As the whole country and not just Boris Johnson is now painfully aware, an appeal court ruled yesterday that the public has a right to know about a child the mayor allegedly fathered following an extra-marital affair.
The child's mother is Helen Macintyre, who has been involved in a privacy battle with the Daily Mail since the paper revealed the mayor's supposed paternity of her daughter in 2010. Unfortunately, Macintyre's case was somewhat undermined by her own efforts — clue; if you want to keep a really big secret, don't blab about it to magazine publishers or take part in Tatler photoshoots. It's been possibly one of the worst-kept secrets in history, readers of Sonia Purnell's biography of the mayor (which we read prior to the 2012 mayoral elections) will have come across it and the appeal court noted that it's been widely published online.
As with other cases where someone in the public eye tries to use the legal system to prevent their cupboard skeletons from becoming the nation's breakfast reading matter, it boils down to whether or not it's in the public interest. And, as political blogger Zelo Street points out, which side has got the deepest pockets. We suspect that the Daily Mail might no longer be completely behind the mayor in any future career moves.
The Mail's lawyers said that it was in the public interest to name Johnson because it "went to the issue of recklessness and whether he was fit for public office". On that score, the difference between Macintyre and, say, Petronella Wyatt (one of the mayor's other amours) is partly that Macintyre was employed (albeit unpaid) by City Hall. Her partner at the time, Pierre Rolin, stumped up £80,000 for one of Johnson's pet projects, the Orbit tower. Master of the Rolls Lord Justice Dyson said:
“The core information in this story, namely that the father had an adulterous affair with the mother, deceiving both his wife and the mother’s partner and that the claimant, born about 9 months later, was likely to be the father’s child, was a public interest matter which the electorate was entitled to know when considering his fitness for high public office.”
Well, ouch. The appeal court judges highlighted too that in fact Johnson is known to have fathered two children as a result of extra-marital affairs as part of their ruling. In common with an earlier high court ruling, the judges agreed that fathering two children in this way ‘goes to the issue of recklessness...relevant to both his private and professional character’.
But there is also the question of how much the public really cares. An Independent poll on whether or not people are all that bothered about BoJo's indiscretions suggests that the news would put 33% off voting for him again while 12% would be more likely to vote for him. The majority (so far) of 55% say it hasn't changed their opinion. While people may enjoy the odd media-fuelled fit of prurience about the private lives of the famous, it generally doesn't seem to have much long-term impact on the career of the individual. After all, former England captain John Terry's downfall came about over allegations of racism rather than the failed injunction to keep secret his extra-marital affair.
As an official spokesman for the mayor declined to comment on 'matters pertaining to the mayor's private life' and prising an answer out of Johnson is difficult at the best of times, it's unlikely we'll ever hear anything from him on the subject. Even THAT Eddie Mair interview failed to get much out of Johnson on the subject of his marital indiscretions so don't expect to see a headline of 'Boris: My Side of the Story' any time soon. Or ever, probably.
Photo by Dean Nicholas in the Londonist Flickr pool.