Blog: Director of firm behind Boris Johnson’s flat refurb a Brexit-backing Tory donor – Mirror Online

A director of the design firm behind Boris Johnson’s controversial flat makeover was a Brexit-backing tycoon who gave tens of thousands of pounds to the Tories.

William Hobhouse, 64, and his heiress wife Kate, 58, were major shareholders in interior design guru Lulu Lytle’s firm Soane Britain Ltd.

Soane supplied the £800-a-roll gold wallpaper chosen by Mr Johnson’s fiancée Carrie Symonds for their £200,000 Downing Street revamp.

But in February, as “Wallpapergate” questions were surfacing about who paid for the refurb, entrepreneur Mr Hobhouse quit his role with Soane Ltd after six years.

And no trace of his links to Soane – which were previously unknown – now appear on his online CV. A former church volunteer, he has a range of business interests – including a raunchy online underwear firm.

Between them, the Hobhouses had donated over £200,000 to the Tory Party and Vote Leave campaigns.

Will and Kate Hobhouse have donated thousands to the Tory party
(Image: Desmond O’Neill)

Last night Mr Johnson came under increasing pressure to reveal who paid and why he chose to contact a wealthy party donor’s company to do the refurb. There is no suggestion of wrongdoing by either the Hobhouses or Soane Ltd.

But amid rows over cronyism, VIP access to NHS contracts and damning claims by former No 10 aide Dominic Cummings, Labour and the Lib Dems piled on the pressure last night.

Labour MP Richard Burgon said: “This will only add to the growing stench of corruption around the Tory Party. That cash for the luxury makeover went to a company with a boss who is a big donor to the Tories makes the business seem even murkier.

“The Prime Minister needs to come clean and the public need answers.

“The role of this millionaire Tory absolutely must be part of the inquiry into the PM’s conduct over the refurbishment of his flat.”

Mr Johnson came under increasing pressure tonight to reveal who paid and why he chose to contact a wealthy party donor’s company to do the refurb
(Image: Getty)

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Lib Dem deputy leader Daisy Cooper added: “These new revelations don’t pass the sniff test and must be included in any investigation.

“The public has a right to know who funds and influences those who supposed to be running the country.”

The PM faces three inquiries after being accused of using an undeclared £58,000 Tory loan to help fund the refit commissioned by Ms Symonds, 33.

Mr Hobhouse’s resignation was recorded by Companies House on March 22 – two days after it emerged the Electoral Commission was prob-ing how the makeover was paid for.

Soane bosses insisted he tendered his resignation at a board meeting in February following a “planned disposal of his investment in the company”. As a director and shareholder, the former Tie Rack and Whittard chief stood to benefit from cash paid to Soane for last year’s flat makeover.

There is no sign of Soane on Mr Hobhouse’s profile on the LinkedIn jobs website – despite references to 16 other roles dating back to 1984. He and his wife – who have five children and have been married more than 30 years – were listed on Companies House in April 2020 as being among 11 shareholders in Soane Ltd. It is not known if Mr Hobhouse transferred his stake upon his resignation.

In February he became chairman of Playful Promises, a lingerie brand with the slogan “The product of a mischievous mind”.

Mr Hobhouse, once former chairman of fashion label Jack Wills, also runs an investment firm called Sarratt Equity which specialises in “property, start-ups and businesses ready to expand or grow”.

He is also the former chairman of luxury department store Heal’s – now owned by the family of his wife.

Donor records show Mr Hobhouse gifted £63,000 to Tory HQ in 2009. He also gave £23,500 to the Vote Leave campaign on Brexit in 2016.

His wife is the chair of Fortnum and Mason – the posh London store dubbed the “Queen’s Grocer”. A granddaughter of late Tory MP Garfield Weston, Mrs Hobhouse donated £131,400 to the Tories between 2009 and 2014. The Weston family controls a string of businesses, from Primark to Selfridges, through an investment arm of the Garfield Weston Foundation.

Interior design guru Lulu Lytle whose firm Soane Britain Ltd did the No.10 makeover
(Image: Alamy)

In 2010, Mrs Hobhouse and three other family directors were found guilty of breaching charity law over donations of almost £1million to the Tory Party and anti-EU campaigns.

The Charity Commission ruled they breached their legal duty as trustees by “failing to give proper consideration” to whether the company should be allowed to make political donations”. Downing Street last night remained silent on claims money gifted to party HQ was used to pay fort work on the flat at 11 Downing Street, where Mr Johnson, 56, and his partner live with their baby son Wilf.

Ms Symonds was said to have picked out wallpaper as part of the project commissioned from high-society designer Ms Lytle, 45. Her clients include Rolling Stones star Sir Mick Jagger.

Mr Johnson insists he paid for the refurb himself. But questions remain over who picked up the original bill.

Former adviser Mr Cummings – who could use a select committee appearance this month to lay siege to the PM – says he told Mr Johnson “his plans to have donors secretly pay for the renovation were unethical, foolish, possibly illegal”.

Dominic Cummings said his plans to refurbish the flat could have been illegal
(Image: Getty)

No donations have yet been declared in the official registers. Failure to do so is punishable by fines of up to £20,000.

The Electoral Commission has said there were “reasonable grounds” to suspect an offence by the Tories.

Mr Johnson and Ms Symonds may have to hand over emails and could be interviewed under caution.

Failure to comply or tell the truth is a criminal offence.

The PM said he would comply with “whatever” the Electoral Commission asked of him, adding: “I don’t think there’s anything to see here.”

The PM could face a fourth inquiry after Labour reported him to Parliament’s sleaze watchdog.

Last night the Tories would not discuss Mr Hobhouse.

A spokesman said: “Any costs of wider refurbishment beyond those provided by the annual allowance have been met by the Prime Minister personally.”

A spokesman for Soane Ltd said: “Mr Hobhouse tendered his resignation from the Soane board in February.

“This was accepted and registered at Companies House dated 22nd March. Neither Soane nor Mr Hobhouse will be making any further comment.”

The latest refurb revelations complete a torrid week for the PM – including accusations, which he denies, that he said he would allow bodies to “pile high” rather than order a lockdown.

Opposition leader Keir Starmer mocked the PM by inspecting rolls of wallpaper at the John Lewis store in Manchester’s Trafford Centre.

But Sarah Vine, wife of Cabinet minister Michael Gove, insisted the PM “can’t be expected to live in a skip”.

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