Since his election to the premiership Tuesday, Britain’s tabloids have been speculating on whether he’ll break with yet another orthodoxy: Will Johnson move into London’s storied 10 Downing Street with his girlfriend, Carrie Symonds, and become the first unmarried partners to occupy the historic residence?
When Johnson made his first official remarks outside his new residence this week, she stood off to the side with his staff, and she did not accompany him to his audience with Queen Elizabeth. But British media have reported Symonds will probably move in by the weekend so as not to risk “overshadowing” Johnson’s moment in the spotlight this week.
The couple have been the subject of intense British media interest since they began dating last year. Johnson is 55 years old, and Symonds is 31. Johnson is in the process of divorcing his wife, Marina Wheeler, with whom he has four children and was married to for 25 years.
The fixation reached a fever pitch last month after police were called to the apartment shared by Johnson and Symonds in Camberwell, South London, just past midnight to respond to a loud, domestic dispute overheard by concerned neighbors. The Guardian reported that a neighbor recorded the incident on their phone saying that they overheard Symonds yelling “get off me” and “get out of my flat.” Symonds also reportedly yelled at Johnson for spilling wine on the couch, and Johnson told her to stop using his laptop.
Johnson’s campaign later declined to answer questions about the squabble, and Johnson described the obsession over it “beyond satire.”
The incident catapulted Symonds into an unflattering national spotlight, but belied that Symonds is a distinguished professional in her own right.
She previously worked as head of communications for the Conservative Party headquarters and served as an adviser to Sajid Javid, who is now home secretary. She works for Oceana, an environment conservation organization.
On Twitter, she describes herself as a “conservationist” who is “fighting plastic pollution,” and many of her recent tweets focus on animal welfare and sustainability. In June, she retweeted Johnson when he said that as prime minister he would “end the scourge of plastic pollution."
What her role will be in Johnson’s administration and public life remains unclear.
The duties of a first spouse or partner in Britain are far less formalized than in the United States and vary depending on who is in the job — although partners of newly elected prime ministers usually accompany them to meet the queen at Buckingham Palace.
In the United States, where figures like Eleanor Roosevelt, Jackie Kennedy and Michelle Obama have been the source of public fascination and adoration upon entering the White House, first ladies play a very prominent role.
But in Britain, first partners have often maintained a lower profile. Outgoing prime minister Theresa May’s husband, Philip, cut a low profile, as did Samantha Cameron, former prime minister David Cameron’s wife.