The 1987 wedding uniting
The daughter of renowned art historian William Mostyn-Owen and flamboyant Italian writer Gaia Servadio, Allegra was a socialite and former Tatler cover girl whose beauty had besotted young men falling at her feet at Oxford University.
Old Etonian Johnson, who had been awarded the Brackenbury Scholarship of Balliol for academic excellence, was the ambitious President of the Union who had beaten off rivals to win her – wooing her so stealthily over curries at a local Indian she didn’t at first realise he was interested in her.
‘Allegra had a lot of the Italian Botticelli angel looks: blonde and ethereal,’ one Oxford contemporary told the Mail. ‘That quality made her seem untouchable and to the rest of us – which is precisely what Boris would have wanted as trophy.
‘You could always see that she was the butterfly, and he the pin – she looked like she could break so easily.’
Boris Johnson and Allegra Mostyn-Owen, pictured together in 1987, seemed the perfect match 32 years ago as guests gathered at the bride’s family seat Woodhouse, a grade II-listed 1,500 acre estate in Shropshire
Considered the brightest and most golden among their peers, these two striking blondes seemed the perfect match that September day 32 years ago as guests gathered at the bride’s family seat Woodhouse, a grade II-listed 1,500 acre estate in Shropshire.
The omens, however, did not bode well from the outset.
While Allegra looked radiant in white, her hair adorned with flowers, Johnson – in typically shambolic manner – arrived for his own wedding without his trousers. Or shoes.
He had to borrow trousers and cufflinks from Tory MP John Biffen for the ceremony. Sadly, Mr Biffen’s shoes did not fit, so he wore a shabbier pair. By all accounts, the bride’s father – chairman of Christie’s auction house – was not impressed.
Within an hour of his arrival, Boris had also misplaced the ring, and then lost their wedding certificate – which was later discovered by Mr Biffen stuffed into a pocket of the borrowed trousers.
During his speech, Johnson apparently misquoted PG Wodehouse and when he was heckled by a guest who pointed out the mistake, blustered ‘Good chap. Give the man a coconut’.
From there, it was all downhill.
‘When we got married, that was actually the end of the relationship instead of the beginning,’ Allegra would later say.
The romance, which started when Johnson turned up at her rooms at Trinity College with a bottle of wine on the wrong night for a party (‘oh, oh, oh’ he said in surprise when he found her poring over a text book), did not survive long after the exchange of vows.
But was there more to the collapse of their six-year marriage than Johnson’s charming buffoonery, vaulting ambition, all-consuming pursuit of career glory and notoriously elastic relationship with the truth?
Finally, there was Johnson’s relationship with the woman who would become his second wife of 25 years – childhood friend and lawyer Marina Wheeler QC – who was pregnant with the first of their four children before their divorce was finalised.
Allegra, who does not have children, left Brussels for the last time in early 1992 and generously agreed to a divorce her husband in 1993 to allow him to marry Marina before the baby was born. She has since remarried
Today, his supporters might struggle to put a positive spin on yesterday’s revelation by Louise Gosling, a confidante of Allegra, who spoke of an alleged blazing row between Johnson and his first wife, which resulted in her seeking sanctuary at Ms Gosling’s flat.
Described by friends as ‘fragile’ and ‘sensitive’ in the years of her marriage to Johnson – she has barely said a derogatory word in public about Johnson in a quarter of a century since, not even to complain that – as his star rose – Johnson had callously omitted their marriage from his Who’s Who entry.
A source close to Allegra told the Mail that the unhappy end to their marriage had left her ‘a spent force’.
‘Her name means “joyful” in Italian which is what she used to be, though maybe with hindsight wistful is better description,’ said the friend. ‘Yes, she was a socialite but quite shy and thoughtful, extremely sweet and good-natured. You could see how she would be all too trusting with men.
‘She was among that generation of “Bright Young Things” at Oxford. I’m not sure Allegra was as clever as some are now claiming –and she certainly seemed dazzled by Boris’s intellect. But then, we all were.’
Two of Johnson’s biographers, journalists Andrew Gimson and Sonia Purnell, have each recounted the shambolic wedding day and Allegra’s subsequent loneliness after they moved to Brussels where Johnson, then aged 24, was the Telegraph’s European correspondent and rising star. Allegra’s own career as a journalist on the Evening Standard was obliterated by her husband’s; she said he was ‘married to the job.’
Of his frequent absences and single-minded pursuit of glory, she once remarked, ‘You get past caring and you start drinking malt whisky’. Fearing she would have a nervous breakdown if she stayed with him, Allegra fled to London in 1990 – the year of the alleged blazing row.
After six months, she started returning to Brussels at weekends and then, according to Purnell, in one last attempt to repair the marriage, enrolled at the Universite Libre in Brussels for a master’s in EU Law.
‘For Boris, never a man to be alone for long, it was already too late. He had begun a dedicated pursuit of a childhood friend, Marina Wheeler, who had arrived in Brussels in 1990, just as Allegra was leaving,’ wrote Purnell, author of Just Boris; a Tale of Blond Ambition. Allegra, who does not have children, left Brussels for the last time in early 1992 and generously agreed to a divorce her husband in 1993 to allow him to marry Marina before the baby was born.
Today, his supporters might struggle to put a positive spin on yesterday’s revelation by Louise Gosling, pictured, a confidante of Allegra, who spoke of an alleged blazing row between Johnson and his first wife, which resulted in her seeking sanctuary at Ms Gosling’s flat
In 2012 she said: ‘He suddenly blurted out that he wanted a quickie divorce. I said ‘is she pregnant?’ and he said ‘Yes, how did you guess,’
‘She (Marina) used to come to dinner before we split up. She’s a nice woman. Clever and I think she’s devoted to Boris. He has rather tested that,’ she said.
For a long time, she said, there was no contact between them, as she embarked on a new career teaching English and art to Muslim women at a mosque in east London.
In 2010, she married Pakistani immigrant Abdul Majid, who at 23 was 22 years her junior. Johnson, on learning the news, apparently sent his congratulations to the new Mrs Dilshad Farha Raji Shekha Jaan Khan Kali Gari, as she became known.
Her aristocratic family, however, were again disappointed by her choice of husband. ‘My mum accused me of spoiling her Christmas by announcing my marriage to ‘that one’. She is sure I am heading for a nervous breakdown and divorce, and the rest of the family will have to pick up the pieces,’ she wrote.
Certainly, Allegra Mostyn-Owen appeared to hold no rancour against her ex-husband, whatever happened between them, saying they got on better as exes than they had done during their marriage. When Johnson was seeking re-election as London mayor in 2012, she revealed that he had asked her to be part of his Muslim Engagement Task force – but in the end the job did not come to anything. Nevertheless, both she and her new husband remained supporters, wishing him luck in the elections and promising to canvas for him among the Pakistani and Afghan communities.
‘I can’t help but still love him,’ she told the Mail seven years ago. ‘The years we spent together in love in Oxford were some of the happiest of my life.’
Could that love finally be wearing thin enough for Allegra Mostyn-Owen to reveal what really happened that night 30 years ago?