks into a booming impression — ‘Where are you? It sounds like you’re far away.’ I said I was in Bulgaria and he said ‘Stay there, I’m coming for you. Now.’
‘That’s who he is,’ she says wistfully. ‘You’d have to be a fool not to get swept away by those avalanches of passion, especially when you’re singled out as a young woman in London.’
I could, I tell her, see them together in New York as a dynamite political couple.
Boris’s departure from City Hall in 2016 coincided with Jennifer’s decision to end the relationship. She had by then met her future husband. Was she still seeing Boris at the time? ‘I’d rather not answer that,’ she says
‘For sure,’ she agrees. ‘I asked him once if me being American and him being a Brit would stand in our way and he made a joke and said: ‘Do you pay tax in both countries?’ When we went to New York on a business trip, I remember saying to him: ‘Don’t screw this up. New Yorkers will see right through the buffoon act, so you’ve got to go there and be a strong leader.’ I would have been a good political partner for him.’
In his book, Bower suggests that Jennifer was falling in love with a fundamentally ‘unromantic man’ who could never love ‘in the way a woman wanted to be loved’.
‘There are romantic men and there are jesters of romance like Boris, and they’re not the same thing,’ Jennifer counters.
‘My higher self — the woman I would be in the future — said: ‘This guy is not the one you’re supposed to have a family with.’
‘Boris wanted to drink wine, have sex and be totally involved in politics. I was a twentysomething, trying to make a decision about my future, and I knew I wanted to be a mom and to settle down.’
As London’s mayor, Boris didn’t conceal their relationship from his political advisers — but they did not approve.
‘They made my life hell, to be honest,’ Jennifer says. ‘There were nasty comments and they pulled tricks to try to keep him from speaking at my events. They sent me a letter from City Hall, telling me Boris couldn’t come to my event, signed by Boris, when I had just spoken to him and he said he was coming.
‘Another time, I was invited when he opened the London Stock Exchange and then uninvited. I yelled at him for that . . .’
She believes the antipathy of his entourage towards her was because they could not bear a woman outside their circle having Boris’s ear — and because she was American.
‘They couldn’t work me out. Did I have money? Did I come from a good background? What was my education? I didn’t fit the profile.’
Boris’s departure from City Hall in 2016 coincided with Jennifer’s decision to end the relationship.
She had by then met her future husband. Was she still seeing Boris at the time? ‘I’d rather not answer that,’ she says.
Within a few months she was pregnant. When Boris heard, he called her in a state of disbelief.
‘He was angry and upset and lamenting about how miserable his life was going to be if he was never able to see me again.’
Suddenly, the tears start rolling down Jennifer’s face. ‘It was a complex decision. My priorities changed when I got pregnant. He didn’t want me to distance myself . . .’ She tails off.
But she stopped taking his calls. ‘I was ill for much of my pregnancy — Kate Middleton-style — so I put Boris in a box,’ she says.
When, in October last year, she discovered that a newspaper was about to reveal her relationship with Johnson amid conflict of interest allegations while he was London’s mayor — Arcuri received £126,000 in public money for various business ventures and went on three overseas trade trips led by Boris after officials had initially turned her down for two of them — she tried to call him to warn him.
As for Boris’s fiancee Carrie Symonds (pictured left in 2019 with Boris Johnson), with whom he has a six-month-old son, Wilf, Jennifer is less than complimentary
This time he passed the phone to an aide and on another occasion, put the phone down when he heard her voice.
‘Shame on him for that,’ she says. ‘But I think he was under a lot of pressure.’
She denies wrongdoing. ‘They claim I profited financially from my friendship with Boris,’ she says. ‘It’s not true.’
(An investigation by the Independent Office for Police Conduct found no evidence Johnson influenced the payments to Arcuri or played an active part in securing her participation in trade missions. But it said he should have declared her as a potential conflict of interest. A separate London Assembly inquiry will look into his conduct during his time as Mayor.)
I am intrigued by Jennifer’s subsequent friendship with Petronella Wyatt, the journalist with whom Boris had an affair while he was editor of The Spectator. She had an abortion and later suffered a miscarriage.
The Bower book describes how Boris arrived ‘in disguise’ at the hospital to share their ‘genuine misery for their lost child’. After Jennifer dumped him, the biography claims he tried to reignite his affair with Petronella, who rebuffed him.
‘We’ve had some phenomenal heart-to-hearts,’ Jennifer agrees. ‘We both understood that with this man the highs are high — oh my gosh, they take your breath away — but the lows are low . . .
‘There were many similarities about [our relationship with] him that I was grateful to share with her.’
As for Boris’s fiancee Carrie Symonds, with whom he has a six-month-old son, Wilf, Jennifer is less than complimentary.
In the book, she is quoted as telling friends that Carrie has ‘far more skeletons than me’, adding that ‘Boris got caught at the end of the night by a flirtatious minx. She’s controlling him. She’s just a Type A worker bee, riding a bicycle around the Westminster village.’
‘I wish them well,’ she tells me coolly, before adding: ‘I don’t think it will last.’
For the time being, while confined to the U.S., Jennifer is working ‘with a team of writers’ on a fictionalised comedy drama about a young American woman and her political encounters in London.
It must surely feature her romance with Boris? She cannot possibly say because she has signed a non-disclosure agreement, but she adds with an impish grin: ‘What do you think the show’s about?’
As soon as travel restrictions are lifted, Jennifer cannot wait to return to her old stomping ground in London.
‘I miss British weather, I miss parsnips, I miss those late-night shows that made jokes about me, saying they had to change the phone number at No. 10 because Jennifer Arcuri wouldn’t stop calling.’
And is there anything else she misses?
‘I miss Boris, of course, because he’s someone I still care about. I wish there was something I could do to bring back that Boris spark because the nation needs it.’
According to Bower, their last contact was on December 29, 2018 — a text message that he sent saying: ‘I miss you and I need you’ (Arcuri disputes the date).
She believes she and Boris will get back together — as friends.
‘I know he’s going to reach out to me. It’ll probably happen by the end of the year. I’ve been told by friends that he still asks about me,’ she says smiling. ‘I’d like to be friends again, so who knows?’