I hired Boris Johnson to be my motoring correspondent in May 1999. I took him to Le Caprice for lunch and offered him $1.20 a word for a monthly 1,000-word column in the magazine I’d just become editor of, GQ. We sat at the corner table, the one Princess Diana always used to have, and as Boris furiously made his way through the bang bang chicken, he accepted like a shot.
“What a wizard idea,” he said, looking, rather alarmingly, like Doc Brown from the Back to the Future films. “This is going to be a lot of tremendous fun.”
Which it was, until it wasn’t.
I hired Boris for two very good and very pertinent reasons: he was not only a very erudite writer but a funny one too. I’d read a piece he had written in a daily broadsheet about driving an Audi for a weekend, and it was so funny that I thought he could give Jeremy Clarkson a run for his money. In a car, that is.
And he was funny.
There soon appeared to be something of a problem, however, as the managing editor started to get sent rather a lot of parking tickets. And when I say a lot, I mean a lot; in Boris’s own words, they started accumulating “like drifting snow on the windshield”.
Every month they’d arrive — often earlier than Boris’s invoices — and every month we’d pay them. They were collateral damage, I thought, like a speeding fine, a traffic altercation or a dink in the hubcap. Nothing to get too worked up about.
But then the accounts department started to complain. And in my experience, when the accounts department starts to complain, you need to start taking notice.
So I called Boris to a meeting at Claridge’s (he arrived on his bike) and told him he had to start taking a bit more care when he drove our cars for review, and I asked would he mind, in future, parking them a little more, well, legally?
Boris did his Boris thing and said, “Sorry boss, bad Boris” — and then promptly asked for a pay rise.
Every month they’d arrive — often earlier than Boris’s invoices — and every month we’d pay them.
But of course it didn’t stop, and the parking tickets kept arriving. Which made the accounts people so cross that they said they were no longer going to pay them. Which meant I then had to get the features team to pay for them and claim them back on expenses. Which worked like a dream.
I once worked out that, over the decade he worked for GQ, Boris had cost us about $5,000 in parking tickets. But then he’d also written more than a hundred incredibly funny motoring columns, so I figured it was worth it.
Interestingly, Boris never got any speeding tickets. And I’ve got a pretty good idea why. When the cars were delivered to his house in Islington, the car company always made a note of the mileage, something that is standard practice. The mileage would also be noted when they came to pick them up again. And on more than one occasion — OK, on many, many, many occasions — the mileage was precisely the same. So I leave you to draw your own conclusions.
I only have one regret concerning Boris’s tenure as our motoring correspondent. Once, toward the end of his time as the editor of The Spectator (the bounder was multi-tasking), I commissioned him to test-drive a tank, but the wheeze was stymied by the cobbled streets that surrounded the Speccie’s offices. Shame.
Dylan Jones was the editor in chief at British GQ for 22 years and currently chairs London Fashion Week Men’s