How Boris Johnson changed my life

8 July 2022

11:57 PM

8 July 2022

11:57 PM

Over the coming weeks we will be regaled with dozens of personal recollections, from around the world, of the man who has dominated British politics this last half decade. Some of them will paint him as a foolish clown, others as a flawed genius, others will see him as Leaver saint or Brexiteering Satan, but my Boris Johnson story might be the only one involving medically dangerous levels of masturbation. So it needs to be told.

About eighteen years ago I got horribly addicted to internet porn – free online porn then being an innovation – to an extent that I went days without sleep, became perilously run down, and then got taken out with a suppurative form of tonsillitis. I actually ended up on a drip, badly dehydrated, in hospital.

As I lay there, feeling sorry myself, as well as totally absurd, I realised that the whole forlorn experience was surely worthy of a Spectator article, on the dangers of this new, insidious form of pornography.

I sent off the idea. The editor of The Spectator at that time, Boris Johnson, commissioned the piece. I did the job, wrote the piece – but as I wrote it, I included a ridiculous, outrageous but entirely true sentence – a sentence which I presumed would not make the editorial cut. I did it for my own entertainment. And yet, when the article came out I saw that, to my surprise, the sentence remained in the published article. The same article caused a bit of a stir – indeed the article, and that exact sentence, went on to change the course of my life.

Flash forward many years, to mid 2021. Britain was in the firm grip of the pandemic. I was sitting in my London flat watching TV and I saw Boris Johnson looking absolutely shattered. Even if I didn’t agree with his politics, even if I lamented his failings as PM, I could recognise a tired human being, trying to manage a global plague. I felt pity for the man inside the job, and I then remembered what he did for me, with that internet porn article, back in the day.

So I decided to try and cheer him up. By sending him this letter:

Dear Prime Minister,

It occurs to me that in these troubled times – from plague to recession, climate change to global conflict – you might be in need of some cheering news.

To that end I’d like to explain how you, personally, improved my life immeasurably.

Nearly two decades ago I was a jobbing hack earning very little money, and earning even less money as a novelist: probably because my then agent was a septuagenarian alcoholic without an email address. To make matters worse, I was also addicted to internet porn.

When my addiction was beaten, I pitched an idea to you, as the editor of The Spectator, on my travails – and the perils of porn addiction. You commissioned it, I wrote it. And in the article I included the line ‘this is it, Sean, you’ve wanked yourself into hospital’ (a true story, as it happens).

When I wrote this line I did it for my own amusement, I assumed any editor would strike it out. But you did not. You let it run. I do not believe any other significant editor in the UK at the time would have had the audacity to do that.

That line, ‘I wanked myself into hospital’ changed my life. It was spotted by a brilliant agent at William Morris Ltd, Eugenie Furniss, who wrote to me out of the blue, saying it had made her laugh out loud and did I want a new agent.

Obviously, I said Yes. Eugenie became my agent. Within a year, under her guidance, I published a mildly bestselling memoir, since then she has turned me into an affluent thriller writer, with my very own London home, and a very nice lifestyle. And all because I wanked myself into hospital.

Much of the credit for this must go to you, Prime Minister. If you hadn’t commissioned that article and published that one sentence, I would probably still be an impoverished freelancer, scrabbling for work, owning one table and a dodgy toaster. But I am not. I am wealthy. Clearly. I had to do the original wanking, but you had to do the editing.

And so, in these difficult times, I just want to say Thanks. Really.

Best Wishes,

Sean Thomas

I printed out the letter and sent it off, and – to be honest – I largely forgot about it. Perhaps it might amuse an intern at Number 10, perhaps it would get all the way to the PM for a few moments, and it might raise a chuckle. Job done.

A few weeks later, heading out of my home, I noticed an unusually stiff envelope lying in my hall. On the front it said THE PRIME MINISTER. On the back it said DOWNING STREET. I opened it up: it was a signed, handwritten letter from Boris Johnson, PM.


10 Downing Street

London SW1A 2AA

Dear Mr Thomas,

Thank you for your kind and amusing letter. I am very glad I have played some small part in your literary success and will look out for your novels with interest!

Best Wishes,

Boris Johnson


What did that say about Boris Johnson the man, that he had taken time out during a plague to respond to my letter, when he presumably had more pressing matters? As I strolled out of my hall, into the sunshine, I wasn’t sure. But it made me laugh, in the middle of a plague. And that’s no small thing.

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