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Tatler reveals how Carrie Symonds and Boris Johnson grew close after she ‘offered him coaching’

Carrie Symonds is the cover star of this month’s Tatler, with an in-depth feature written by the journalist Anne McElvoy. 

The article contains a raft of revelations about Boris Johnson‘s 32-year-old fiancee, who it calls ‘one of the most influential women in Britain’. 

Insiders describe No10 as like a Tudor court, with Ms Symonds exerting an outsized influence on the government that has sparked controversy given her unelected role. 

The article describes how Ms Symonds and Mr Johnson, 56, grew close after she offered him ‘private coaching’, before a well-publicised row at their south London flat reportedly led her to move out. 

The story hears from plenty of the former Tory communications chief’s enemies, but also her friends, who describe her as ‘tough, loyal’ and a talented political player. 

Here are some of the key insights:  

Boris Johnson with Carrie Symonds at the Six Nations rugby match between England and Wales at Twickenham on March 7 

Read the full feature in the April issue of Tatler available via digital download and newsstands now

Read the full feature in the April issue of Tatler available via digital download and newsstands now

Carrie: Key timeline  

March 17, 1988 – Carrie Symonds is born in London to Independent co-founder Matthew Symonds and Josephine McAfee, one of the newspaper’s lawyers. 

1999 – 2006 – Ms Symonds attends Godolphin and Latymer, a private school in west London. 

2006 – 2009 – Studies art history and theatre studies at Warwick. 

March 2009 – Gives evidence at the trial of John Warboys, telling how she was assaulted by the ‘black cab rapist’. Her evidence helped convict him and she was widely praised for her bravery. 

September 2010 – February 2011 – Campaign director for Tory MP Zac Goldsmith. 

January 2011 – Becomes a political press adviser for the Tories. 

December 2011 – Serves as a press officer for the BackBoris2012 campaign to make him Mayor of London. 

May 2015 – July 2016 – Special adviser to Culture Secretary John Whittingdale. 

July 2016 – May 2017 – Spad for Sajid Javid. 

June 2017 – Becomes director of communications for the Tories. 

February 7, 2018 – Seen with Mr Johnson for the first time at the Tories’ Black and White Ball. 

February 14, 2018 – Seen having dinner with Mr Johnson at Rules. 

March 2018 – Abba-themed 30th birthday party. 

September 7, 2018 – News breaks of Mr Johnson’s split from Marina Wheeler. 

September 8, 2018 – First reports that Ms Symonds and Mr Johnson had a ‘close friendship’. 

June 21, 2019 – Camberwell flat row, followed three days later by the publication of a photo of them holding hands. 

July 2019 – Ms Symonds quit her job at Tory HQ just months after being accused of abusing her expenses to the tune of thousands of pounds. 

July 29, 2019 – Ms Symonds confirms she is moving into No10. 

September 2, 2019 – Couple adopt their rescue dog, Dilyn. 

September 6 – 7, 2019 – Ms Symonds becomes the first non-married partner of a PM to stay with the Queen at Balmoral. 

December 2019 – The couple get engaged, in the same month Mr Johnson won a thumping election victory. 

February 26, 2020 – Couple announce engagement and reveal they are expecting a baby. 

April 29, 2020 – Ms Symonds gives birth to Wilfred Lawrie Nicholas Johnson.  

January 2021 – Ms Symonds joins The Aspinall Foundation, a conservation charity, as head of communications.  

No10 ‘like a Tudor court’

One ally of the Prime Minister told the magazine that his fiancee was like ‘Anne Boleyn who gets her power by proxy’.

‘The result is a nightmare for everyone else involved,’ the person said.

A female member of Downing Street staff said Ms Symonds ‘stomps around, issuing orders in leather trousers’.

But allies of Ms Symonds said that, as a passionate animal welfare campaigner, she prefers ‘pleather’ – a synthetic material.  

Her close friend, women’s rights campaigner Nimco Ali, told Tatler: ‘She’s fun and kind, and wants the world to be a better and safer place for women. Can someone tell me what’s wrong with that?’

Former culture secretary John Whittingdale, who Ms Symonds once worked for, added: ‘Carrie is tough and loyal, and has brilliant instincts. No wonder Boris trusts her.’

Ms Symonds has been credited with several policy victories, including persuading Mr Johnson to get rid of his adviser Dominic Cummings and to call a snap election in 2019. 

Meanwhile, a senior cabinet minister said she had helped turn the PM into a keen environmentalist.  

Rocky times in their relationship 

Ms Symonds and Mr Johnson’s relationship has gone through several periods of turbulence, not least in 2019 when they were heard having a heated row in their south London flat before he became Prime Minister. 

At the time, neighbours described the altercation at the Victorian property in Camberwell as a ‘proper tear-up’ and said they heard Ms Symonds shouting  ‘get off me, get out of my flat’ at the future PM.  

According to the magazine profile, Ms Symonds felt unable to live at the flat full time after the row, and moved out ‘suitcase by suitcase’ – comments Tatler credited to a friend who helped with the move. 

The past year was ‘awful’ for the couple, sources told the publication. 

A member of Downing Street staff claimed he found Ms Symonds, who was then pregnant, in tears following the prime minister’s hospitalisation with Covid last year.

Miss Symonds was supposedly ‘fully aware’ Mr Johnson had ‘only a 50% chance of survival’.

‘She knew she had a real chance of having to raise their baby alone,’ the person said.

The piece also says Miss Symonds hosted drinks in the Downing Street flat for allies following the departure of Mr Cummings, but it was ‘not a party’.

Wedding bells!  

The couple announced in February last year that they got engaged in late 2019, but the coronavirus pandemic put their plans on ice.

But wedding bells may soon be heard in Downing Street once ceremonies with no limits on numbers are given the go ahead no earlier than June 21, Tatler reports. 

The couple’s first son, Wilfred, was born on April 29, 2020 at the height of the first Covid outbreak in the UK.

Nimco Ali, 38, pictured left, is Ms Symonds' best friend and spoke to Tatler to defend her against critics

Nimco Ali, 38, pictured left, is Ms Symonds’ best friend and spoke to Tatler to defend her against critics 

Ms Symonds last year, shortly after Mr Johnson was discharged from hospital after nearly dying from Covid

Ms Symonds last year, shortly after Mr Johnson was discharged from hospital after nearly dying from Covid 

Fancy a spot of private coaching? 

Rumours Mr Johnson and Ms Symonds were close emerged in 2018, after the then Tory communications chief offered him ‘private coaching’ to help him sell his vision for the party after Brexit. 

They were later seen together at the famous London restaurant Rules on February 14 – Valentine’s Day. 

Mr Johnson only announced his split with his wife, Marina Wheeler, on September 7. 

Mr Johnson announced last month that weddings with a maximum of six will take place from March 8, increasing to 15 ‘no earlier than April 12’ and to 30 people from May 17. 

But couples hoping for a full-sized wedding face an uncertain wait, with June 21 given as the earliest date when they will be given the green light.

The Tory leader has previously dropped hints that he and Carrie are planning to tie the knot as soon as possible.

Asked whether he was planning a summer wedding, the PM told The Sun earlier this week: ‘The wedding industry is certainly gonna come roaring back in common with many other sectors of the economy.’ 

Battling Theresa May’s ‘John Lewis furniture nightmare’ 

Ms Symonds puts together her plans for a refurbishment of the couple’s flat at Number 11 to remove Theresa May’s ‘John Lewis furniture nightmare’, sources told Tatler. 

The flat in Camberwell where the couple were heard having a heated row back in 2018

The flat in Camberwell where the couple were heard having a heated row back in 2018

The couple greet the media from the steps of Number 10 on December 23, 2019 shortly after the Tories won a decisive general election majority

The couple greet the media from the steps of Number 10 on December 23, 2019 shortly after the Tories won a decisive general election majority 

How rivals Gove and Boris danced along to Abba at her 30th birthday party 

Ms Symonds was known for her vibrant social life, and invited both Mr Johnson and Mr Gove to her 30th birthday party a month after she was first linked with the future Tory leader. 

Guests described the night ending with both men dancing enthusiastically to Abba’s The Winner Takes It All. 

The ‘glum’ decor has been removed in favour of vintage furniture restored by hand by Miss Symonds and the hall floors stripped and burnished, according to the piece.

The living area, which is often lit by candles, has been painted deep green.

Walls are adorned with paintings by the Prime Minister – who is a ‘surprisingly good artist’ – and handprints by their son, Wilfred, along with works by Mr Johnson’s mother, Charlotte. 

There are also works by John Nash. 

The couple are said to have opted against using paintings from the government art collection.

It comes as the Daily Mail revealed that Mr Johnson is secretly trying to set up a charity to pay for the costly makeover modelled on one used by the White House to raise millions of dollars for interior design, antiques and art.

The presidential charity is bankrolled by private donors – and the proposed Downing Street version is expected to be funded largely by wealthy Tory benefactors.

It runs the risk of claims of conflict of interest if it is seen as a back-door way of providing a financial benefit to the Prime Minister.                       

Read the full feature in the April issue of Tatler available via digital download and newsstands now. 

Boris Johnson’s secret fund for Carrie Symonds’ No.10 makeover: Prime Minister plans new charity backed by rich donors to help pay for lavish revamp of private Downing Street flat

By Simon Walters for the Daily Mail 

Boris Johnson is secretly trying to set up a charity to help pay for a costly makeover of his official flat by his fiancée, it emerged this week. 

The scheme is based on one used by the White House to raise millions of dollars for interior design, antiques and art.

The presidential charity is bankrolled by private donors – and the proposed Downing Street version is expected to be funded largely by wealthy Tory benefactors.

Boris Johnson is secretly trying to set up a charity to help pay for Ms Symonds' costly makeover, it emerged this week

Boris Johnson is secretly trying to set up a charity to help pay for Ms Symonds’ costly makeover, it emerged this week 

The restyled décor is said to have been inspired by celebrated eco interior designer Lulu Lytle (pictured)

The restyled décor is said to have been inspired by celebrated eco interior designer Lulu Lytle (pictured)

The founder and director of Soane Britain 'designs and makes British-made furniture, upholstery, lighting, fabrics and wallpaper' (sample designs pictured)

The founder and director of Soane Britain ‘designs and makes British-made furniture, upholstery, lighting, fabrics and wallpaper’ (sample designs pictured)

It runs the risk of claims of conflict of interest if it is seen as a back-door way of providing a financial benefit to the Prime Minister.

Mr Johnson has complained the cost of the refurbishment by Carrie Symonds was ‘totally out of control’, the Daily Mail has been told. He reportedly said during one meeting that the sum amounted to ‘tens and tens of thousands’. On another occasion he said it was ‘over a hundred grand’.

He is said to have told one minister he was particularly alarmed by the cost of wallpaper chosen by Miss Symonds, saying she appeared to have ordered ‘gold wall coverings’.

Mr Johnson has asked multi-millionaire financier and Tory peer Lord Brownlow, who has close links with the Royal Family, to run the charity. It is believed that an application to register it with the Charity Commission is under way.

The official purpose of the charity is to raise funds to preserve No 10 and No 11 Downing Street for the nation on heritage grounds.

But insiders say the proposal stemmed from the soaring cost of a makeover of the No 11 flat, which is preferred by prime ministers with families because it is bigger than the No 10 flat.

Floor plans show the second floor of the complex has a large number of bedrooms

Floor plans show the second floor of the complex has a large number of bedrooms

The Camerons' flat featured billowing light and black-and-white Vogue-style family photographs and the kitchen was dominated by Nigella-standard units and surfaces

The Camerons’ flat featured billowing light and black-and-white Vogue-style family photographs and the kitchen was dominated by Nigella-standard units and surfaces

Bringing your work home: David Cameron working on one of his red boxes in the flat above Number 11, with Samantha Cameron in the kitchen

Bringing your work home: David Cameron working on one of his red boxes in the flat above Number 11, with Samantha Cameron in the kitchen

Samantha Cameron, wife of then Prime Minister David Cameron, having breakfast in her 11, Downing Street apartment with Philip Kiley (left), eight, from Chorley in Lancashire, and Stevie Tyrie, eight, from Manchester, as part of her support for the charity Contact A Family which helps families with disabled children

Samantha Cameron, wife of then Prime Minister David Cameron, having breakfast in her 11, Downing Street apartment with Philip Kiley (left), eight, from Chorley in Lancashire, and Stevie Tyrie, eight, from Manchester, as part of her support for the charity Contact A Family which helps families with disabled children

The restyled décor is said to have been inspired by celebrated eco interior designer Lulu Lytle. The founder and director of Soane Britain ‘designs and makes British-made furniture, upholstery, lighting, fabrics and wallpaper’ based on ‘traditional crafts including blacksmiths’.

Prince Charles visited her rattan workshop last year just before the pandemic. Miss Lytle’s fabrics start at £100 a metre.

Work on refurbishing the No 11 flat is believed to have been completed in recent months. It went on for more than a year and was disrupted by Covid.

Mr Johnson first expressed concern at the rising cost early last year. He is said to have commented there was ‘no way’ he could pay for it after being informed by the Cabinet Office that the maximum taxpayer contribution was ‘around £30,000’.

Lytle's designs (pictured) combine a riot of bold colours and showstopping old-fashioned glamour

Lytle’s designs (pictured) combine a riot of bold colours and showstopping old-fashioned glamour

Soane's clients include five-star hotels and restaurants, private members' clubs, boardrooms, yachts and private houses all over the world

Soane’s clients include five-star hotels and restaurants, private members’ clubs, boardrooms, yachts and private houses all over the world

Top designer who inspired Carrie’s chic makeover 

The woman said to have inspired Carrie’s lavish makeover is Lulu Lytle – one of the UK’s most influential and successful interior designers. Her designs combine a riot of bold colours and showstopping old-fashioned glamour.

Think oiled-oak shelving, rattan furniture, shimmering gold wallpaper and intricate textiles. A marble bathroom, perhaps, with wrought iron finishings.

She is especially passionate about sustaining traditional British craftsmanship.

She built up her Soane Britain interior design studio by scouring the country for the best artisan blacksmiths, cabinet makers, upholsterers and stone carvers creating furniture, lighting and fabrics using skills going back to the 18th century and beyond.

In 2011, she put her money where her mouth is and bought the last rattan-weaving workshop left in England and started an apprenticeship programme. Prince Charles, himself passionate about sustaining traditional craftsmanship, visited the Leicester workshop a year ago, just before lockdown, to admire its creations.

Soane’s clients include five-star hotels and restaurants, private members’ clubs, boardrooms, yachts and private houses all over the world.

Mrs Lytle, 49, says her furniture, upholstery, lighting, fabrics and wallpapers all aim to ‘contribute to the joyful atmosphere of any interior’. Born and raised in Worcestershire, the youngest of four sisters, Lucy Elizabeth Kottler, known as ‘Lulu’, developed a romantic passion for Egypt and took a degree in Egyptology.

She met her husband Charles Patrick St John Lytle, known as Charlie, when he was training as a barrister. He is now a senior investment banker at Goldman Sachs. Mrs Lytle worked in antiques for four years, before starting Soane when she was 25, originally from the couple’s one-bedroom flat in Notting Hill, west London.

Her plan was clear and has never changed — to create beautifully made contemporary furniture based on antiques. She said: ‘The life of an object is endlessly fascinating, there’s a depth to old things.’ The Lytles moved to a flat in one of London’s nicest squares, close to Hyde Park, in 1999.

They then bought its neighbour and knocked through to create a £4million home, which is now a stunning exhibition of Mrs Lytle’s interior design genius and often showcased in glossy magazines.

It mixes old and new Soane pieces, along with textiles collected worldwide, paintings, maps and artefacts. Searing Chinese yellow walls make a study area dramatic, while hand-painted lapis lazuli rocks bring luxury to the master bedroom’s Carrara marble ensuite bathroom.

The couple share their home with their three children Tom, 20, Bunny, 18, and Xan, 15 – as well as a greyhound named Panther and Hammy the hamster.

 By Sam Greenhill, chief reporter for the Daily Mail

That left a massive shortfall. Despite his salary of £150,000 a year as Prime Minister, Mr Johnson has taken a big pay cut because he earned £500,000 as a newspaper columnist and author before entering No 10.

In addition he has had an expensive divorce from his ex-wife, Marina Wheeler.

This newspaper understands that there were several meetings in No 10 where Mr Johnson discussed the possibility of asking Conservative donors to bridge the gap was discussed, either directly or via Tory Party HQ. After being warned that could be unethical, his advisers came up with an alternative scheme.

They said the most practical and ethical way to secure extra financial help to pay for the refurbishment was by establishing a new charitable fund.

Its purpose would be to maintain not just the No 11 flat, but also other parts of Downing Street, including the state rooms.

That way, it way could be presented as having a wider heritage purpose that would benefit future prime ministers, not just Mr Johnson, he was advised. He is said to have agreed to the proposal.

However, according to some sources, in reality the real purpose was to bail out Mr Johnson and pay for Miss Symonds’ expensive tastes.

It is believed that the new charity will be designed to allow money to be used to pay for the refurbishment. It is modelled on a similar scheme used to maintain the White House, where the US president’s wife customarily plays a big role in interior design.

Incoming presidents and their families are allowed to spend up to $100,000 (£72,000) on restyling the Washington mansion.

When David and Samantha Cameron occupied the No 11 flat, they paid the bulk of a £100,000 redesign by Mrs Cameron, including a new kitchen. Pictures of the flat during their residence provide the most recent look at the home.

An ally of Mr Johnson defended the charity plan, saying: ‘Downing Street is as iconic as Windsor Castle but is in danger of becoming tatty because the Civil Service does everything on the cheap.

‘A new charity with privately raised money to preserve it in great shape for all time is great value for the taxpayer and a great idea.’

Friends of Miss Symonds deny she has been extravagant.

‘The makeover is appropriate for a building of such huge importance,’ said one. ‘Carrie has exquisite taste. It is classic, stunning, stylish and chic. She should be congratulated not criticised.’

The Prime Minister’s official country residence, Chequers in Buckinghamshire, is maintained by a trust with funds from Lord Lee, who gave the house to the nation a century ago.

A No 10 spokesman said: ‘The Downing Street complex is a working building, as well as containing two ministerial residences.

‘As has been the case under successive administrations, refurbishments and maintenance are made periodically.

‘Matters concerning works on the Downing Street estate, including the residences, are covered in the Cabinet Office annual report and accounts.’

The spokesman declined to answer further questions from the Mail, including whether Mr Johnson had voiced worries about the cost of the refurbishment and whether he discussed asking Tory donors to help pay for it or asked Lord Brownlow to take charge of the proposed charity. The Charity Commission said it was not aware of any application to set up a Downing Street charity.

Mrs Lytle, 49, says her furniture, upholstery, lighting, fabrics and wallpapers all aim to 'contribute to the joyful atmosphere of any interior'

Mrs Lytle, 49, says her furniture, upholstery, lighting, fabrics and wallpapers all aim to ‘contribute to the joyful atmosphere of any interior’

Born and raised in Worcestershire, the youngest of four sisters, Lucy Elizabeth Kottler, known as 'Lulu', developed a romantic passion for Egypt and took a degree in Egyptology

Born and raised in Worcestershire, the youngest of four sisters, Lucy Elizabeth Kottler, known as ‘Lulu’, developed a romantic passion for Egypt and took a degree in Egyptology

Conservative Party HQ, the Cabinet Office, Lord Brownlow and Miss Lytle declined to comment.

According to one insider the idea of creating a blind trust, an arrangement wherein a public figure’s investments are handled by others whose identity is not disclosed to him or her to avoid a conflict of interest, was also discussed as a funding option.

This is said to have been ruled out on the grounds that the identity of the Tory donors would almost certainly be known to the Prime Minister.

Miss Symonds is involved in another charity controversy.

She recently announced she was joining the staff of the Aspinall Foundation, whose financial governance is now being probed by the Charity Commission.

Founded by the late John Aspinall, a friend of Lord Lucan, the foundation helps gorillas in the Congo and runs other conservation projects.

The commission has launched a probe into concerns about ‘financial management and wider governance’.

She built up her Soane Britain interior design studio by scouring the country for the best artisan blacksmiths, cabinet makers, upholsterers and stone carvers

She built up her Soane Britain interior design studio by scouring the country for the best artisan blacksmiths, cabinet makers, upholsterers and stone carvers

The non-profit foundation allows its founder’s son, gambling tycoon Damian Aspinall, to live in a 30-room manor for a fraction of normal market rates.

He is charged just £2,500 a month for Howletts mansion, a Grade II-listed Palladian pile it owns in rural Kent.

The charity is also shelling out large sums of money to Mr Aspinall’s wife Victoria.

Miss Symonds has suggested the Charity Commission’s inquiry is all perfectly normal. She said: ‘The commission made a number of ongoing routine inquiries at the end of last year as part of its regular checks.’

However, commission sources told the Daily Mail: ‘A routine check of their accounts in November raised a number of red flags, and these concerns are now being looked at.’

The creeping cost of Downing Street redecorations led by Tony Blair and David Cameron

By Sam Greenhill, chief reporter for the Daily Mail 

Expectations have clearly risen since Margaret Thatcher slapped down a proposed refurbishment of the No 11 flat in 1979, saying the public would not be impressed.

She dashed the hopes of her chancellor Geoffrey Howe, who had complained the 1960s-style kitchen was ‘positively antediluvian, with iron gas rings, antique sinks and sombre décor’, records show.

So the flat remained a product of the 1960s – until Tony and Cherie Blair took up residence in 1997.

Cosy: Michelle Obama and Samantha Cameron in the No 11 flat in 2011 after recent refurbishments

Cosy: Michelle Obama and Samantha Cameron in the No 11 flat in 2011 after recent refurbishments

‘I won’t sleep in Ken Clarke’s bed,’ Mr Blair declared of the Conservative chancellor, the most recent tenant, when he became PM and opted for the four-bedroom No 11 flat instead of the smaller one at No 10.

In the Blair years, the flat above No 11, frequently littered with toys belonging to baby Leo, born in May 2000, had £127,000 spent on refurbishments between 1999 and 2005, according to official records.

In came £70-a-roll wallpapers, new artwork and a set of custom-made glass-fronted bookcases for Mrs Blair’s office. When Gordon Brown moved in with his wife and two sons, in 2007, he appears to have been perfectly content with it – there are no records that he spent a penny on upgrades.

But in 2010, David and Samantha Cameron went to town on the place, which clearly fell well short of their Notting Hill standards.

Out went a mirrored exercise room where lifestyle guru Carole Caplin had put the Blairs through their paces. Old carpets were ripped out too, and expensive black granite worktops installed in a new kitchen.

As part of a £64,000 makeover, extensive work was carried out in a bathroom, with everything apart from a towel rail stripped out and a new floor and ceiling installed. Some of the costs were met from the flat’s annual £30,000 maintenance grant, and the rest by the Camerons.

The couple went for an ultra-modern, minimalist design of brushed steel and floating shelves in the second kitchen, leaving the original 1960s-style kitchen in its original state. A £3,400 Britannia range cooker – complete with dirty oven gloves – was the centrepiece.

Theresa May is not reported to have changed anything during her time in Downing Street.

… And the White House fund Boris envies

If the new Downing Street charity follows the lead set by America, then Carrie Symonds could play a major role.

Incoming presidents and their families are allowed to spend $100,000 (£72,000) on redecorating the White House.

By tradition, the First Lady takes an active part in the White House Endowment Trust which maintains the fabric of the building.

Funded by private donors, it has reported assets of around $50million (£36million).

Rosalynn Carter, wife of Jimmy Carter, is credited with a major shake-up of the White House Endowment Trust in 1978, including raising large sums of cash.

George Bush’s spouse Barbara handed oversight of the trust to the White House Historical Association.

And Hillary Clinton, wife of Bill, increased the trust’s wealth to more than $35million (£25million).

A White House Furnishings Committee established by John F Kennedy’s wife Jacqueline was replaced in 1964 by the Committee for the Preservation of the White House, which includes top interior designers who advise on makeovers of the Oval Office study.       


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