[Paleopsych] NYT: London Journal: Sex and The Spectator: Scandals Turn the Tables
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London Journal: Sex and The Spectator: Scandals Turn the Tables
NYT November 19, 2004
By SARAH LYALL
LONDON, Nov. 18 - It is rarely wise to bring sex into the
office, but apparently no one informed the frisky employees
of The Spectator, currently known in the London media world
as The Sextator.
"Someone should bottle that magazine's tap water," wrote
The Guardian in an editorial this week, referring to the
three erotic scandals that have enveloped The Spectator in
recent months, involving, among others, its editor,
associate editor, publisher, former receptionist, one of
its columnists and the home secretary.
The extramarital adventures of The Spectator's staff would
be little more than gleefully repeated media gossip if it
were not for the magazine's special position in British
public life. Though its weekly circulation is only about
64,000, the right-leaning Spectator is required reading in
Westminster for its boisterous and often contrarian views
on the events of the day, and has long had ties to the
The magazine's profile has risen in recent years under the
colorful editorship of Boris Johnson, a mop-haired,
Latin-spouting old Etonian who also is a Conservative
member of Parliament and writes a weekly column for The
Daily Telegraph. A man of unusual verbal dexterity,
shambling charm and a knack for blustering his way out of
embarrassing spots, Mr. Johnson, 40, is perhaps the most
recognizable Tory politician since Margaret Thatcher.
He is also, in the words of News of the World, a
scandal-seeking Sunday tabloid, "a LIAR who DID cheat on
his wife and got his society mistress PREGNANT." Mr.
Johnson's affair with Petronella Wyatt, who writes about
herself in the "Singular Life" column for The Spectator,
has long been hinted at in newspaper gossip columns, using
the usual codes - "they enjoyed a close friendship" and he
was "mentoring" her. When two Sunday tabloids confronted
Mr. Johnson recently, he initially dismissed the
accusations of an affair as "balderdash" and "an inverted
pyramid of piffle."
But when Ms. Wyatt's mother, Lady Verushka Wyatt, told
reporters that her daughter had hoped Mr. Johnson would
leave his wife and four children for her, and confirmed
reports that Ms. Wyatt had had an abortion, Mr. Johnson
found his carefully constructed multijob edifice beginning
First, he was removed from his position as the cultural
policy spokesman for the Conservative Party, whose
leadership rebuked him several weeks earlier after The
Spectator printed an opinion article insulting Liverpool.
Mr. Johnson then had to endure the humiliation of being
placed under a handler of sorts - Andrew Neil, a new chief
executive at the magazine.
"We are now looking forward to a period of quiet," Mr. Neil
announced Tuesday on the BBC's Radio 4 program. "I think
the more time the editor spends in Doughty Street editing
the magazine, and the less we see of him in the newspapers,
then the better for the editor and the better for the
It is unclear what this bodes for Mr. Johnson at The
Spectator. "Is Andrew and Boris a wonderful marriage? I
wouldn't bet on its longevity," said Peter Preston, who
covers the media for The Observer of London. But he added
that it was unlikely that The Spectator's owners, Sir David
and Sir Frederick Barclay, would fire Mr. Johnson.
"It would be ridiculous to sack editors of newspapers if
they had affairs with deputy editors or whatever," he said.
"Very few newspapers would even come out."
Mr. Johnson's office indiscretion is only the most recent
in a string of them. Over the summer, the magazine went
through another unwelcome upheaval when Rod Liddle, 44, its
carelessly coiffed associate editor, abandoned his wife for
a 23-year-old woman who was then The Spectator's
The matter would probably have not become such a big deal
had it not been for the decision of the rejected wife,
Rachel Royce, 42, to embark on a new column for The Daily
Mail, "Diary of a Divorcee."
In it, she has gleefully treated her readers to intimate
details of her life with Mr. Liddle and discussed the happy
turns in her own romantic fortunes. "I'm having great sex a
lot more often than I ever did with my husband," she wrote.
Mr. Liddle has responded in his own columns, in The
Spectator and The Sunday Times of London; his new
girlfriend, Alicia Munckton, wrote her account in The Mail
on Sunday. And in the hall-of-mirrors newspaper world,
other writers laid down a barrage of commentary and
countercommentary on the incident.
Some weeks later, accusations surfaced of yet another
affair, between Britain's divorced home secretary, David
Blunkett, 57, and Kimberly Fortier, 43, The Spectator's
glamorous, married publisher.
Neither party has denied or confirmed anything, but rumors
had wafted through Westminster for some time. Prurient
supposed details of what they did together, and what a
former husband of Ms. Fortier said about it, dominated the
press at the end of the summer.
In the end, Ms. Fortier - who has since reverted to her
married name, Kimberly Quinn, on The Spectator masthead -
remained with her second husband. Mr. Blunkett went back to
work. But media interest in Mrs. Quinn is still so intense
that when she appeared recently at The Spectator's annual
Parliamentarian of the Year awards at Claridge's Hotel, she
had to slip in through an obscure entrance to avoid the
Mr. Johnson, who has a new tabloid handle, the Blond
Bombshell, has had a more difficult time, being staked out
around the clock by a gang of photographers. The newspapers
have gleefully recorded his colorful
baggy-shorts-and-bandanna jogging get-up and the Bertie
Woosterish comments he tosses at them, like little bonbons.
"Bog off," he might say, as he leaves the house. Or,
answering their questions, he might tell them that he feels
"little short of superb, on cracking form." Most recently,
he said to the reporters, "I advise you all very strongly -
go for a run, get some exercise and have a beautiful day."
Mr. Johnson once said of his political future, "'My
chances of being prime minister are about as good as the
chances of finding Elvis on Mars, or my being reincarnated
as an olive." Now, it looks as if he is unlikely even to
become the leader of the Conservative Party.
But he remains a popular figure.
"Boris is that rare
creature," The Guardian said in its editorial, "a natural
blond in show business; both clever and lively, with flair
for publicity in a range of activities, some of them
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