The daughter of the barrister Sir James Fawcett, who was president of the European Commission for Human Rights in the 1970s, Charlotte Johnson Wahl studied English at Oxford University, but interrupted her education to travel to America with Stanley Johnson, whom she married in 1963, and returned to complete her degree as the first married female undergraduate at her college, Lady Margaret Hall.
‘Once I started painting I could not stop’
It was as a portrait painter that she made her name, with sitters including Jilly Cooper and Joanna Lumley, but she painted other subjects, including landscapes, throughout her life and in 2015 was the subject of a retrospective exhibition at the Mall Galleries in London.
She told The Telegraph in 2015 that: “My older sister was terribly clever, as was my younger brother. My parents didn’t know what to do with me so they gave me some paints and I turned out to be good at it. Once I started I couldn’t stop.”
Explaining how she went about her work, she said: “When I paint people I am trying to capture what is unique about them, what makes them and nobody else. Once you’ve found that you’re well on the way.”
She and Stanley had four children: Boris, journalist Rachel, former Cabinet minister Jo and environmentalist Leo, before they divorced in 1979. The Prime Minister’s son Wilfred was her 13th grandchild.
How Boris got his name
Describing how the Prime Minister got his name, she once recalled: “When I was three months pregnant, we travelled to Mexico City by Greyhound bus. It was very uncomfortable, I was desperately sick. We stayed with a man called Boris Litwin, who drew me aside and said: ‘You can’t travel back like this, here are two first-class air tickets’.
“I was so grateful, I said: ‘Whatever the baby is, I shall call it Boris.'”
She changed her mind and called him Alexander Boris de Pfeffel, adding: “At Eton, his friends discovered his foreign name and everyone started calling him Boris – even the beaks [teachers]. But everyone who’s known him since childhood calls him Alexander. If I were to call him Boris it would mean something was really serious.”