By the time Boris Johnson was 15 he had moved home 32 times. This may be why he is so restless, and unable to settle down. He takes almost as little interest in property as he does in his famously dishevelled appearance.
- © Glenn Copus
While his party leader, David Cameron, and the Tory shadow chancellor, George Osborne, each live in £2 million-plus Notting Hill houses (or "North Ken" as they prefer to call it), mop-headed "Bozza" is happy to slum it on the other side of town in the wrong end of Islington.
Johnson is a familiar sight in Islington's Upper Street, along which he cycles after breakfast en route for the House of Commons, his jacket blowing in the wind, trousers firmly anchored with bicycle clips.
His white stucco, four-storey Victorian semi in Furlong Road, N7, between Holloway Road and Liverpool Road, has five bedrooms, enough for his barrister wife, Marina, and their four children, Lara, Milo, Cassia and Theo. Its front garden is predictably a jungle.
The home's red front door is familiar to TV viewers: stalked by news crews, Johnson is often seen emerging from it following that morning's latest newspaper revelations of his indiscretions.
'Expect to pay between £800,000 and £1 million-plus for a decent family house in this part of Islington'
Even this corner of Islington commands a price. "Expect to pay between £800,000 and £1 million-plus for a decent family house in Furlong Road or its neighbouring streets," says estate agent Currells Residential. The Land Registry reveals that last summer, two neighbouring properties to Johnson sold for £890,000 and £750,000 respectively.
© John Lawrence
One place where journalists seldom track him down is the well-hidden home he recently bought in his Henley-on-Thames constituency. His period cottage is near the old market town of Thame in a tiny village called North Weston. "It's in the middle of beautiful countryside, but it's quite a squash for all his family to fit in," says a neighbour.
Houses similar to Johnson's, in nearby villages such as Long Crendon, Haddenham, Moreton and Great Haseley sell for between £350,000 and £450,000, according to the local branch of Knight Frank.
Why he won't spend more
Johnson, who is said to earn £500,000 a year from his journalism, TV work and parliamentary salary, could probably afford a grander home, though there is nothing on offer at City Hall, where the Mayor does not get any privileged property.
But the priapic Old Etonian has another reason for not wanting to trade up to grander homes. His mother, Charlotte, a talented portrait painter, recalls that by the time Johnson was 15, the family had moved 32 times. He spent much of his childhood packing and then unpacking his toys and prized possessions.
His biographer, political journalist Andrew Gimson, observes that Johnson had "a privileged upbringing, but also rather a rackety and hand-to-mouth one". Gimson says he came to believe that his subject, to this day, suffers from a sense of insecurity. "Along with his boundless optimism goes the fear that he and his family are only a couple of meals away from the poor house."
© Oliver Lim
Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson was born in New York in June 1964, where his father, the environmentalist Stanley Johnson, was on a year's Harkness Fellowship after graduating from Oxford University. For the first few months of his life, Johnson and his parents shared a loft apartment on West 23rd Street, between 7th and 8th Avenues. The flat was above a café called the Star Bar and opposite Andy Warhol's favourite haunt, the funky Chelsea Hotel.
The following year the family moved to England, where Charlotte resumed her English degree at Oxford University. They rented a modern property in Summertown, North Oxford, a short cycle ride from her college, Lady Margaret Hall. In 1968, the family returned to the States for a year, living first in Washington, where Stanley worked for the World Bank, and then New York, where he studied world population growth as part of a John D Rockefeller project.
Boris on the move
At one point the family even lived on an island in Norwalk, a Connecticut town famous for oyster beds and cool living. In 1969, the Johnson family, including Boris's new siblings, Rachel and Leo, were back in London.
They lodged with Charlotte's parents, international lawyer Sir James Fawcett and his wife, Frances, at 15 Cavendish Avenue, one of St John's Wood's grandest addresses. On one occasion there, Boris's nanny heard a loud crash and realised that he had fallen out of his cot. She found him lying fast asleep on his mattress on the floor.
Later, the family moved to nearby Little Venice. Their new home was in Blomfield Road, W9, where white stucco houses overlooking the canal now sell for between £5 million and £6 million. Boris's father, who later became a Tory MEP and parliamentary candidate, recently recalled that they were by then "actually quite rich".
© Tim France
"The Ford Foundation had given me rather a valuable scholarship studying demography, he explains. When Johnson was aged five, Stanley bought Nethercote Cottage in Somerset. During weekends and school holidays he explored Exmoor. His childhood friend and future wife, Marina Wheeler, found it very Spartan then: "It was freezing cold and everyone had holes in their socks." Stanley recently showed a visitor Johnson's "first known literary work". It was some graffiti scrawled on the wall of his playroom saying: "Boo to grown-ups."
In 1970, the family moved house in London again. Their new home, in Princess Road, NW1, was in the then staid pre-"Orgy Valley" Primrose Hill. Two years later, they moved round the corner to Regent's Park Road. In 1973, the family decamped to Brussels where Stanley worked for the European Commission, and Boris went to the European School, where a teacher told his mother that he was a gifted child.
Stuccoed in Notting Hill
Aged 11 Johnson was sent away to Ashdown House boarding school, East Sussex. In 1974, shortly after the birth of her fourth child, Jo, Charlotte had a nervous breakdown and spent nine months in the Maudsley Hospital, Camberwell, with depression.
"It was terrible because, before all this, I had had all that time when I was so, so close to the children and then I disappeared," she later recalled.
The Johnsons divorced when Boris, aged 14, had just arrived at Eton. In 1979 the children moved into their mother's new maisonette in Notting Hill. The white stucco property in Elgin Crescent , W11, was a short skip from the trendy bars and restaurants of Kensington Park Road and Portobello Road.
"There was a constant to-ing and fro-ing of well-known faces, such as Joanna Lumley and Jilly Cooper, coming to have their portraits painted," observes a neighbour.
Johnson's sister, journalist Rachel Johnson, recalls how her three brothers, "thwarted in their need to play violent ball games in the communal gardens, played endless percussive games of cricket and darts in the upstairs passages".
Balliol, Brussels and water bombs
The Johnson brothers would also hide behind the roof parapets and drop water bombs on unsuspecting passers-by on the pavement below.
While studying classics at Balliol, Johnson became president of the Union, and two years after leaving Oxford married Welsh heiress Allegra Mostyn-Owen. Their first flat was in Sinclair Road, in W14, on the borders of Holland Park and Shepherd's Bush.
In 1989, the couple moved to Brussels, where he worked as EU correspondent for the Daily Telegraph. They lived above a dentist's surgery in the Flemish suburb of Woluwe-Saint-Pierre.
After the early collapse of that marriage Johnson continued to work in Brussels. In 1993, he married Marina Wheeler, daughter of veteran BBC foreign correspondent Sir Charles Wheeler.
© Tony Buckingham
The newly-weds returned to London with their first child, Lara. In 1994, Johnson became his paper's assistant editor and chief political columnist. Flamboyant and eccentric, he was appointed editor of The Spectator in 1999 and became a celebrity through TV shows such as Have I Got News For You.
For a while, the Johnsons lived on the edge of Islington's "media gulch", beloved of newspaper editors and TV producers. Their home on noisy Calabria Road, N5, was both convenient for their children playing in Highbury Fields and the smart restaurants along Upper Street.
But now the family are enjoying life just a few streets away in Furlong Road - only a four-mile bike ride to City Hall, or a short journey by chauffeur-driven car.