The Sunday Times has reported that BBC chairman Richard Sharp agreed to help Boris Johnson secure a loan of up to £800,000 during the period when the government was considering appointing him to the BBC job and Johnson was Prime Minister.
Johnson has said he received no financial advice and Sharp has said there was no conflict of interest. Even so, the story has led the news coverage of big media organisations – including the BBC – and augmented the ongoing “Tory sleaze” narrative. It has also served as a reminder that Johnson’s relationship with Sharp goes back to at least the earliest days of his time as Mayor of London.
Sharp rose to a senior position at Goldman Sachs, where he was Rishi Sunak’s boss, before leaving in 2007 and becoming chair of the Royal Academy of Arts – a position he still held when Johnson was first elected Mayor in May 2008.
A few weeks prior to that election it was reported by the Telegraph that if Johnson was elected Sharp would be helping with the Mayor’s Fund for London, a new charity Johnson had pledged to set up as a philanthropic vehicle to help young Londoners (the charity was set up and still exists).
In October 2008 Sharp was also appointed by Johnson to a board of London 2012 legacy advisers, a role he retained until 2010, and to his economic advisory board.
At that time Sharp lived in Kensington with his then wife Victoria Sharp, now Lady Robey and in the same month the Sharps were included by the strongly pro-Johnson Evening Standard in its list of London’s 1,000 most influential people. The couple were described as “philanthropists” who, earlier that year, had launched the charity London Music Masters whose goals were described as nurturing “musical talent in deprived parts of the capital” and providing scholarships to promising violinists.
The Standard’s editor at that time was Veronica Wadley, a former Daily Mail deputy editor, who had encouraged Johnson to run for Mayor against Labour incumbent Ken Livingstone. She stood down from her Standard job in early 2009 and later that year was nominated by Johnson to be the new head of the Arts Council in London. The appointment was blocked by Ben Bradshaw, culture secretary of the Labour national government, on the grounds that the selection process had breached the so-called Nolan principles produced in 1995 to provide a basis for “ethical standards expected of public officer holders”.
It emerged that two of the three people who interviewed hopefuls for the Arts Council role did not think Wadley was qualified: one of them expressed “severe misgivings” about her and another warned that she had “almost no arts credibility”. The only panel member who favoured her was Johnson’s own culture adviser, but Johnson had pressed ahead with nominating Wadley just the same.
In October 2009 Johnson re-advertised the job and expressed his determination that Wadley would get it. He appointed a fresh interview panel, which turned out to include Victoria Sharp. Fresh interviews took place the on 2 June 2010, the month after Labour was defeated at a general election and replaced by the Conservative-led coalition government. On 10 June it was announced that Wadley had been appointed Arts Council London chair after the then culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, approved her re-nomination by Johnson.
In between those two dates, on 7 June 2010, Johnson visited a primary school in Lambeth to see a performance by pupils helped by the London Music Masters charity. Veronica Wadley was given a seat in the House of Lords by Johnson in October 2020. Richard Sharp was appointed chairman of the BBC under Johnson’s premiership in February 2021.
Photograph: Johnson when Mayor in December 2011.
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