London Evening Standard/London
The flame-haired Victoria Borwick spends her days scurrying around London on behalf of Boris Johnson — but unlike her boss she does so below the radar.
Borwick is statutory deputy mayor of London and, as such, is the person who would step up should Boris ever fall under a London bus. She is technically the most senior woman in the capital’s politics.
But the Conservative former businesswoman, 57, is that rare thing in politics — understated — and prefers to describe herself as an additional pair of “eyes and ears” for the mayor on the ground.
When she was appointed last year some of her less charitable colleagues suggested it was because she was the only woman among the London Assembly Tories. But, whatever the reason, she has played the role of stand-in with aplomb.
“A lot of what I do is feed information back into the mayor’s team. I go and see initiatives, I talk to people, I do things that might require a lot more time,” she says.
One recent event was a memorial service for murdered teenager Jimmy Mizen. After the 16-year-old was killed in Lee in 2008, his family set up the Jimmy Mizen Foundation, which works to increase young people’s awareness of the consequences of violent crime
She wells up as she describes the service. “It was a terribly moving event, I sat next to the (Met Police) commissioner, I was in tears most of the time, he handed me his handkerchief.”
From a more cynical politician it might seem insincere. But from Borwick — who has a reputation as one of the nicest people at City Hall — it appears entirely genuine.
Before entering politics about 10 years ago, she had a successful career in senior management with P&O, which she combined with bringing up her four children.
Yet she was surprised when it was suggested recently that she might be a role model for other women. “I actually looked round behind me. I don’t see myself as that,” she says.
Back in 2008, Borwick came second — admittedly by some distance — to Boris when he was selected as Conservative mayoral candidate. Her campaign slogan was “London needs a Red Head, not Red Ken”. Before that she was Steve Norris’s running mate.
She blushes when asked whether, since the mayor has ruled out standing for a third term, she would consider having another go. “That’s a long way off,” she says, but when pressed, adds: “Yes. It would be fantastic. Wouldn’t it be an amazing opportunity? But the point is Londoners want somebody who has got Boris’s charisma, so I’m not sure they’d pick me. We’ll just have to see. No one could be left a better set of cards to play.”
Despite her warmth, Borwick does not hold back from speaking her mind. It is telling that it took months of asking before City Hall agreed for her to be interviewed.
She clearly doesn’t think much of the mayor’s plans for a new hub airport in the Thames Estuary, for example. “Boris is obviously very keen but I still see that as a long way off,” she says.
She raises an eyebrow at the mayor’s pledge to have large numbers of electric vehicles on London’s streets by 2020.
Her husband — hereditary baron Jamie Borwick — set up an electric car company, so she knows what she’s talking about. “I’m not sure it’s going to happen by 2020 but it’s important to have the vision.”