The American businesswoman at the centre of a conflict of interest row involving the prime minister confirmed she had a “very close bond” with Boris Johnson and refused to rule out claims they had an affair.
In her first broadcast interview since her links to Johnson were exposed, Jennifer Arcuri said the then London mayor visited her flat in Shoreditch, east London, a “handful of times” but she denied he had given her favours to boost her career.
Speaking live to ITV’s Good Morning Britain, Arcuri said her business achievements as a technology entrepreneur were made without Johnson’s help. “Boris had nothing to do with my other achievements,” she said.
Arcuri’s company, Innotech, was awarded £26,000 in public money and she was given privileged access to three foreign trade missions led by Johnson despite initially being refused. Her latest company, Hacker House, was also given a £100,000 grant earlier this year by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
Asked if she ever discussed the awarding of that money with Johnson, Arcuri said: “Categorically no.” She added: “Do you think I would waste his time talking about this stuff?
She confirmed Johnson spoke at four of her company’s events for no fee, but added: “Boris never ever gave me favouritism.” And she denied a report in the Sunday Times that he wrote her a letter of recommendation to head a tech quango in 2012, saying: “That letter doesn’t exist. Fake news.”
She also insisted she won sponsorship, grants and places on trade missions on merit. She told ITV: “Someone has written down every single thing I’ve done in London and found a way to drive it back to Boris – it’s absolute crap.”
Asked if she loved Johnson, she said: “I care about him deeply as a friend and we do share a very close bond, but I wish him well. I want him to be happy. I wish Carrie [Symonds] well. And I really do want him to focus on making Britain great again.”
Arcuri was asked nine times whether she had an intimate relationship with Johnson, but refused to answer. She said: “Because the press have made me this objectified ex-model pole dancer, I am really not going to answer that question. I am not going to be putting myself in a position for you to weaponise my answer.”
She said she and Johnson “always had a laugh” about the pole in her Shoreditch flat where her offices were located. She said: “I said he could have a go. He sat down with his tea and started muttering.”
She also confirmed the Guardian’s revelation that she listed Johnson on her phone as “Alex the Great”.
She said she could not recall how many times Johnson visited her flat but suggested it was between five and 10 times. “We tried having drinks out in public or having lunch, it just became too much of a mob show, so I said: ‘You just have to come to my office.’”
Arcuri said she met Johnson in 2011 when she was impressed by the way he “electrified” a previous dull gathering of venture capitalists. She said she and Johnson shared a love of Shakespeare and classical literature. She said the last time she was in regular contact with him was in 2016, but she has since sent him occasional messages about government policy and personal greetings.
At the end of the interview, Arcuri said: “I had a wonderful opportunity to get to know somebody. It was really fun to be able to share the love of Shakespeare and literature with someone like that. I really enjoyed being able to be his friend. Boris is extremely personable.”
Johnson insisted last week that everything he did when promoting London overseas as mayor was done in “complete conformity with the code and the rules”. He also claimed he had no interest to declare over Arcuri.
Following allegations about favours and funds given to Arcuri, four separate inquiries have been launched:
• The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is withholding more than half of a £100,000 grant to promote UK digital awarded this year to Arcuri’s company, Hacker House, pending a review into how the money was allocated.
• The London mayor, Sadiq Khan, launched an independent review into how Arcuri was given sponsorship and access to trade trips led by Johnson when he was mayor.
• The London assembly’s oversight committee has given Johnson until next week to explain his apparent conflicts of interest over Arcuri.
• The Independent Office for Police Conduct has been asked to look at whether Johnson committed a criminal offence of misconduct in public office, because during his time as mayor he was also responsible for the Metropolitan police.