PM’s estranged wife tells of cancer diagnosis and urges women to get tested


Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s estranged wife Marina Wheeler has spoken of her cervical cancer diagnosis and encouraged women to undergo smear tests.

Ms Wheeler, a QC, married Mr Johnson in 1993, with the couple having four children together.

She separated from him in 2018 and filed for divorce in September.

The 54-year-old told the Sunday Times of the importance of regular cervical screening, or smear tests, after a routine check in January revealed the problem which led to procedures in June and July.

“I know the take-up of smear tests is way down,” she said.

“I know they can save your life. If people are willing to listen – as they seem to be – why not say so? Why be afraid? I would urge other women to make the time and do the tests.”

Despite having regular screenings herself in the past she admitted that she had left it late.

“Something else always seemed more important,” she said.

“If you are basically healthy, active and energetic, it is easy to think you are immortal, but none of us is.”

Writing in the paper, Ms Wheeler described her reaction to receiving her diagnosis from a doctor at Whittington Hospital in London.

She said: “I was unimpressed. Clutching a leaflet, I left thinking, ‘That’s absurd. I have no time for this. Quite apart from anything else, I have a book to write’. I had already missed my deadline twice.”

“On the bus down the hill, questions kept on coming. Did the Almighty have a plan for me? Was it to save me from publishing a book that was destined to be a flop? Should I just give up? However you figured it, this just wasn’t going to work.”

London Mayoral election
London Mayoral election

Ms Wheeler explained how the diagnosis and two planned surgical procedures threw out her plans to travel to Moscow in Russia to write with a friend.

Commenting on the support she received from medical staff at the time, she said: “My favourite advert used to be ‘Should’ve gone to Specsavers’. Slapstick, but still a cracker.

“Now it’s the Macmillan one. ‘Cancer doesn’t care about you’, it warns. ‘But we do’. It’s not a gag. It’s true. They did. From start to finish.”

An “unusual” reaction to the gas used in keyhole surgery left it trapped under her skin, making her appear like a “balloon”, Ms Wheeler said.

“I had a long time lying in recovery to ponder my horror-show face and general situation. I looked like I was recovering from an amateur facelift,” she said.

Remembrance Sunday
Remembrance Sunday

As she recovered in hospital she admitted her “spirits dipped” and her “despair” even led her to try to walk out the hospital exit.

She was found and brought up to the ward where her family were waiting.

“After hugging, we all relaxed and soon they offered helpful ways to view the situation. ‘You’ve always loved bubble wrap. At least you won’t have to hunt the house for some. Just press your chest!’,” she said.

Ms Wheeler eventually underwent three operations at University College Hospital, London, while being supported by family, including her children and sister Shirin.

Ms Wheeler singled out particular praise for her sister, saying: “Shirin has been my saviour.

“She was with me all the time and kept friends and family in the loop.

“She was endlessly attentive and took the unsavoury stuff in her stride.”

Next year Ms Wheeler, who did not mention the Prime Minister in the Sunday Times article, plans to publish a memoir of her mother’s life and the partition of India.

Ms Wheeler added she now considers herself to be free of cancer, saying the experience made her appreciate “the incalculable value of holding close those who you love and trust”.