Explorer, activist, writer and more

By Iain Duffy

Stanley I Presume?
by Stanley Johnson HarperCollins, $30
Stanley Johnson is an author, environmentalist and politician - and father of Boris Johnson, the London mayor. His career has seen him write successful thrillers, confront seal-clubbers on ice floes and be hailed for his work by Greenpeace. He has always kept his strong links with Exmoor, where he still manages the family farm. And this is his story.
It begins with a loud bang - when his father, an RAF pilot in World War II, crash-lands a Wellington bomber in a Devon airfield. A few years later, Stanley's parents buy a sheep farm on nearby Exmoor, where Stanley does much of his growing up.
Stanley would keep his links with this much-loved rural idyll throughout his life, while going on to become an explorer, author, occasional politician and one of the world's first environmentalists. He is a sparkling raconteur and experienced thriller writer and, in Stanley, I Presume?, great stories are told in great style.
On leaving school in 1958, Stanley travelled alone through South America - hitching rides across the jungle on Brazilian Air Force planes - and shortly afterwards rode a motorcycle 6500km from London to Afghanistan, tracing the route of Marco Polo.
After winning Oxford University's poetry prize with a love poem - written after a hilltop tryst in the West Country - Stanley went on to do various adventurous jobs before working for the billionaire John Rockefeller III, the World Bank, the United Nations and the European Union.
Stanley married and started a family young - Boris was born in New York when his father was 23 - and though Boris would go on to become big news, the family's forbears also provide quite a story, as Stanley finds out.

The Johnson family's roots
are not just in the West Country
but in Turkey where, as Stanley discovers, his politician grandfather, Ali Kemal, was torn to pieces by an angry mob.
Stanley visits a Turkish village where the locals are blond.
And later he learns that he and Boris are descendants of George II.
A thoroughly enjoyable read.

- Northern Advocate

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