Michael Portillo, Rt.Hon

Michael Portillo, Rt.Hon

Popular former politician and broadcaster, possibly best known today for his travel series on TV ‘Great British Railway Journeys’ and ‘Great Continental Railway Journeys’.

Michael left Cambridge in 1975, and for a year worked for a shipping company. He moved to the Conservative Research Department in 1976, where he spent three years. At the General Election in 1979 he was responsible for briefing Margaret Thatcher before her press conferences. For the next two years he was special adviser to the Secretary of State for Energy.

He worked for Kerr McGee Oil (UK) Ltd from 1981 – 1983. He contested the Birmingham Perry Barr seat at the 1983 Election. Michael returned to politics as a special adviser to the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Nigel Lawson) and in December 1984 won the by-election in Enfield Southgate, a seat he held for thirteen years.

He joined the Government in 1986 and during that time was a whip, Parliamentary Under Secretary for Social Security, Minister of State for Transport and Minister of State for Local Government and Inner Cities. As a Cabinet Minister, he was Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Secretary of State for Employment, and Secretary of State for Defence. He was admitted to the Privy Council in 1992.

After his 1997 electoral defeat, Michael returned to Kerr McGee as an adviser. He also turned to journalism, writing about walking on the Santiago Way, and working as a hospital porter. He had a weekly column in The Scotsman.

He had a three part series for Channel 4 about politics ‘Portillo’s Progress’, a programme in BBC2’s Great Railway Journeys series, which was partly a biography of his late father, and radio programmes on Wagner and on the Spanish Civil War.

Re-elected to Parliament in a by-election in Kensington and Chelsea in November 1999, he was Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer 2000 –  2001. Following the Conservatives defeat in 2001, he contested the party leadership but was unsuccessful, and decided to return to the backbenches and stood down from the seat in 2005.

He has made a number of television programmes for BBC2 including Art that shook the world: Richard Wagner’s Ring, Portillo in Euroland, Elizabeth I in the Great Britons series, When Michael Portillo Became a Single Mum, and Portillo Goes Wild in Spain. He had a weekly political discussion programme This Week on BBC1 with fellow presenters Andrew Neil and Diane Abbott MP. In 2004 he became a weekly columnist on The Sunday Times. In 2006 he joined Radio 4’s The Moral Maze team.

His popular TV series Great British Railway Journeys was first broadcast in January 2010. With the aid of George Bradshaw’s 1863 tourist handbook, Michael explored how railways had a profound influence on the social, economic and political history of Britain. Three more series followed, broadcast on BBC2 in 2011, 2012 and 2013.