Andrew Ferguson Neil
21 May 1949
|Education||Paisley Grammar School|
|Alma mater||University of Glasgow Strathclyde University|
Andrew Ferguson Neil (born 21 May 1949) is a Scottish journalist and broadcaster. He serves as chairman of The Spectator and GB News, which will launch in 2021. Neil was appointed editor of The Sunday Times by Rupert Murdoch in 1983, and held this position until 1994. After this he became a contributor to the Daily Mail. He was formerly chief executive and editor-in-chief of Press Holdings Media Group. In 1988 he became founding chairman of Sky TV, also part of Murdoch's News Corporation. He worked for the BBC for 25 years until 2020, fronting various programmes, including Sunday Politics and This Week on BBC One and Daily Politics, Politics Live and The Andrew Neil Show on BBC Two. Since July 2008, he has been the chairman of Press Holdings, whose titles include The Spectator, and ITP Media Group.
Neil was born in Paisley, Renfrewshire to Mary and James Neil. His mother worked in cotton mills in the war and his father ran the war-time Cairo fire brigade, worked as an electrician and was a Major in the Territorial Army in 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 selective Paisley Grammar School.
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, with 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 told Murdoch before he was appointed editor that The Sunday Times was intellectually stuck in a 1960s time-warp and that it needed to "shake off its collectivist mind-set to become the champion of a market-led revolution that would shake the British Establishment to its bones and transform the economy and society". Neil later claimed that although he shared some of Murdoch's right-wing views, "on many matters Rupert was well to the right of me politically. He was a monetarist. I was not. Nor did I share his conservative social outlook". In his first editorial, on 9 October 1983, Neil advised Margaret Thatcher's government to "move to the right on industrial policy (trust-bust, deregulate, privatise wherever it produces more competition and efficiency) and centre-left in economic strategy (a few billion extra in capital spending would have little impact on interest rates or inflation but could give a lift to a shaky economic recovery)".
The Sunday Times strongly supported the stationing of American cruise missiles in bases in Britain after the Soviet Union installed SS-20s in Eastern Europe, and it criticised the resurgent Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Neil also wrote editorials supporting the United States invasion of Grenada because it would restore democracy there, despite opposition from Hugo Young. Neil replied to Young that he wanted the editorial stance of The Sunday Times to be "neo-Keynesian in economic policy, radical right in industrial policy, liberal on social matters and European and Atlanticist on foreign policy". In Neil's first year as the paper's editor, The Sunday Times had revealed the date of the deployment of cruise missiles, exposed how Mark Thatcher had channelled the gains from his consultancy business into a bank account and reported on Robert Mugabe's atrocities in Matabeleland. Neil also printed extracts from Germaine Greer's Sex and Destiny and from Francis Pym's anti-Thatcher autobiography, as well as a study of the "Patels of Britain", a celebration of the success of Britain's Asian community.
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 was the Queen's press secretary, Michael Shea. When Buckingham Palace issued 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.
In 1987, the Labour-controlled Strathclyde Regional Authority wanted to close down Neil's old school, Paisley Grammar School. After finding the Secretary of State for Scotland, Malcolm Rifkind, indifferent to the school's future, Neil contacted Margaret Thatcher's policy adviser, Brian Griffiths, to try and save the school. When Griffiths informed Thatcher of Strathclyde's plan to close it she issued a new regulation that gave the Scottish Secretary the power to save schools where 80 per cent of the parents were opposed to the local authority's closure plan, thereby saving Paisley Grammar.
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.
In a July 1988 editorial ("Morals for the majority") Neil claimed that in Britain there were emerging pockets of social decay and unsocial behaviour: "a social rot...has gone deeper than the industrial decay of the 1960s and 1970s". Having been impressed with Charles Murray's study of the American welfare state, Losing Ground, Neil invited Murray to Britain in 1989 to study Britain's emerging underclass. The Sunday Times Magazine of 26 November 1989 was largely devoted to Murray's report, which found that the British underclass consisted of people existing on welfare, the black economy and crime, with illegitimacy being the single most reliable predictor. The accompanying editorial said Britain was in the midst of a "social tragedy of Dickensian proportions", with an underclass "characterized by drugs, casual violence, petty crime, illegitimate children, homelessness, work avoidance and contempt for conventional values".
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 high inflation, "misplaced chauvinism" over Europe, and the poll tax, concluding that she had become an "electoral liability" and must therefore be replaced by Heseltine.
In an editorial of January 1988 ("Modernize the monarchy"), Neil advocated the abolition of both the preference for males in the law of succession and of the exclusion of Catholics from the throne. Subsequent editorials of The Sunday Times called for the Queen to pay income tax and advocated a scaled-down monarchy that would not be class-based but which would be "an institution with close links to all classes. That meant clearing out the old-school courtiers...and creating a court which was far more representative of the multi-racial meritocracy that Britain was becoming". In an editorial of February 1991 Neil criticised some minor members of the Royal Family for their behaviour while the country was at war in the Gulf. In 1992 Neil obtained for The Sunday Times the serialisation rights for Andrew Morton's book Diana: Her True Story, which revealed the breakdown of Princess Diana's marriage as well as her bulimia and her suicide attempts.
In 1992 Neil was criticised by anti-Nazi groups and historians like Hugh Trevor-Roper for employing the Holocaust denier David Irving to translate the diaries of Joseph Goebbels.
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.
Since 2006 Neil has been chair of the Dubai based publishing company ITP Media Group.
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.
His regular interview series for Channel 4, Is This Your Life? (made by Open Media), was nominated for a BAFTA award for "Best Talk Show". In the course of the series 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.
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.
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 presented until he left the corporation.
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 also provided commentary on foreign elections, and with Katty Kay led the BBC's overnight live coverage of the US presidential election in 2016.[better source needed] In the run-up to the 2017 general election he interviewed five of the political 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. Shapiro took offence to the questioning, accused Neil of having a left-leaning bias, and said Neil was trying to make a "quick buck... off of the fact that I'm popular and no one has ever heard of you", before Shapiro ended the interview. Shapiro later apologised for the incident.
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 included "in-depth analysis and forensic questioning of key political players". It was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 and then cancelled as the BBC went through with budget cuts.
On 24 September 2019, Neil presented a live programme on BBC One entitled BBC News Special: Politics in Crisis, addressing the Supreme Court judgement which deemed Boris Johnson's prorogation of parliament unlawful. In the run-up to the 2019 general election, Neil interviewed all the leaders of the main political parties, excluding Johnson, having delivered a monologue in The Andrew Neil Interviews issuing him a challenge to participate.
On 15 July 2020 the BBC announced that Neil was in talks about an interview show on BBC One. The next month he was discussed in the media as Sir David Clementi's possible successor as Chairman of the BBC; he later said he had no interest in the role. The Director-General of the BBC, Tim Davie, on his second day in the role, held talks with Neil "in an attempt to get him back to the BBC" and it was reported that he was also in discussions with executives from commercial rivals.
Neil's final appearance for the BBC was when he presented coverage of the 2020 US presidential election, again with Katty Kay.
On 25 September 2020, Neil announced his exit from the BBC to become chairman of GB News, a news channel set to launch in 2021. He will also present a prime time evening programme on the news channel.
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 the scientific consensus on climate change 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 The Sunday Times' articles. 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."
In a 2021 interview Neil admitted he regretted certain aspects of the paper's coverage of HIV and AIDS, stating that he had placed faith in a trusted correspondent who was found to be wrong.
In January 1997, ITV broadcast a live television debate Monarchy: The Nation Decides, in which Neil spoke in favour of establishing a republic. When asked in 2021 by the BBC if he was still a republican, he said, "Not really."
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[when?] 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. Neil is a resident of France and returns to his birthplace, Scotland, usually to see his brother.