Introducing Boris Johnson’s Mum
As the mother of Britain’s new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, Charlotte Johnson Wahl has been described as the “creative genius” of the family. A leading British artist, she has also become a campaigner for people who have Parkinson’s.
Now aged 77, she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s when she was 40. She hasn’t let the condition stand in the way of leading a full and active life and has been called a “beacon of light and humanity” by writer and doctor, James Le Fanu.
Born Charlotte Fawcett in May 1942, to Oxford barrister James and his wife Frances Fawcett, she went on to become a professional portrait painter, also famous for her landscapes. She met Boris’s father, her first husband Stanley Johnson, at Oxford University. They had four children – Boris and his siblings, Rachel, Jo and Leo.
The marriage ended in divorce in 1979. Charlotte always encouraged her children to reach for the stars and have a successful career. While Boris is now the Prime Minister, his brother Jo, 46, is the MP for Orpington. Charlotte is a writer and columnist and Leo is a film-maker and entrepreneur.
After her second husband, Nicholas Wahl, died in 1996, Charlotte continued with her own passion, painting. After being diagnosed with Parkinson’s, she underwent surgery to help combat the tremors which the condition caused.
She specialises in portraits and her clientele have included the rich and famous, including journalist and author Jilly Cooper, actress and author Joanna Lumley and environmentalist and diplomat Crispin Tickell.
After Boris was appointed London Mayor in 2008, she was commissioned to paint a cityscape of the capital, showing the view from his office window. An exhibition of her work was held in November 2018 at Mall Galleries in London. Another exhibition is planned for November this year.
As well as her career as an artist, Charlotte has publicly fought to get more NHS staff. In January this year, she joined other people with Parkinson’s to stage a protest in West London after they lost their dedicated NHS nurse. This meant that more than 300 people with Parkinson’s, living in Chelsea, Kensington, Queen’s Park and Paddington, were left without specialist support for more than a year.
Parkinson’s UK organised the protest and complained that West London Clinical Commissioning Group never replaced the specialist nurse when she left in December 2017. People with Parkinson’s no longer benefited from home visits.
At the time, Charlotte said not having a nurse had left them feeling “isolated”. She was pictured in the national press with other protesters outside a meeting of the CCG in Ladbroke Grove, holding a poster which said, “My nurse is my lifeline.”
The CCG responded it had not been “aware” of the charity’s complaint and that it provided alternative care at hospitals and surgeries. The protest was also backed by actress Jane Asher.
Charlotte has protested that people with Parkinson’s now have to depend on their doctor or the hospital, which in the long run is costing the NHS a lot more than paying a nurse to go to patients’ houses for “a cup of tea” and a chat.
“Loneliness” of Parkinson’s
Charlotte has described Parkinson’s as “a lonely thing”, but she feels health leaders don’t seem to think it’s important, or they would have continued to provide specialist nursing care. She added, “There hasn’t been anybody I can ring and I need that.”
Other than her public protests against health care cuts, Charlotte is a very private person. Those close to her say she considers personal publicity “incredibly vulgar” and she is continually “horrified” at the number of people who seem to propel themselves into the media spotlight.
Describing how painting had become more difficult as her Parkinson’s progressed, she used to hold her right arm with her left hand to keep it steady – but she was determined not to give up!
She learned of an operation which would help prevent the tremors that Parkinson’s caused. Ludvic Zrinzo, a surgeon at the National Hospital in Bloomsbury, carried out the pioneering procedure, which Charlotte described as a “miracle”.
He introduced two electrodes into Charlotte’s brain, linking them with what she described as a “battery” implanted in her chest. She said it had stopped her from “jerking” and this meant she could go to the theatre and cinema again – activities she described as “bliss”.
Kinderkey provides a range of beds to help adults and children with Parkinson’s to sleep more comfortably and safely.