A jobless George Osborne was forced to return to his parents’ house this summer. Poetic justice, perhaps, but he’s part of a huge tribe of ‘boomerang boomers’
Age 45 and a quarter, having lost his job and with it his Downing Street flat, George Osborne had to move back in with his parents this summer. It was only temporary. But then what man over 40 who lives with their mum does not say that? “It’s just for a month while I get on my feet,” is the mantra of the boomerang kids. A year later, celibate and addicted to having their laundry done, they still have not left.
The former chancellor of the exchequer may have been sharing his family’s £10m Notting Hill mansion in west London while he waited for his tenants to vacate but, no matter how posh their wallpaper, there are truths about living with your parents as an adult that no one can escape.
You are doomed to them treating you like a teen. And equally doomed to regress. To Sir Peter Osborne and Lady Felicity, George will forever be little Gideon, the rap-loving party boy who failed to become a journalist. In return, Osborne has been spotted wearing skinny jeans and carrying champagne while taking an Uber cab to a party in Clapham, south London.
You can imagine the scenes in the multi-generational Osborne house. Lady F shouting up the stairs: “Giddy! Turn that NWA down! Do you and David want me to bring you boys some more biscuits up? Hold on — can I smell smoke?!” Osborne Jr leans out of his bedroom window hastily trying to extinguish a fag, waiting for his dad to march upstairs and ask him when he plans on getting another job.
Nights will have meant sneaking out the back door. Mornings being woken by his mother asking why he has slept in so late, at 7am. Coming in, opening the curtains and complaining George’s hair is too long and his room is a mess. To escape, George will have had to spend afternoons chain-buying coffees in cafes, circling job ads in red pen.
At least Osborne can cling to the hope he is part of a trend. If once it was graduates with student loans struggling for deposits who boomeranged back home, now the phenomenon has hit a new demographic. According to the Office for National Statistics about 500,000 boomerang “boomers”, aged 30-50, are staying at the Hotel of Mum and Dad. They have been called the “doomerangers” because often something depressing sends them back: a divorce, a midlife crisis, or, like Osborne, losing a job.
In May the insurer Churchill found about 7.2m over-18s returned home at some point, for at least six months, often with financial problems — although it must be especially humiliating to slink back to your parents when you were once charged with sorting out the country’s economy.
Not that living at home is for losers. The actress Helena Bonham Carter lived with her parents until her thirties. Princess Eugenie has just moved to the royal family’s Kensington Palace compound. For years the tennis star Rafael Nadal lived with his parents, as did the Slumdog Millionaire star Dev Patel. The Hollywood heart-throb Bradley Cooper moved his mother in.
Nick (who would rather I did not use his surname) moved back in with his parents, aged 39, for “financial reasons”. “It wasn’t that I regressed back to being a teenager,” he says. “It’s just my parents saw me like that. My mum would mother me. She expected us all to have family dinners around the table at 5.30pm. I’d have to wait until they were asleep to come home if I got drunk.” He would row with him mother and find himself shouting: “I’m not your little boy. I’m almost 40 years old!”
When you move in with your parents, the first thing that dies is your love life. “I never took anyone back,” Nick says. “The problem with parents is they are always around pottering and they always want to chat. If I’d brought a girl back from the pub to shag they’d probably be there drinking tea and be like: ‘Who’s this? What have you two been up to? We’ve had a lovely evening watching Corrie.’ It’s not a very sexy environment.”
“It doesn’t help when you’re dating,” agrees Monty, 33. “I have it in mind a lot. When am I going to have to tell them I live with my parents? I leave it as long as possible. It makes me look like a loser — even though I’ve got a good job.”
It is a year since Monty, an auditor, moved back to his parents’ home in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, after splitting with his wife. He went from his own master ensuite to his teenage bedroom: “Same house, same room, same bed.
“It’s the same as it was when I was a teenager,” he says. “I’ll come home from work and go straight up to my room. If I do go out for a drink, I make sure I’ve got plenty of mints. If I’m really late I’ll sneak in.” When he takes phone calls he heads to the furthest corner of his bedroom, as far as possible from his parents’ earshot. “When I’m sitting on the window ledge by my bed doing that I do feel like a teenager again.”
“I have to hide my vibrator,” whispers my friend Cecily, 32, who has moved back in with her mum. “It’s so tragic. My little brother’s 24 and he just got his own flat.”
Newly single, she returned home after she split with her boyfriend. “It’s a really weird dynamic — like being a teenager again. She asks when I’m coming home — you can’t come home pissed or bring anyone back. My line when I’m dating is: ‘I’m only living with my mum while I’m buying a flat.’ And you hope mentioning you’re buying a place takes away from the fact you’re living with your mum.”
Conversely, Andrew Watts claims living with his mother at 35 bagged him his wife. Having left his job as a lawyer to become a comedian, he left London and moved back to his mother’s Wiltshire home. “That’s the thing with parents — they always live outside London,” he sighs. He had been dating his future wife a week when he took her to his mother’s on a date “to watch Clash of the Titans. The remake. Halfway through, my mother went to bed. I thought: ‘It’s time to release the kraken.’ She said: ‘We can make out but remember your mother is in the next room so we mustn’t make any noise. So don’t get me too excited.’ I said: ‘Are you asking me to show you a mediocre time? That is a job I was born for!’” Five years later they are married with a three-year-old son. His advice is: “Only move home if the rooms are soundproof. This is for their benefit as much as yours. ”
The Sunday Times journalist Cosmo Landesman moved back in with his parents at the age of 51 when he broke up with his wife. “It was a f****** nightmare. Don’t do it,” he says. “I had this fantasy of retreating back to my childhood — of getting dinner and having my laundry done.” No such luck. He found his parents had their own life; he did not fit. “If I took her spoon in the kitchen or she found some of my pants left out drying, my mum would go ballistic.”
The age difference was painfully apparent. “The whole rhythm of the house has to meet their rhythm. It is so slow. It is the old folks’ home and you are a permanent visitor. If my mum was coming down the stairs and I was going up, I could go to my room, read War and Peace, do my nails and when I came out she’d still only be halfway down.”
It is not all bad, though. Everyone I spoke to eventually admitted the upside. Monty liked having his dinners cooked and cleaning done. He liked his children visiting and his mother’s parenting advice. He suggests boomerangers should: “Make the most of not having to do your laundry — just don’t stay too long.”