Rachel Johnson: No choices, no treats and certainly no mollycoddling: The hands-off parenting methods that didn"t do Boris and Rachel Johnson any…

No choices, no treats and certainly no mollycoddling: The hands-off parenting methods that didn't do Boris and Rachel Johnson any harm



02:48 GMT, 16 October 2012

As an old Etonian and former member of Oxford University’s exclusive Bullingdon Club, Boris Johnson probably isn’t the first figure that springs to mind in connection with a tough childhood.

So a new account of the upbringing of the London mayor and his three siblings may come as something of a surprise.

The Johnson youngsters apparently had a quasi-Dickensian childhood, enduring regular beatings and parents so miserly they rarely went on holiday or out to eat.

Rachel Johnson, pictured here with her father Stanley and brother Boris, laments the loss of hands-off parenting

Rachel Johnson, pictured here with her father Stanley and brother Boris, laments the loss of hands-off parenting

Much of the children’s time was spent reading or outside doing chores such as raking up leaves or collecting firewood, according to Boris’s sister Rachel Johnson.

However, she says her childhood was ‘character building’ compared to what she calls ‘today’s wet parenting’.

She describes life in the Johnson family in a forthcoming book How Rude. Modern Manners Defined.

Rachel is one of the celebrity authors to contribute to the book published by Waitrose.

In her chapter on children's behaviour the writer laments the 'wretchedly indulgent' state of modern parenting.

In contrast, life in the Johnson household was character-building and toughening as Rachel, Boris and their two siblings Leo and Jo learned to fend for themselves as their busy parents carried on living their lives.

The children were clothed, fed, and sent to the best schools father Stanley Johnson, a former MEP, and mother artist Charlotte Johnson Wahl could afford.

But largely their parents got on with their own lives, teaching Rachel and her siblings a valuable lesson that the Londoner wishes her and her peers could pass on to their own children today.

Rachel says: 'Our parents provided us with the essentials then got on with their own lives.

'Which makes me realise that my parents were brilliant, not for what they did, bit more for what they didn't do.

'There was not the expectation of having every wish granted, as there is now, and that is the best thing that my parents could have given us.'

Boris Johnson as a child

How Rude! Modern Manners Defined is published by Waitrose to celebrate the 75th anniversary of joining the John Lewis partnership

Boris, pictured here as a child, and his siblings benefited from having parents who did not bow to their every whim according to an article by sister Rachel that features in a new Waitrose book on modern manners

How Rude! Modern Manners Defined … an extract by Rachel Johnson

'My mother tells the story of how, when we lived in Washington DC, she was racing to meet my father with Boris, aged 4, and me, aged 3.

'As a crowd pressed behind us to cross Pennsylvania Avenue I refused to cross. In the end, she had to pick me up by my hair, at which point a woman tried to grab me shrieking: “You don't deserve to have that little girl!”

'But she did deserve me; rather, I didn't deserve her. One of her most revealing relics of the tribal Johnson childhood is a note composed by Boris and signed by all four of us saying: “Dear Mama WE are SORY that we were SO BAD today.”

'As for school, well, reports were read but not dwelt upon, as they were not my parents' business but ours. As for parental involvement, all I can tell you is that my father's proudest boast as a parent is not that his six children all went to Oxbridge but that he never, not once, attended a parent-teacher meeting at one of our schools.

'When I was 10 and Boris was 11, my mother would drop us off at the Gare du Nord with our school trunks, hand over a few francs for frites on the ferry, and then get back to the much more interesting business of painting or seeing her psychiatrist.

'We would get on a train to Ostend, where we would catch the ferry to Dover. At Dover we would get the train to Victoria, where we could change trains for Forest Row. There were very few trains to Forest Row then, so Boris and I would kill time in the Cartoon Cinema where paedophiles in brown macs were waiting for little lost prep school children like us, so they could offer us “sweets”.

'Then we would get our trunks on the stopping train to Forest Row. It would take all day, and was problem-free until the time when we did the journey in reverse during the Cold War of the Seventies and managed to get on the train to Moscow.

'It never did me any harm, but still, I can't repeat this sensible regime of character-building, toughening, anecdote-forging benign neglect for my own children … and nor, it appears, can anyone else.'

Rachel Johnson has written a chapter for ‘How Rude! Modern Manners Defined’, published by Waitrose to mark the 75th anniversary of joining the John Lewis Partnership. The book is priced 8.99 and available from today in Waitrose shops or from waitrose.com