For almost a week, newspapers have been dominated by coverage of a party-loving, privately-educated, ambitious blonde – and the woman he’s allegedly had an affair with.
Thanks to his recently announced separation, and continued attention-grabbing political commentary, Boris Johnson has been the focus of many news articles, opinion pieces and front pages.
But while the former foreign secretary has managed to remain a credible figure in the professional political world despite his messy personal life, one woman involved in the fallout from his divorce has not had the same luck.
From the moment she was publicly linked to Johnson, Carrie Symonds’s life has been under the microscope in ways his has not – a remarkable feat given that a 4,000 word “dirty dossier” on Johnson’s various mistakes, failings and romantic endeavours was leaked to the Times earlier this week.
Social Media Deep Dives
Nothing says “woman in the spotlight” quite like a reporter trawling through old photographs. On Tuesday, the Sun newspaper published ones that, they say, show Symonds at a “boozy school-themed bash [...] dressed up as a schoolgirl Britney Spears”.
The photographs are from 2007, when Symonds was a student at Warwick University, and behaving as most students do, so their relevance to current headlines remains a mystery, but this is a tactic seen time and time again where high-profile women are concerned.
When Keeley Hawes began starring in the new BBC drama ‘Bodyguard’, the Daily Mail ran photographs of her “stripping off” in an old show from 1999, while the Mirror dug up shots from a 2002 one. Confirmation of Meghan Markle’s relationship with Prince Harry was marked by numerous write-ups of her previous “racy” roles and later, the sale of a photograph of a teenage Meghan posing outside Buckingham Palace.
In their timeline of Johnson’s marriage to Marina Wheeler, the Mail decided to focus on his wife, leading their story on the pair’s relationship with a headline that labelled her the “woman of steel who finally buckled”. They offered observations including: “She kicked him out a couple of times, but — until now — she has always taken him back.”
If the articles are questionable, the headlines are where things are really kicked up a notch. In a bid to gain readers from that all-important search traffic, numerous outlets have scrambled to publish explainers on Symonds.
“Sexy, clever, ambitious... and barely older than his daughter,” declares MailOnline, while The Telegraph goes with “Carrie Symonds: Flirty favourite of Tory big hitters with a canny feel for being in the right place at the right time”.
Straight to the point, the Sun newspaper asks “Who is Carrie Symonds?”, answering its own question with: “Party-loving spin doctor who has grown close to Boris Johnson as his marriage crumbles”.
While Symonds has been understandably absent, Johnson has cannily pushed his own news cycle on, giving the papers plenty to report on.
Over the weekend, he made two different sets of controversial remarks, with a day at the cricket sandwiched in between. Photographers wasted no time in snapping pics of him in the stands, where he appeared to be struggling to stay awake. Luckily for Johnson, the sound of booing echoed around the Oval to make sure he didn’t fall asleep.
Even when Johnson is the focus of an article, Symonds is the “tousled blonde” whose image has been featured on the front pages.
On Monday, Metro reported on Johnson’s “suicide vest” jibe, which was labelled by one Tory MP as “one of the most disgusting moments in British politics”.
Pointing out that this saga occurred just days after the affair claims, Metro plastered a picture of Symonds across its front page, using a far smaller image of Johnson in the corner:
On the same day, The Times went one step further while leading with the headline “Johnson’s allies accuse Downing St of smears”.
Rather than illustrate the story with a picture of Boris, his allies or Theresa May – all of whom appear multiple times on page one – the paper’s photodesk opted for a smiling shot of Symonds, who gets name-checked just in the accompanying article snippet.
The Worst Of The Bunch
While there’s still time for papers to stoop lower, the current winner in the race for the highly-coveted Most Unnecessary And Over The Top Coverage Of Carrie Symonds Award goes to the Daily Mail.
Today’s two-page spread of the communications professional features no less than three swimsuit pictures swiped from Symonds’ Facebook and another three of her in a university play around 10 years ago.
“Boris’s beach blonde who was a star of a VERY risqué student play”, the print headline teases, above an article that manages to pair musings on Symonds’ beach holidays with details about a “x-rated” play she once starred in. The same story runs online with the headline: “Glamorous PR guru Carrie Symonds, 30, starred in ‘satanic sex cult’ based on writings of unabashed occultist.”
Their Johnson coverage is part of a double-page spread on the latest Brexit developments.