RORY STEWART: My obsessive anger with Boris drove me to therapy (2024)

Arriving precisely on time at Rory Stewart's terraced house in London's South Kensington I find the front door already open and Stewart standing in the hall waiting for me.

At the end of our interview, I gather my things together to discover that he has left the room and is standing in the hall with the front door already open waiting for me to leave. It's a rather odd feeling, but Stewart is an unusual man. Going is very much as important as arriving.

This was his childhood home, he tells me, as we settle down in a pristine dining room. His father bought the house in 1968, five years before Stewart – the first child of Stewart senior's second marriage – was born. He points: 'I hid behind those curtains when I was four and pretended to run away.'

Some unkind people think he's still running away.

He entered parliament in 2010 as Conservative member for Penrith and The Border – the only English constituency that's more remote than his beloved Afghanistan's Wakhan Corridor – became a minister in 2015 under David Cameron, joined the Cabinet under Theresa May, resigned when Boris Johnson won the leadership in July 2019, had the Tory whip removed for rebelling over Brexit later that year and subsequently left the Conservative Party and decided not to fight the December 2019 election.

And now he is famous for having become one of Britain's most successful podcasters. The Rest is Politics, which he co-hosts with Tony Blair's former communications chief, Alastair Campbell, began in March 2022. 'We signed up for six episodes,' he says, 'then I thought, maybe we'll do it for a year. We're now nearly two and a half years in. There's clearly some phenomenon!'

Indeed there is. In late 2022 the pair filled the Royal Albert Hall for a special recording. Even so, Stewart recalls feeling a little embarrassed by his new role. 'Friends – and even people who weren't friends – would tease me and say: this is pathetic – you thought you were gonna be a kind of serious politician, and now this!'

But that feeling has dissipated. 'Initially I was a bit apologetic and thought we were dumbing down and it wasn't a serious thing to do. More recently, I've become proud of it, as world issues became increasingly tricky. So I've really been getting into questions like: how do I learn to speak about Israel and Palestine?'

In other words, it, too, is a kind of public service.

The show, which is produced by Gary Lineker's Goalhanger Podcasts and goes out twice weekly, is also apparently very lucrative. Although no one involved is prepared to give details, Lineker has allowed that The Rest is Politics duo have done pretty well out of it. (One rival podcast company speculated to The Guardian that Stewart and Campbell could be making more than £100,000 a month each under a revenue-sharing model.)

The last time I met Rory Stewart was in 2017 when he was a junior minister and a school friend of his had written a play about him that was about to open at the Hampstead Theatre. Stewart was a bit tired as his second son Ivo had been born five days earlier.

This time, halfway through our interview, the front door opens and his two sons – Sasha, nine, and Ivo, now seven – appear in school uniform, accompanied by their nanny. They come in to say hello and we talk a bit about dragons. They are delightful. Sasha excuses himself – he has homework to do.

Mine and Stewart's backgrounds could hardly be more different, and I am fighting my own prejudices when I contemplate his membership from birth of the most privileged part of the British establishment.

But I've also learnt that sometimes this privilege comes at a cost. Stewart's parents were living in Malaysia when, at eight, he was sent to board at the Dragon prep school in Oxford. From there he was sent to Eton, also as a boarder. In effect he left home as a child, almost as he had imagined doing from behind those curtains aged four. Is the same thing planned for Sasha and Ivo?

Rory with podcast partner Alastair Campbell at London's Royal Albert Hall in December

'I think probably not,' he says, 'My wife, who's American, didn't go to boarding school, doesn't like boarding school, and Sasha is making it pretty clear at the moment that he's not sure he wants to go.'

He adds, 'My mother is quite sort of wise on this, so she thinks the world's changing. And she's got a sense that this sort of old aspirational English upper-middle-class life, which my parents wanted for me and I kind of represent, may be fading, and may have less relevance in a new world. And I think she may have a point.'

Stewart insists that boarding school suited his own character and it was his parents who were upset by the separation. So why did they go for it? In particular, why Eton? 'My parents' excuse was that it was really close to Heathrow, but my father was a bit ambivalent about it. He was always grumbling about Etonians; he didn't like them.

He felt that they were really stuck up and they'd been the bane of his professional life.' Brian Stewart, Rory's father, had been deputy director of MI6 in the late 1970s, but was passed over for the top job – presumably by Etonians – when the legendary spook Sir Maurice Oldfield retired. Perhaps this is what his son was referring to.

In Stewart's latest book, Politics on the Edge (out next week in paperback), his greatest contempt (and there are magnificent passages in what is often a very funny account of his time in politics) is fortwo fellow Old Etonians: the supremely complacent David Cameron and his true bête blond, Boris Johnson – the man who, in effect, ended Stewart's dream of serving Britain through politics.

Stewart is hugely competitive, but not with other people. He is clearly internally driven and, after talking with him about his late father's influence, it seems to me that his dad had seen the bookish boy as made for contemplation rather than action, seeing him, in Stewart's words, 'as a bit of a softie, not a macho guy'. He even told his son he should think about becoming Archbishop of Canterbury.

Instead, Stewart became an explorer, the deputy governor of an occupied province of Iraq and then set about the business of becoming a senior politician. And a drive like this can be costly. What he discovered was that he lacked the thick skin that his political colleagues possessed. They 'bounced and bounced and bounced', whereas he just couldn't.

He's only just back from a seven-week stint at Yale University in the US where he teaches a course on Grand Strategy. And next week, he tells me, he's going for 11 days to a silent retreat at a Buddhist monastery somewhere in Britain. He might miss the children, I think, so ask him if he feels that he is a better dad because he can go away and come back.

He's sure he is. 'I think I'll come back from the retreat much more patient, much calmer than if I hadn't done it', he says. 'I can get quite stressed. I get bad migraines and things.'

And things? Stewart recently revealed that he is in therapy. I ask why. His answer is genuinely surprising. 'Part of it is revealed in questions like: why am I so obsessively angry with Boris Johnson? Why do I see him as the representative of the sum of all evils in the world? That's definitely one of the subjects I'm a bit troubled by – how obsessive I am and why I've turned him into this kind of emblem of everything that's wrong.'

The clock on the wall behind Stewart tells me that my time is up. So what's next for him? He likes the podcast but 'it may not last forever. I've always been worried about what happens when Labour gets into government and will Alastair become so tribal that we won't be able to engage with UK politics in the same way?'

If Campbell can't rise to the new moment then I could always step in to fill the void, I don't tell him. In any case, he says, if he really had a fantasy for next year, he 'would love it' if he could chair a commission on something like AI and the NHS; 'something where I could get into a big public policy issue in detail'.

So, there's Rory Stewart at 51, teaching at Yale, father to two lovely children, engaged in a lucrative new form of journalism in which he fulfils a useful role and gets invited to the Coronation. He's living many ambitious people's better lives and you sense it's all not quite enough. Which is a bit of a shame because he is very hard not to like.

Politics on the Edgeby Rory Stewart will be published in paperback on Thursday by Penguin, £10.99. To order a copy for £9.34 until 16 June, go to or call 020 3176 2937. Free UK delivery on orders over £25.

RORY STEWART: My obsessive anger with Boris  drove me to therapy (2024)
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