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Mandrake: Carrie Johnson’s elephants in the room

Carrie Johnson has her work cut out as part of an ambitious project to 'rewild' 13 African elephants

Carrie Johnson, the PM's conservationist wife, during an anti-whaling protest outside the Japanese Embassy in central London.

Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

If the Aspinall Foundation had hoped that Carrie Johnson joining them would boost their coffers, they appear to be sadly mistaken.

Mandrake hears that the charity’s high profile fundraising to repatriate 13 elephants to Africa has so far come up with just £4,058 from the public in direct donations through the online charitable portal Just Giving.

Even a whip-round among the charity’s rich backers managed to raise only £250,000, but that still brings the total to just a quarter of the £1 million target the foundation set itself for its re-wilding scheme. When it was launched, Damian Aspinall promised: “By supporting the project, members of the public will be part of conservation history, helping restore an iconic species to its ancestral homeland.”

The project was announced last month and is described by the Aspinall Foundation as its “most ambitious project to date” and involves sending 10 adult elephants and three calves currently housed in eight acres at Howletts Wildlife Animal Park in Kent to sites in the south of Kenya.

Carrie, pictured, who joined the foundation in January as its communications chief, has her work cut out dealing with a succession of bad headlines. There’s a charity commission probe into its finances and signs of an exodus of trustees from its governing board, with Ben Goldsmith and nightclub owner Robin Birley reportedly heading for the exit. The latest project came as news to the Kenyan authorities, who made the point that letting zoo elephants loose into the wild is easier said than done.

Hard up
Ben Elliot, the nephew of the Duchess of Cornwall, has raised eyebrows over the overlap between his business networks and his fundraising duties for the Conservatives since Boris Johnson installed him at the head of the party in July 2019.

Now, new figures from HMRC reveal his upmarket events business Quintessentially is still on the list of firms claiming furlough to pay its staff, drawing down as much as £50,000 in May to take total claims made by it under Rishi Sunak’s scheme since December to as much as £350,000.
Whether it’s throwing good money after bad is a moot point: the company had £10.7m worth of accumulated losses in its latest figures and auditors expressed concerns about the business’s viability.

Gove’s friend
Touted as the next health secretary around Christmas, Michael Gove would now appear to have his heart set on taking over as home secretary.
“Michael and Boris are close again – with Rishi [Sunak, the chancellor] starting to flex his muscles in Cabinet more, it is useful for Boris to have Michael back as an ally,” a “friend” of Gove briefed the Mail on Sunday.

As for the rumours that Gove had been putting it about that Johnson and his wife Carrie had lost the plot, the friend adds helpfully: “Michael made clear that he doesn’t think that it is Boris or Carrie who is crackers.”
What Priti Patel makes of all this – and indeed who this “friend” can possibly be – one can only wonder.

Stage fright
I hear that Theresa May snuck in to see Sir Ian McKellen playing the title role in Hamlet at the Theatre Royal Windsor, not far from her Maidenhead home.
Will the former PM, a keen theatre-goer, want to see herself portrayed on stage in my play Bloody Difficult Women? So far sadly she’s not engaged with me in relation to the play that focuses on the court case Gina Miller brought against her government.

By contrast, Miller will gamely be going along when it opens at the Riverside Studios in London in February. “I’m flattered, but also a bit terrified and will be watching through my fingers,” she says.

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