Boris Johnson's 1985 engagement to Allegra Mostyn-Owen in Cherwell

EXCLUSIVE: Satirical notice announcing Boris Johnson’s doomed 1985 engagement to Allegra Mostyn-Owen is unearthed in Oxford University student newspaper

  • The notice refers to Mr Johnson and Ms Mostyn-Owen as ‘the happy couple’
  • The pair married in 1987 but divorced after six years together in 1993 
  • Letter supposedly written by Mr Johnson also refers to his ‘nasty affliction’
  • Says he is suffering from ‘Tributarius Diabolicus’, which may threaten his bid to be Oxford Union president

As Boris Johnson continues to grapple with the fallout from the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, the last thing on his mind will be the time he spent studying at Oxford University.  

But, lying long-forgotten in the pages of Cherwell – Oxford’s student newspaper – are repeated references to him which he would perhaps rather not be reminded of. 

Chief among the haul is an apparently humorous notice from February 1985 ‘announcing’ the future PM’s doomed engagement to Allegra Mostyn-Owen, who went on to become his first wife. 

It describes Mr Johnson as a ‘shaggy classicist’ and says he is the ‘personal hair-dresser’ to Ms Mostyn-Owen – who by then had already featured on the cover of the high-society Tatler magazine. 

Among the other snippets discovered by MailOnline is a satirical letter made to look like it has been written by Mr Johnson himself. 

It says he is suffering from a ‘nasty affliction’ called ‘Tributarius Diabolicus’, which happens to translate from Latin to refer to a ‘devilish tribute’.

It has symptoms including ‘an inability to make people laugh’ and ‘irrelevance’. 

It adds that the invented malady may ‘threaten my chances of becoming Union President next year’. 

Lying long-forgotten in the pages of Cherwell – Oxford’s student newspaper – is an apparently humorous ‘advert’ announcing Boris Johnson’s doomed engagement to Allegra Mostyn-Owen It featured in a February 1985 edition of the publication

Despite these alleged personal faults, in 1986 Mr Johnson did succeed – at the second time of asking – in his campaign to become the chief of the debating society. 

A third reference to Mr Johnson claims that he was regarded by ‘by experts’ as having a level of intelligence ‘somewhat lower than his shag-like fringe’. 

Mr Johnson and Ms Mostyn-Owen ended up tying the knot in 1987. Six years of marriage followed before they divorced in 1993. 

He went on to have four children with second wife Marina Wheeler before their break-up in 2018. They divorced in 2020. 

The PM is now has one-year-old son Wilfred with his third wife Carrie Johnson, who announced in July that she is expecting her second child with Mr Johnson later this year.

Among the other snippets discovered by MailOnline is a satirical letter made to look like it has been written by Mr Johnson himself. Written in May 1985, it says he is suffering from a ‘nasty affliction’ called ‘Tributarius Diabolicus’, which has symptoms including ‘an inability to make people laugh’ and ‘irrelevance’

Mr Johnson arrived at Oxford from the world-famous Eton school in late 1983. 

Studying Classics at Balliol College, his contemporaries included fellow Old Etonian David Cameron, along with other Conservative colleagues William Hague, Michael Gove and Jeremy Hunt and the journalist Toby Young. 

Both Mr Johnson and fellow future PM Mr Cameron were also members of the infamous Bullingdon Club drinking society, which gained its notoriety for various alleged acts of vandalism 

Mr Johnson became engaged to Ms Mostyn-Owen, the daughter of renowned art historian William Mostyn-Owen, after he is said to have wooed her over curries at a local Indian. 

A third reference to Mr Johnson in a November 1985 issue claims that he was regarded by ‘by experts’ as having a level of intelligence ‘somewhat lower than his shag-like fringe’

In an apparent further hint to the engagement advert’s satirical nature, it refers to Mr Johnson’s parents as ‘Mr and Mrs Maurice Johnson’. Mr Johnson’s father’s name is Stanley, his mother’s Charlotte.

The full advert reads: ‘Mr and Mrs Maurice Johnson take great pleasure in announcing the engagement of their son, Alexander Boris, to Ms Allegra Mostyn-Owen.

‘Boris, shaggy classicist, one-time Union Secretary and personal hair-dresser to Ms Mostyn-Owen, is understood to want to keep news of their engagement quiet for the moment, so don’t tell anyone…’

Mr Johnson and Ms Mostyn-Owen married at her grade II-listed family home Woodhouse, set on a 1,500 acre estate in Shropshire. 

Another piece claims that an angry Mr Johnson approached an Oxford Union debating rival ‘with screwdriver in hand’ after he was upset by a joke he made. Mr Johnson allegedly then said ‘sorry’ and ‘this is all very silly’ before leaving 

However, the chaotic future politician arrived without his trousers or shoes and had to borrow the former, along with a pair of cufflinks, from Conservative MP John Biffen. He also had to find another, shabbier, pair of shoes.

Ms Mostyn-Owen later said of the union: ‘When we got married, that was actually the end of the relationship instead of the beginning.’

Before their marriage came to a formal end six years later, Ms Wheeler was pregnant with her and Mr Johnson’s first child.

The satirical letter referring to Mr Johnson’s ‘nasty affliction’ features in Cherwell’s ‘John Evelyn’ column in a May 1985 edition. It is not known who the real author was. 

This previously unseen image of Mr Johnson in the president’s chair at the Oxford Union also features in Cherwell

Boris Johnson with sister Rachel Johnson at Oxford contemporary Charles Spencer’s 21st birthday party in 1985. Earl Spencer is the brother of the late Princess Diana

It reads: ‘Dear John, I hope that I can confide in you on hack-to-hack basis. Recently I’ve come to realise that I’ve had a nasty disease called Tributarius Diabolicus passed on to me by a “friend”. 

‘The symptoms are terrifying: inability to make people laugh, irrelevance, repetition, failure to mention anyone by name, repetition, irrelevance, repetition. What can I do? 

‘Tributarius Diabolicus may threaten my chances of becoming Union President next year.’

It signs off with, ‘Yours desperately, “an Etonian”‘. Then, beneath an accompanying photo of the ambitious student, it adds: ‘PS: Please print my photograph. To be perfectly frank I need all the help I can get.’ 

Greek minister for culture Melina Mercouri speaks with Mr Johnson, who was then president of the Oxford Union, before she addressed the debating society in May 1986

Then, in a November 1985 copy, a small item brutally takes aim at Mr Johnson’s mental faculties. 

Referring to him as ‘Balliol’s blond bumshell’, it says: ‘Old Etonian Johnson, Miss Mostyn-Owen’s betrothed, is regarded by most most experts as having an intelligence somewhat lower than his shag-like fringe.’ 

Another piece claims that an angry Mr Johnson approached an Oxford Union debating rival ‘with screwdriver in hand’ after he was upset by a joke he made.

Mr Johnson allegedly then said ‘sorry’ and ‘this is all very silly’ before leaving.

The future PM, who became the editor of the Spectator magazine before he entered politics, graduated from Oxford with an upper second-class degree in 1987. 

In 2010, Ms Mostyn-Owen married Pakistani immigrant Abdul Majid, who is 22 years her junior. 

She works as an artist and has had some of her creations exhibited at the Victoria and Albert Museum. 

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