‘Nobody deserves such bad luck as Boris’

Wheel of fortune: The goddess Fortuna spins it at random, sending some people up, some down.

Does luck really exist? Three months ago, Boris Johnson was riding high. Now, he is in intensive care and his government at bay, as Britain is battered by its worst crisis since World War Two.

For Boris Johnson, January was a brilliant start to the year. He had just realised his life’s ambition: being elected prime minister with an unassailable majority.

“Everything is going Boris Johnson’s way”, ran a headline in the Daily Telegraph. “When will his luck run out?”

Though we did not know it at the time, the answer was: very soon.

Today, the irrepressible Johnson is in intensive care and may be off work for a month – some of the headlines are calling for a caretaker prime minister to be named in his place.

As Michael Heseltine, one of Britain’s most flamboyant politicians, said yesterday: “Nobody deserves such bad luck.”

Heseltine summed up the way most people have thought for centuries. Luck, we imagine, is like the wheel of fortune. One minute it carries it up to dizzy heights. Then, with a random flick from the goddess Fortuna, we are down in the depths. Fickle, cruel, and outside our control – it just happens

For the ancient Greeks, luck – both good and bad – came in the form of the Fates. Later, Christian theology developed the powerful idea of divine providence to help lighten the burden of free will. In the modern world, genetics has allowed us to blame our parents.

What is luck? Does it really exist?


Yes, of course, say some, such as Professor Richard Wiseman. “Lucky people are skilled at creating and noticing chance opportunities; make lucky decisions by listening to their intuition; create self-fulfilling prophecies via positive expectations, and adopt a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good.”

No, say others. Luck is merely a psychological comfort blanket. We cannot bear the idea that failure or success might be either purely random or down to us alone.

You Decide

  1. Do you believe in luck? What is the luckiest thing that has ever happened to you?


  1. Take a coin and ask a family member to choose heads or tails. Toss it 50 times, keeping count of the results to see how many times it lands on your side rather than theirs. Then get them to toss it 50 times and see who’s the lucky one today.

Some People Say...

“Don’t give me good generals. Give me lucky ones.”

Attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte (17691821), French statesman and military leader

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Accidents are closely related to luck, but the two do not necessarily go together. An accident in which you are injured through no fault of your own may be considered bad luck. Winning the lottery counts as good luck, but it is not an accident if you paid for your own ticket and chose your own numbers because you did those things with the intention of becoming rich.
What do we not know?
Whether good luck and good fortune are the same thing. Some people argue that although both are outside our control, we see events, such as winning the lottery as lucky because there is only a small probability that they will happen. Fortune can bring us good things, such as a happy marriage, but because that is something quite common – and something we contribute to through our own efforts – it cannot be put down to luck.

Word Watch

Too strong to attack successfully.
Unstoppable, uncontrollable.
A caretaker leader is in charge temporarily.
In Greek mythology, the Fates were three women. Clotho spun the thread of life, Lachesis measured out the length of thread allotted to each person, and Atropos cut it with her scissors when the moment of death came.
Divine providence
The idea that God intervenes to guide events.

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