Boris Johnson's secret charity fund for Carrie Symonds' No.10 makeover
Boris Johnson’s secret fund for Carrie Symonds’ No.10 makeover: Prime Minister plans new charity backed by rich donors to help pay for his fiancee’s lavish revamp of private flat
- The scheme is based on one used by the White House to raise makeover funds
- It is expected to be funded largely by wealthy Conservative benefactors
- It runs the risk of claims of conflict of interest over financial aid to the PM
Boris Johnson is secretly trying to set up a charity to help pay for a costly makeover of his official flat by his fiancée, it has been claimed.
The scheme is based on one used by the White House to raise millions of dollars for interior design, antiques and art.
The presidential charity is bankrolled by private donors – and the proposed Downing Street version is expected to be funded largely by wealthy Tory benefactors.
Boris Johnson is secretly trying to set up a charity to help pay for a costly makeover of his official flat by his fiancée, it has been claimed
It runs the risk of claims of conflict of interest if it is seen as a back-door way of providing a financial benefit to the Prime Minister.
Mr Johnson has complained the cost of the refurbishment by Carrie Symonds was ‘totally out of control’, the Daily Mail has been told. He reportedly said during one meeting that the sum amounted to ‘tens and tens of thousands’. On another occasion he said it was ‘over a hundred grand’.
He is said to have told one minister he was particularly alarmed by the cost of wallpaper chosen by Miss Symonds, saying she appeared to have ordered ‘gold wall coverings’.
Mr Johnson has asked multi-millionaire financier and Tory peer Lord Brownlow, who has close links with the Royal Family, to run the charity. It is believed that an application to register it with the Charity Commission is under way.
The restyled décor is said to have been inspired by celebrated eco interior designer Lulu Lytle (pictured)
The founder and director of Soane Britain ‘designs and makes British-made furniture, upholstery, lighting, fabrics and wallpaper’ (sample designs pictured)
The official purpose of the charity is to raise funds to preserve No 10 and No 11 Downing Street for the nation on heritage grounds. But insiders say the proposal stemmed from the soaring cost of a makeover of the No 11 flat, which is preferred by prime ministers with families because it is bigger than the No 10 flat.
The restyled décor is said to have been inspired by celebrated eco interior designer Lulu Lytle. The founder and director of Soane Britain ‘designs and makes British-made furniture, upholstery, lighting, fabrics and wallpaper’ based on ‘traditional crafts including blacksmiths’.
Prince Charles visited her rattan workshop last year just before the pandemic. Miss Lytle’s fabrics start at £100 a metre.
Work on refurbishing the No 11 flat is believed to have been completed in recent months. It went on for more than a year and was disrupted by Covid.
Mr Johnson first expressed concern at the rising cost early last year. He is said to have commented there was ‘no way’ he could pay for it after being informed by the Cabinet Office that the maximum taxpayer contribution was ‘around £30,000’.
Lytle’s designs (pictured) combine a riot of bold colours and showstopping old-fashioned glamour
Soane’s clients include five-star hotels and restaurants, private members’ clubs, boardrooms, yachts and private houses all over the world
Top designer who inspired Carrie’s chic makeover
The woman said to have inspired Carrie’s lavish makeover is Lulu Lytle – one of the UK’s most influential and successful interior designers. Her designs combine a riot of bold colours and showstopping old-fashioned glamour.
Think oiled-oak shelving, rattan furniture, shimmering gold wallpaper and intricate textiles. A marble bathroom, perhaps, with wrought iron finishings.
She is especially passionate about sustaining traditional British craftsmanship.
She built up her Soane Britain interior design studio by scouring the country for the best artisan blacksmiths, cabinet makers, upholsterers and stone carvers creating furniture, lighting and fabrics using skills going back to the 18th century and beyond.
In 2011, she put her money where her mouth is and bought the last rattan-weaving workshop left in England and started an apprenticeship programme. Prince Charles, himself passionate about sustaining traditional craftsmanship, visited the Leicester workshop a year ago, just before lockdown, to admire its creations.
Soane’s clients include five-star hotels and restaurants, private members’ clubs, boardrooms, yachts and private houses all over the world.
Mrs Lytle, 49, says her furniture, upholstery, lighting, fabrics and wallpapers all aim to ‘contribute to the joyful atmosphere of any interior’. Born and raised in Worcestershire, the youngest of four sisters, Lucy Elizabeth Kottler, known as ‘Lulu’, developed a romantic passion for Egypt and took a degree in Egyptology.
She met her husband Charles Patrick St John Lytle, known as Charlie, when he was training as a barrister. He is now a senior investment banker at Goldman Sachs. Mrs Lytle worked in antiques for four years, before starting Soane when she was 25, originally from the couple’s one-bedroom flat in Notting Hill, west London.
Her plan was clear and has never changed — to create beautifully made contemporary furniture based on antiques. She said: ‘The life of an object is endlessly fascinating, there’s a depth to old things.’ The Lytles moved to a flat in one of London’s nicest squares, close to Hyde Park, in 1999.
They then bought its neighbour and knocked through to create a £4million home, which is now a stunning exhibition of Mrs Lytle’s interior design genius and often showcased in glossy magazines.
It mixes old and new Soane pieces, along with textiles collected worldwide, paintings, maps and artefacts. Searing Chinese yellow walls make a study area dramatic, while hand-painted lapis lazuli rocks bring luxury to the master bedroom’s Carrara marble ensuite bathroom.
The couple share their home with their three children Tom, 20, Bunny, 18, and Xan, 15 – as well as a greyhound named Panther and Hammy the hamster.
By Sam Greenhill, chief reporter for the Daily Mail
That left a massive shortfall. Despite his salary of £150,000 a year as Prime Minister, Mr Johnson has taken a big pay cut because he earned £500,000 as a newspaper columnist and author before entering No 10.
In addition he has had an expensive divorce from his ex-wife, Marina Wheeler.
This newspaper understands that there were several meetings in No 10 where Mr Johnson discussed the possibility of asking Conservative donors to bridge the gap was discussed, either directly or via Tory Party HQ. After being warned that could be unethical, his advisers came up with an alternative scheme.
They said the most practical and ethical way to secure extra financial help to pay for the refurbishment was by establishing a new charitable fund.
Its purpose would be to maintain not just the No 11 flat, but also other parts of Downing Street, including the state rooms.
That way, it way could be presented as having a wider heritage purpose that would benefit future prime ministers, not just Mr Johnson, he was advised. He is said to have agreed to the proposal.
However, according to some sources, in reality the real purpose was to bail out Mr Johnson and pay for Miss Symonds’ expensive tastes.
It is believed that the new charity will be designed to allow money to be used to pay for the refurbishment. It is modelled on a similar scheme used to maintain the White House, where the US president’s wife customarily plays a big role in interior design.
Incoming presidents and their families are allowed to spend up to $100,000 (£72,000) on restyling the Washington mansion.
When David and Samantha Cameron occupied the No 11 flat, they paid the bulk of a £100,000 redesign by Mrs Cameron, including a new kitchen.
An ally of Mr Johnson last night defended the charity plan, saying: ‘Downing Street is as iconic as Windsor Castle but is in danger of becoming tatty because the Civil Service does everything on the cheap.
‘A new charity with privately raised money to preserve it in great shape for all time is great value for the taxpayer and a great idea.’
Friends of Miss Symonds deny she has been extravagant.
‘The makeover is appropriate for a building of such huge importance,’ said one. ‘Carrie has exquisite taste. It is classic, stunning, stylish and chic. She should be congratulated not criticised.’
The Prime Minister’s official country residence, Chequers in Buckinghamshire, is maintained by a trust with funds from Lord Lee, who gave the house to the nation a century ago.
A No 10 spokesman said: ‘The Downing Street complex is a working building, as well as containing two ministerial residences.
‘As has been the case under successive administrations, refurbishments and maintenance are made periodically.
‘Matters concerning works on the Downing Street estate, including the residences, are covered in the Cabinet Office annual report and accounts.’
The spokesman declined to answer further questions from the Mail, including whether Mr Johnson had voiced worries about the cost of the refurbishment and whether he discussed asking Tory donors to help pay for it or asked Lord Brownlow to take charge of the proposed charity. The Charity Commission said it was not aware of any application to set up a Downing Street charity.
Conservative Party HQ, the Cabinet Office, Lord Brownlow and Miss Lytle declined to comment.
Mrs Lytle, 49, says her furniture, upholstery, lighting, fabrics and wallpapers all aim to ‘contribute to the joyful atmosphere of any interior’
Born and raised in Worcestershire, the youngest of four sisters, Lucy Elizabeth Kottler, known as ‘Lulu’, developed a romantic passion for Egypt and took a degree in Egyptology
According to one insider the idea of creating a blind trust, an arrangement wherein a public figure’s investments are handled by others whose identity is not disclosed to him or her to avoid a conflict of interest, was also discussed as a funding option.
This is said to have been ruled out on the grounds that the identity of the Tory donors would almost certainly be known to the Prime Minister.
Miss Symonds is involved in another charity controversy.
She recently announced she was joining the staff of the Aspinall Foundation, whose financial governance is now being probed by the Charity Commission.
Founded by the late John Aspinall, a friend of Lord Lucan, the foundation helps gorillas in the Congo and runs other conservation projects.
The commission has launched a probe into concerns about ‘financial management and wider governance’.
She built up her Soane Britain interior design studio by scouring the country for the best artisan blacksmiths, cabinet makers, upholsterers and stone carvers
The non-profit foundation allows its founder’s son, gambling tycoon Damian Aspinall, to live in a 30-room manor for a fraction of normal market rates.
He is charged just £2,500 a month for Howletts mansion, a Grade II-listed Palladian pile it owns in rural Kent.
The charity is also shelling out large sums of money to Mr Aspinall’s wife Victoria.
Miss Symonds has suggested the Charity Commission’s inquiry is all perfectly normal. She said: ‘The commission made a number of ongoing routine inquiries at the end of last year as part of its regular checks.’
However, commission sources told the Daily Mail: ‘A routine check of their accounts in November raised a number of red flags, and these concerns are now being looked at.’
The creeping cost of Downing Street redecorations led by Tony Blair and David Cameron
By Sam Greenhill, chief reporter for the Daily Mail
Expectations have clearly risen since Margaret Thatcher slapped down a proposed refurbishment of the No 11 flat in 1979, saying the public would not be impressed.
She dashed the hopes of her chancellor Geoffrey Howe, who had complained the 1960s-style kitchen was ‘positively antediluvian, with iron gas rings, antique sinks and sombre décor’, records show.
So the flat remained a product of the 1960s – until Tony and Cherie Blair took up residence in 1997.
Cosy: Michelle Obama and Samantha Cameron in the No 11 flat in 2011 after recent refurbishments
‘I won’t sleep in Ken Clarke’s bed,’ Mr Blair declared of the Conservative chancellor, the most recent tenant, when he became PM and opted for the four-bedroom No 11 flat instead of the smaller one at No 10.
In the Blair years, the flat above No 11, frequently littered with toys belonging to baby Leo, born in May 2000, had £127,000 spent on refurbishments between 1999 and 2005, according to official records.
In came £70-a-roll wallpapers, new artwork and a set of custom-made glass-fronted bookcases for Mrs Blair’s office. When Gordon Brown moved in with his wife and two sons, in 2007, he appears to have been perfectly content with it – there are no records that he spent a penny on upgrades.
But in 2010, David and Samantha Cameron went to town on the place, which clearly fell well short of their Notting Hill standards.
Out went a mirrored exercise room where lifestyle guru Carole Caplin had put the Blairs through their paces. Old carpets were ripped out too, and expensive black granite worktops installed in a new kitchen.
As part of a £64,000 makeover, extensive work was carried out in a bathroom, with everything apart from a towel rail stripped out and a new floor and ceiling installed. Some of the costs were met from the flat’s annual £30,000 maintenance grant, and the rest by the Camerons.
The couple went for an ultra-modern, minimalist design of brushed steel and floating shelves in the second kitchen, leaving the original 1960s-style kitchen in its original state. A £3,400 Britannia range cooker – complete with dirty oven gloves – was the centrepiece.
Theresa May is not reported to have changed anything during her time in Downing Street.
… And the White House fund Boris envies
If the new Downing Street charity follows the lead set by America, then Carrie Symonds could play a major role.
Incoming presidents and their families are allowed to spend $100,000 (£72,000) on redecorating the White House.
By tradition, the First Lady takes an active part in the White House Endowment Trust which maintains the fabric of the building.
Funded by private donors, it has reported assets of around $50million (£36million).
Rosalynn Carter, wife of Jimmy Carter, is credited with a major shake-up of the White House Endowment Trust in 1978, including raising large sums of cash.
George Bush’s spouse Barbara handed oversight of the trust to the White House Historical Association.
And Hillary Clinton, wife of Bill, increased the trust’s wealth to more than $35million (£25million).
A White House Furnishings Committee established by John F Kennedy’s wife Jacqueline was replaced in 1964 by the Committee for the Preservation of the White House, which includes top interior designers who advise on makeovers of the Oval Office study.
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