Boris faces fury over  'quite inappropriate' plan for No10 flat revamp

Boris faces fury over 'quite inappropriate' plan for No10 flat revamp

March 2, 2021

Ex-standards chief blasts Boris’s ‘quite inappropriate’ plans for a new charity backed by rich donors to help pay for Carrie Symonds’ lavish ‘six-figure’ revamp of private Downing Street flat as she overhauls Sam Cam’s clinical chic with vintage style

  • Scheme is based on one used by the White House to raise makeover funds at the Washington DC residence
  • It is expected to be funded largely by wealthy Conservative benefactors –  raising conflict of interest fears
  • PM has said the cost of the refurbishment by Carrie Symonds over the past year was ‘totally out of control’

Boris Johnson was blasted by a former standards tsar today over ‘quite inappropriate’ plans to launch a new charity backed by wealthy Tory donors to pay for the six-figure refurbishment of his official flat.

Sir Alistair Graham, the former chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, tore into a scheme said to be modelled on one used to bankroll the interior upkeep of the White House.

It could be bankrolled by Tory benefactors – sparking potential conflict of interest fears 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 over the past year 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’.

Downing Street refused to comment on what it called ‘speculation’, but Sir Alistair told the Times: ‘It looks like he is seeking to set up the charity for personal benefit rather than for the benefit of a wider group in need.

‘I would quite like to set a charity up to refurbish my flat in York, but I don’t think it’s a practical proposition.

‘That’s not what charities are for: to provide enhanced living standards for the Prime Minister and his wife.’ 

Boris Johnson is secretly trying to set up a charity to help pay for a costly makeover of his official flat by his fiancée

Sir Alistair Graham, the former chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, tore into a scheme said to be modelled on one used to bankroll the interior upkeep of the White House.

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)

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

He added: ‘If you’re making a donation, you’re making it to a political party for the purposes of ensuring that party stays in power, you don’t do it for the personal benefit of the leader of the party. 

‘It would seem to me an abuse of his position as prime minister. I cannot believe how it crossed his mind. If there is a need to do certain things in terms of maintenance, that should be paid out of government funds.’ 

The Prime Minister’s press secretary Allegra Stratton did not deny the accuracy of the report today, but told reporters: ‘Downing Street is maintained to appropriate standards for the Grade I and II listed building that it is.

‘The Cabinet Office sits in oversight of that. As things stand there is already a process in place for maintaining it to the right standard.’

The PM’s official spokesman referred journalists to the Cabinet Office annual report and accounts – which have yet to be published for the relevant period and may not be released until July.

‘That is where we set out the details of what has happened,’ the spokesman said.

‘Downing Street is a working building as has been the case under successive administrations, refurbishment and maintenance are made periodically.’  

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 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’.

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.

Floor plans show the second floor of the complex has a large number of bedrooms

The Camerons’ flat featured billowing light and black-and-white Vogue-style family photographs and the kitchen was dominated by Nigella-standard units and surfaces

Bringing your work home: David Cameron working on one of his red boxes in the flat above Number 11, with Samantha Cameron in the kitchen

Samantha Cameron, wife of then Prime Minister David Cameron, having breakfast in her 11, Downing Street apartment with Philip Kiley (left), eight, from Chorley in Lancashire, and Stevie Tyrie, eight, from Manchester, as part of her support for the charity Contact A Family which helps families with disabled children

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

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. Pictures of the flat during their residence provide the most recent look at the home.

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.

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

Conservative Party HQ, the Cabinet Office, Lord Brownlow and Miss Lytle declined to comment.

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.’

Carrie casts out Sam-Cam era with vintage overhaul at No11: PM’s fiancée swaps £64,000 minimalist and modern look left by David and Samantha Cameron for opulent decor as she stamps mark on Downing Street

The flat at Number 11 Downing Street has seen extensive refurbishments in the past two decades before Carrie Symonds made her recent renovations, making further changes to those left by the Camerons.  

The ‘glum’ decor is said to have been removed in favour of vintage furniture restored by hand by Miss Symonds and the hall floors stripped and burnished – with the living area, often lit by candles, painted deep green. 

The flat was seemingly stuck in the 1960s until Tony and Cherie Blair began living there in 1997. When Mr Blair became prime minister he opted for the four-bedroom No 11 flat instead of the smaller one at No 10, and he and his wife spent £127,000 on refurbishments between 1999 and 2005, including £3,500 on a bed.

However Gordon Brown, his wife Sarah and their two sons are not thought to have spent anything on upgrades after they moved into No 11 in 2007, being content with the changes made by the Blairs.

Then David and Samantha Cameron took residence in 2010 which prompted the next series of major changes, including a £64,000 makeover which included extensive work on a bathroom, give a new floor and ceiling.

Among the changes made by the Camerons to the kitchen were the installation of a £3,400 Britannia range cooker and a Dualit toaster and Gaggia coffee machine, worth about £200 apiece.  

Theresa May, who is a keen chef and owns more than 100 cookbooks, is not thought to have changed anything significant when she moved in with Philip – and would therefore likely have been happy with the new kitchen. 

Now, it has been claimed Boris Johnson is secretly trying to set up a charity to help pay for a costly makeover of the Cameron’s flat by his fiancée Carrie Symonds after claiming the cost was ‘totally out of control’.

The scheme is based on one used by the White House to raise millions of dollars for interior design, antiques and art – a presidential charity which is bankrolled by private donors.

The proposed Downing Street version is expected to be funded largely by wealthy Tory benefactors, but 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 PM. 

Mr Johnson is alleged to have been alarmed by the cost of wallpaper, saying Miss Symonds appeared to have ordered ‘gold wall coverings’. The restyled décor is said to have been inspired by interior designer Lulu Lytle. 

Mrs Lytle is the founder and director of Soane Britain which ‘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 and her fabrics start at £100 a metre. Work on refurbishing the No 11 flat is believed to have been completed in recent months, having gone on for more than a year.

Walls are adorned with paintings by the Prime Minister, who said to be a surprisingly good artist, and handprints by baby son Wilfred, along with pieces by Mr Johnson’s mother, Charlotte. There are also works by John Nash.  

One friend of Miss Symonds said: ‘The makeover is appropriate for a building of such huge importance. Carrie has exquisite taste. It is classic, stunning, stylish and chic. She should be congratulated not criticised.’

Here is a rundown of how the flat at No 11 has changed over the years as successive prime ministers moved in: 

Samantha Cameron speaks with then First Lady Michelle Obama before having tea at Number 11 Downing Street in May 2011, which she redesigned after moving in there with her husband David Cameron following his elected as prime minister in 2010


The restyled décor following the overhaul by Carrie Symonds after moving into Number 11 Downing Street is said to have been inspired by interior designer Lulu Lytle – with examples of her work pictured above.

THE BLAIRS (1997-2007) – How Cherie Blair joked decor ‘might have been state-of-the-art in the 1960s’ and ordered in £70-a-roll wallpaper in what would become a £127,000 makeover over six years 

After Margaret Thatcher stopped a proposed refurbishment of the No 11 flat in 1979, saying the public would not be impressed with the expenditure, it remained a product of the 1960s until Tony and Cherie Blair arrived in 1997. 

‘I won’t sleep in Ken Clarke’s bed,’ Mr Blair declared of the Conservative chancellor, the most recent tenant, when he became prime minister and opted for the four-bedroom No 11 flat which was bigger than the one at No 10.

A new bed costing £3,500 was swiftly shipped in courtesy of Mrs Blair’s close friend and lifestyle adviser Carole Caplin. 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.

Mrs Blair’s memoirs record her first impression of the flat as being a whiff of Mr Clarke’s cigar smoke and ‘a series of heavy mahogany wardrobes that smelt of cedar and mothballs’ as her ‘heart sank at the sight of the kitchen.’

She added: ‘It might have been state-of-the-art in the Sixties, but that was then.’ In came £70-a-roll wallpapers, new artwork and a set of custom-made glass-fronted bookcases for Mrs Blair’s office.

The couple were pictured at their private flat by photographer Anthony Crickmay for a Christmas card in December 1998, which also saw them with children Euan, then 14, Nicky, then 13, and Kathryn, then ten.

Tony Blair with his wife Cherie, and their children Euan (left), then 14, Nicky (right), then 13, and Kathryn (front), then ten, as they appeared on the Prime Minister’s Christmas card in December 1998 which was taken at Number 11 Downing Street

The downstairs area of Number 11 Downing Street is pictured in 2005. The four-bedroom residence is located upstairs

Floor plans for Number 10 and 11 Downing Street show the second floor of the complex has a large number of bedrooms

Number 11 Downing Street is pictured in 2005, eight years after Tony Blair became PM and opted for the four-bedroom flat

Number 11 Downing Street, pictured in 2005, remained a product of the 1960s until Tony and Cherie Blair arrived in 1997

THE BROWNS (2007-2010) – How Gordon Brown was happy with an ‘adequate’ and ‘old fashioned’ kitchen for his wife Sarah to cook him ‘homely’ meals

When Tony Blair and Gordon Brown moved into Downing Street in 1997, Mr Blair persuaded the then-single Mr Brown to vacate the Chancellor’s flat at Number 11 to provide room for the prime minister’s young family.

And when Mr Brown had a family of his own with his wife Sarah, they were based in his own Westminster house, before moving into the Number 11 flat when Mr Brown became PM in 2007.

And the Browns appear to have been perfectly content with the property, because there are no records that he spent a penny on upgrades. 

In 2010, a friend of Mr Brown described the Number 11 kitchen as ‘perfectly adequate, but obviously not up to Notting Hill standards’.

They added: ‘It’s very plain and bare. It’s a bit old-fashioned – a bit like a Sixties-style kitchen. It’s quite spacious and it was fine for Gordon and Sarah and her homely cooking.’

Gordon Brown is pictured in the kitchen of the Number 11 Downing Street flat in October 2008, after moving in a year earlier

Number 11 Downing Street is pictured in 2009, at the time when Gordon Brown was living in the four-bedroom flat upstairs

The staircase leading from the ground floor of Number 11 Downing Street to the living quarters is pictured in 2009

The boardroom at Number 11 Downing Street is pictured in 2009, when Gordon Brown was living in the four-bedroom flat

Chancellor Alistair Darling has breakfast with his wife Margaret (centre) and Ann Coffey (left), his private secretary, in a different section of 11 Downing Street in April 2009. Mr Brown promoted Mr Darling to chancellor to replace himself in 2007

A ground floor meeting room at Number 11 Downing Street is photographed in 2009

CAMERONS (2010-2016) – David and Samantha Cameron made a series of refurbishments totalling £64,000 including a complete overhaul of the bathroom and installing modern kitchen appliances including £3,400 cooker 

In 2010, David and Samantha Cameron made a series of major refurbishments to the flat, which clearly fell well short of their standards they were used to at their home in Notting Hill.

They got rid of a mirrored exercise room where Carole Caplin had put the Blairs through their paces, while old carpets were also ripped out and expensive black granite worktops were installed in a new private 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.

This left the original 1960s–style kitchen in its original state. Modern appliances were installed including a Dualit toaster and Gaggia coffee machine, worth about £200 apiece, along with a £3,400 Britannia range cooker.

The Camerons also let the cameras in to photograph the Prime Minister working in the sitting room and meeting foreign heads of state – and his wife hosting charity meetings around the breakfast table.  

David Cameron in his kitchen at Number 11 Downing Street in March 2015, which had a major refurbishment after he moved in

David Cameron speaks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at his flat at Number 11 Downing Street in February 2014

A tabbed-up image showing the fittings at the Number 11 Downing Street flat, where Samantha Cameron is pictured eating breakfast with children as part of her work with the charity Contact A Family in January 2015

Samantha Cameron, wife of David Cameron, hosts a breakfast for the charity Contact A Family at No 11 in January 2015

MAYS (2016-2019) – Theresa May bought a red three-seater sofa and glass coffee table but did not make any major refurbishments to the flat

Theresa May is not thought to have made any major refurbishments to the flat, but did buy a bold three-seater red couch, chrome lamp and a glass-topped coffee table on which to place a £25 Elemis Revitalise Me scent diffuser.

A photoshoot with the Sunday Times revealed her colourful sofa had been covered with brown patterned throw cushions, while the coffee table – in front of a marble fireplace – having been brought in from Habitat for £195.

On her side table was a £100 Zachery chrome table lamp from John Lewis, which was next to an extravagant £42 rose-scented Diptyque candle. The photoshoot also saw her wear a £495 cashmere jumper by Amanda Wakeley.

But a profile of Carrie Symonds in Tatler magazine said the planned overhaul of the flat by Boris Johnson’s fiancée aimed to clear out the ‘John Lewis furniture nightmare’ reportedly left by Mrs May. 

Boris Johnson is allegedly secretly trying to set up a charity to help pay for a costly makeover of his official flat at Number 11 by his fiancée Carrie Symonds. The couple are pictured together at Number 10 in December last year

And here’s how Number 11 looked as a residence for chancellors in the 1980s and 90s before the Blairs moved in…

Norman Lamont poses in 1991 in the sitting room of the Number 11 Downing Street flat when it was occupied by the chancellor

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