Biography

In a career of more than 50 years Des Wilson has been a leading environmental and social campaigner, politician, journalist and public affairs advisor.

In the voluntary sector, he was first director of Shelter, and chairman of Friends of the Earth, Clear, the Campaign for Freedom of Information, Parents against Tobacco, and Citcom.

As a politician he was President of the old Liberal Party, a key player in the founding of the Liberal Democrats, and ran the party's first General Election campaign.

As a journalist and writer he was a columnist on the Guardian , the Observer, and the New Statesman, and has written or edited 14 books.

In business he became director of corporate and public affairs for BAA plc.

He served for 6 years on the British Tourist Authority and for three years as deputy chairman of Sport England. He was public affairs advisor to the MCC and a member of the English Cricket Board.

In recent years he has written two books on professional poker to considerable critical acclaim (see reviews under Books on this site) and also his autobiography 'Memoirs of a minor public figure' (Quartet Books)

This career was recognised in February with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Sheila McKechnie Foundation.

Des Wilson was born in Oamaru, New Zealand, on March 5, 1941, the third of six children of Mr and Mrs Albert (Ab) Wilson who ran a painting and decorating business.

DW went to local schools, Oamaru North School and Waitaki Boys High School, leaving at 15 with School Certificate.

As a teenager he had three enthusiasms: cricket, theatre, and journalism. (These enthusiasms were reflected in later years as a member of the English Cricket Board, an executive with the Royal Shakespeare Company, and a columnist for two leading Fleet Street newspapers, The Guardian and The Observer.)

He began his career in New Zealand in 1956, working for two and a half years on Dunedin-based newspapers before moving to Melbourne, Australia, for a year with the Melbourne Sun. He then travelled to the UK in 1960 when 19.

After five years travelling in Europe, working in coffee bars and jazz clubs, then on local or trade papers, before exploring the possibilities of public relations, he decided to express his political idealism (he was by then a local Labour Party activist) via charitable/campaigning work and became involved in the launch of Shelter. He was its first director and held the post for four and a half years. At that time he also wrote a Guardian column and did some television work. He was also on the national committees of the Child Poverty Action Group and the NCCL (now Liberty).

In 1971 he joined The Observer as a columnist, writing for it until 1974 when he joined The Royal Shakespeare Company as head of public affairs. He was there for two years, including the centenary season. He then returned to journalism as managing-editor of Social Work Today, turning it from a fortnightly into a weekly; he ran this for three and a half years. Throughout this time he wrote regular features for The Illustrated London News and he became its deputy editor in 1979 and was there for two years.

In 1982, aged 41, he returned to campaigning for 10 years, launching in January the Clear campaign that won its battle for lead-free petrol in April 1983, and subsequently got lead-free petrol introduced throughout Europe (and in New Zealand where he won a campaign after only nine days). In 1983 he became Chairman of Friends of the Earth and also launched an umbrella campaigning organisation called Citizen Action. This, in turn, launched the Campaign for Freedom of Information; this campaign achieved a Freedom of Information Act in the UK just over 10 years later.

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