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Robert Boothby

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Robert Boothby in 1945
Robert Boothby in 1945
Boothby with Churchill in 1928
Boothby with Churchill in 1928

Lord Robert John Graham Boothby (12 February 1900 – 16 July 1986) was a close friend of Michael Llewelyn Davies during their college and university years, and later a British Conservative party politician with ties to individuals both elite and sleazy.

Bob Boothby was the only son of Sir Robert Tuite Boothby of Edinburgh, Scotland. He went to Eton College where he became friends with Michael, and then to Oxford University, where he enrolled in Magdalen College, while Michael was in Christ Church college.

After graduating, he became a partner in a firm of stockbrokers. After standing unsuccessfully for a parliamentary seat from Orkney and Shetland in 1923, he was elected to represent East Aberdeenshire, a seat he held until 1958. As an MP, he served as the liaison to the House of Commons for Chancellor of the Exchequer Winston Churchill from 1926 to 1929. During World War II, he joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, retiring with the rank of Flight Lieutenant. Boothby advocated the UK's entry into the European Community and was a delegate to the Council of Europe from its inception in 1949 until 1957. He remained a prominent commentator on public affairs on radio and television. At the end of his tenure in Parliament, he was chosen by its students for a 3-year term as Rector of St Andrews University, four decades after J. M. Barrie. He was knighted in 1953 and made a baron in 1958; his baronage was not hereditary.

Boothby had a colourful private life, which was not known to the public at large, mostly because the press refused to print what they knew of him, or were prevented from doing so. Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother reportedly described him somewhat charitably as "a bounder but not a cad". He was married twice, and fathered at least three children by the wives of two other men. One of these children was the daughter of Dorothy Macmillan, with whom he had a long affair beginning in 1930, and whose husband Harold Macmillan would later become prime minister.

"The Picture We Must Not Print": Robert Boothby, Ronald Kray, and Leslie Holt
"The Picture We Must Not Print": Robert Boothby, Ronald Kray, and Leslie Holt

He also had numerous homosexual relationships. While at Magdalen College, Boothby was nicknamed "the Palladium" (after the London theatre), because "he was twice nightly". In 1963 he began an illicit affair with East End cat burglar Leslie Holt (d. 1979), a younger man he met at a gambling club. Holt introduced him to the gangster Ronald Kray (one of the infamous Kray twins), who supplied Boothby with young men and arranged orgies, receiving personal favours from Boothby in return. When Boothby's underworld associations came to the attention of the Sunday Express, the Conservative-supporting paper sat on the story. The matter was later reported in some detail – but without naming names – in 1964 in the Labour-supporting Sunday Mirror tabloid, and the parties were named a few days later by the German magazine Stern (which wasn't afraid of the UK's easily-abused libel laws). Boothby denied the story and threatened to sue the Mirror, and because his close homosexual friend Tom Driberg, a senior Labour MP, was also involved, both major parties pressured the papers to sweep the affair under the rug. The press and police backed off, delaying investigations into the Krays' criminal activities.

portrait of Boothby in 1975 by Allan Warren
portrait of Boothby in 1975 by Allan Warren

Lord Boothby "went straight" (so to speak) in the late 1960s, getting married again, and settling in as a "beloved elder statesman" of sorts.

In an interview taped in 1976, Boothby spoke about Michael Llewelyn Davies' relationships during their time together at Eton and Oxford. When asked if Michael was homosexual, Boothby replied that it was "a phase... I think he might have come out of it." He also said, "I don't think Michael had any girlfriends, but our friendship wasn't homosexual. I believe it was – fleetingly – between him and Senhouse...." Boothby reported that he had discouraged Michael's relationship with Rupert Buxton, warning of "a feeling of doom" he had about him. Although he criticised the relationship between Michael and Barrie as "morbid" and "unhealthy", he dismissed the notion that there was a sexual aspect to it. But he volunteered that there had been a sexual relationship between Michael and Rupert.

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