Neil in 2011
Andrew Ferguson Neil
21 May 1949
|Education||Paisley Grammar School|
|Alma mater||University of Glasgow|
|Occupation||BBC television presenter,|
Chairman: Press Holdings Media Group and ITP Media Group
Susan Nilsson (m. 2015)
Neil was appointed editor of The Sunday Times by Rupert Murdoch, and served in this position from 1983 to 1994. After this he became a contributor to the Daily Mail. He was formerly chief executive and editor-in-chief of the Press Holdings group. In 1988 he became founding chairman of Sky TV, also part of Murdoch's News Corporation. He is the current chairman of Press Holdings Media Group, whose titles include The Spectator, and the ITP Media Group.
Neil was born in Paisley, Renfrewshire. He grew up in the Glenburn area and attended the local Lancraigs Primary School. At 11, Neil passed the Qualifying Examination and obtained entrance to the then-selective Paisley Grammar School. His father was an electrician and member of the Territorial Army, and his mother worked in the local cotton mills.
After school, Neil attended the University of Glasgow, where he edited the student newspaper, the Glasgow University Guardian, and dabbled in student television. He was a member of the Dialectic Society and the Conservative Club, and participated in Glasgow University Union inter-varsity debates. In 1971, he was chairman of the Federation of Conservative Students. He graduated in 1971, gaining an MA with honours in political economy and political science; he had been tutored by Vince Cable and had a focus on American history.
After his graduation, Neil briefly worked as a sports correspondent for local newspaper, the Paisley Daily Express, before working for the Conservative Party. In 1973, he joined The Economist as a correspondent and was later promoted as editor of the publication's section on Britain.
Neil was editor of The Sunday Times from 1983 to 1994. His hiring was controversial. It was argued that he was appointed by Rupert Murdoch over more experienced colleagues, such as Hugo Young and Brian MacArthur.
Neil regards the newspaper's revelation of details of Israel's nuclear weapons programme in 1986, by using photographs and testimony from former Israeli nuclear technician Mordechai Vanunu, as his greatest scoop as an editor. During his editorship, the newspaper lost a libel case over claims that it had made concerning a witness, Carmen Proetta, who was interviewed after her appearance in the Death on the Rock documentary on the Gibraltar shootings. One of The Sunday Times journalists involved, Rosie Waterhouse, resigned not long afterwards.
On 20 July 1986 The Sunday Times printed a front-page article (titled 'Queen dismayed by "uncaring" Thatcher') alleging that the Queen believed that Margaret Thatcher's policies were "uncaring, confrontational and socially divisive". The main source of information came from the Queen's press secretary, Michael Shea. When Buckingham Palace published a statement rebutting the story, Neil was so angry at what he considered to be the Palace's double-dealing that he refused to print the statement in later editions of The Sunday Times.
While at The Sunday Times in 1988, Neil met the former Miss India, Pamella Bordes, in a nightclub, an inappropriate place for someone with Neil's job according to Peregrine Worsthorne. The News of the World suggested Bordes was a call girl. Worsthorne argued in an editorial article "Playboys as Editors" in March 1989 for The Sunday Telegraph that Neil was not fit to edit a serious Sunday newspaper. Worsthorne effectively accused Neil of knowing that Bordes was a prostitute. He certainly did not know about Bordes, which the Telegraph had accepted by the time the libel case came to High Court of Justice in January 1990, but the paper still defended their coverage as fair comment. Neil won both the case and £1,000 in damages plus costs.
Under Neil's editorship, The Sunday Times opposed the poll tax. In his memoirs, Neil claimed that his opposition to the poll tax crystallised when he discovered that his cleaner would be paying more poll tax than himself at a time when his income tax had just been reduced to 40% from 60%. During the 1990 Conservative Party leadership election, The Sunday Times was the only Murdoch-owned newspaper to support Michael Heseltine against Thatcher. Neil blamed Thatcher for increasing inflation, "misplaced chauvinism" and the poll tax, concluding that she had become an "electoral liability" and must therefore be replaced by Heseltine.
According to Neil, he was replaced as Sunday Times editor in 1994 because Murdoch had become envious of his celebrity. Many years later, in November 2017, former Conservative cabinet minister Kenneth Clarke said Neil had been removed because Neil's article about corruption in the Malaysian government of Mahathir Mohamad conflicted with Murdoch's desire to acquire a television franchise in the country. The Malaysian prime minister at the time told Clarke on a ministerial visit that he had achieved Neil's sacking after a telephone conversation with Murdoch. The conflict between Neil and Mohamad did become public knowledge at the time. The British minister of state for trade Richard Needham criticised Neil and the newspaper for potentially putting thousands of jobs at risk.
Neil's departure from his role as Sunday Times editor was officially reported in 1994 as being merely temporary, as he was to present and edit a current affairs programme for Fox in New York. "During my time, the Sunday Times has been at the centre of every major controversy in Britain", he said at the time. "These are the kind of journalistic values I want to reproduce at Fox". Neil's new television programme did not make it to air. A pilot produced in September had a mixed internal response, and Murdoch cancelled the entire project in late October. Neil did not return to his job as Sunday Times editor.
Neil became a contributor to the Daily Mail. In 1996, he became editor-in-chief of the Barclay brothers' Press Holdings group of newspapers, owner of The Scotsman, Sunday Business (later just The Business) and The European. Press Holdings sold The Scotsman in December 2005, ending Neil's relationship with the newspaper. Neil has not enjoyed great success with the circulations of the newspapers (indeed The European folded shortly after he took over). The Business closed down in February 2008. He exchanged his role as chief executive of Press Holdings for chairman in July 2008.
In June 2008, Neil led a consortium which bought talent agency Peters, Fraser & Dunlop (PFD) from CSS Stellar plc for £4 million, making him chairman of the new company in addition to his other activities. Neil served as Lord Rector of the University of St Andrews from 1999 to 2002.
As well as Neil's newspaper activities he has maintained a television career. While he worked for The Economist, he provided news reports to American networks.
In 1988 he became founding chairman of Sky TV, also part of Murdoch's News Corporation. Neil was instrumental in the company's launch, overseeing the transformation of a downmarket, single-channel satellite service into a four-channel network in less than a year. Neil and Murdoch stood side by side at Sky's new headquarters in Isleworth on 5 February 1989 to witness the launch of the service. Sky was not an instant success; the uncertainty caused by the competition provided by British Satellite Broadcasting (BSB) and the initial shortage of satellite dishes were early problems.
The failure of BSB in November 1990 led to a merger, but a few programmes acquired by BSB were screened on Sky One and BSB's satellites were sold. The new company was called British Sky Broadcasting (BSkyB). The merger may have saved Sky financially; despite its popularity, Sky had very few major advertisers to begin with, and it was beginning to suffer from embarrassing breakdowns. Acquiring BSB's healthier advertising contracts and equipment apparently solved the problems. BSkyB would not make a profit for a decade but by July 2010, it was one of the most profitable television companies in Europe.
At The Sunday Times, he contributed to BBC, both radio and television. He commented on the various controversies provoked by the paper while he was editor. During the 1990s, Neil fronted political programmes for the BBC, notably Despatch Box on BBC Two, as well as Is This Your Life? (made by Open Media), which was nominated for a BAFTA award for "Best Talk Show" and on which Neil interviewed a wide variety of personalities, from Albert Reynolds and Morris Cerullo to Jimmy Savile and Max Clifford. He acted as a television newsreader in two films: Dirty Weekend (1993) and Parting Shots (1999), both directed by Michael Winner.
Following the revamp of the BBC's political programming in early 2003, Neil presented the live political programmes, This Week on BBC One and Daily Politics on BBC Two. The latter ended in 2018 and was replaced by Politics Live, which Neil continues to present.
From 2007 to 2010, he presented the weekly one-on-one political interview programme Straight Talk with Andrew Neil on the BBC News Channel. He also presented Sunday Politics on BBC One between 2012 and 2017 and occasionally guest presented Newsnight on BBC Two following host Jeremy Paxman's departure in 2014.
Neil played an important part of the BBC general election night coverage in both 2010 and 2015. Neil interviewed various celebrities on the River Thames for the 2010 election and political figures in the studio for the 2015 election. He has also provided commentary on foreign elections, and with Katty Kay led the BBC's overnight live coverage of the U.S. presidential election in 2016.[better source needed] In the run-up to the 2017 general election he interviewed five of the party leaders on BBC One in The Andrew Neil Interviews.
Neil earned £200,000 to £249,999 as a BBC presenter in the financial year 2016–17.
In May 2019, Neil interviewed Ben Shapiro, an American conservative commentator, on Politics Live on BBC Two. Shapiro was promoting his new book, The Right Side of History, which discusses Judeo-Christian values and asserts their decline in the United States. Several combative instances during the interview gained viral attention, including Shapiro walking out.
During the 2019 Conservative Party leadership election, Neil interviewed candidates Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson, in The Andrew Neil Interviews. Director of BBC News Fran Unsworth hailed it as "a masterclass of political interviewing".
In August 2019, the BBC announced that Neil would host a prime-time political programme that would run through Autumn 2019 on BBC Two, called The Andrew Neil Show. The show includes "in-depth analysis and forensic questioning of key political players".
Neil was a vocal and enthusiastic proponent of British military involvement in Afghanistan, deriding those who opposed the war as "wimps with no will to fight", while labelling The Guardian as The Daily Terrorist and the New Statesman as the New Taliban for publishing dissenting opinions about the wisdom of British military involvement. For questioning whether "Bush and Blair are leading us deeper and deeper into a quagmire", Neil ridiculed Daily Mail columnist Stephen Glover, calling him "woolly, wimpy" and "juvenile". He compared Tony Blair to Winston Churchill and Osama bin Laden to Adolf Hitler, while describing the United States invasion of Afghanistan as a "calibrated response" and a "patient, precise and successful deployment of US military power".
Neil was an early advocate of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, describing the case for war and regime change advanced by Tony Blair and George W. Bush as "convincing" and "masterful". In 2002, Neil said that Iraq had "embarked on a worldwide shopping spree to buy the technology and material needed to construct weapons of mass destruction – and the missile systems needed to deliver them across great distances", and that "the suburbs of Baghdad are now dotted with secret installations, often posing as hospitals or schools, developing missile fuel, bodies and guidance systems, chemical and biological warheads and, most sinister of all, a renewed attempt to develop nuclear weapons." He also claimed that Saddam Hussein would provide Al-Qaeda with weapons of mass destruction and had links to the September 11 attacks.
Neil rejects scientific opinion on climate change, has frequently misrepresented the science of climate change on his BBC programmes, and has frequently invited non-scientists and climate change deniers to debate climate change on his BBC programmes. In 2012, Bob Ward of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics, said that Neil had "rarely, if ever, included a climate scientist in any of its debates about global warming" on his BBC programme The Daily Politics. Ward wrote that Neil lets inaccurate and misleading statements about climate change go unchallenged on The Daily Politics. He has however pressed politicians who accept the consensus on climate change.
During Neil's time as editor, The Sunday Times backed a campaign to prove that HIV was not a cause of AIDS. In 1990, The Sunday Times serialised a book by an American conservative who rejected the scientific consensus on the causes of AIDS and argued that AIDS could not spread to heterosexuals. Articles and editorials in The Sunday Times cast doubt on the scientific consensus, described HIV as a "politically correct virus" about which there was a "conspiracy of silence," disputed that AIDS was spreading in Africa, claimed that tests for HIV were invalid, described the HIV/AIDS treatment drug azidothymidine (AZT) as harmful, and characterised the World Health Organization (WHO) as an "Empire-building AIDS [organisation]."
The pseudoscientific coverage of HIV/AIDS in the Sunday Times led the scientific journal Nature to monitor the newspaper's coverage and to publish letters rebutting Sunday Times articles which the Sunday Times refused to publish. In response to this, the Sunday Times published an article headlined "AIDS – why we won't be silenced", which claimed that Nature engaged in censorship and "sinister intent". In his 1996 book, Full Disclosure, Neil wrote that the HIV/AIDS denialism "deserved publication to encourage debate." That same year, he wrote that the Sunday Times had been vindicated in its coverage, "The Sunday Times was one of a handful of newspapers, perhaps the most prominent, which argued that heterosexual Aids was a myth. The figures are now in and this newspaper stands totally vindicated... The history of Aids is one of the great scandals of our time. I do not blame doctors and the Aids lobby for warning that everybody might be at risk in the early days, when ignorance was rife and reliable evidence scant." He criticised the "AIDS establishment" and said "Aids had become an industry, a job-creation scheme for the caring classes."
The British satirical and investigative journalism magazine Private Eye has referred to Neil by the nickname "Brillo" after his wiry hair, which is seen as bearing a resemblance to a Brillo Pad, a brand of scouring pad.
A photograph of Neil in a vest and baseball cap, embracing a woman (often mistaken for Pamella Bordes, a former Miss India, but really an African-American make-up artist with whom Neil was once involved) appeared frequently for many years in the magazine. A long running joke within the letters page is that a reader will ask the editor if he has any photographs related to some topic in the news, frequently accompanied by a reference to the woman's ethnicity. By double entendre, it can be construed as a request for this photo, which was duly published alongside the letter. Neil claims to find it "fascinating" and an example of "public school racism" on the part of the magazine's editorial staff.
Neil married Susan Nilsson on 8 August 2015. He had dated the Swedish civil and structural engineer for several years. Nilsson is currently Director of Communications of engineering and environmental consultancy, Waterman Group PLC. By 2006 he had 14 godchildren but he has no children of his own.
| Editor of The Sunday Times
| Editor of The European
| Rector of the University of St Andrews