The Lord Smith of Finsbury
Official portrait, 2020
Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport[a]
In office
2 May 1997 – 8 June 2001
Prime MinisterTony Blair
Preceded byVirginia Bottomley
Succeeded byTessa Jowell
Member of the House of Lords
Assumed life peerage
18 July 2005
Member of Parliament
for Islington South and Finsbury
In office
9 June 1983 – 11 April 2005
Preceded byGeorge Cunningham
Succeeded byEmily Thornberry
Shadow cabinet portfolios
1994–1995National Heritage
1995–1996Social Security
Personal details
Born (1951-07-24) 24 July 1951 (age 72)
Barnet, United Kingdom
Political partyIndependent (2008–present)[1]
Labour (1979–2008)
Domestic partner(s)Dorian Jabri
Alma materPembroke College, Cambridge (BA, PhD)
Harvard University
WebsiteOfficial website

Christopher Robert Smith, Baron Smith of Finsbury, PC (born 24 July 1951) is a British politician and a peer; a former Member of Parliament (MP) and Cabinet Minister; and former chairman of the Environment Agency. For the majority of his career he was a Labour Party member. He was the first openly gay male British MP, coming out in 1984, and in 2005, the first MP to acknowledge that he is HIV positive.[2][3] Since 2015 he has been Master of Pembroke College, Cambridge.

Early life and education

Chris Smith was born in Barnet, London, and educated at George Watson's College in Edinburgh and Pembroke College, Cambridge. At Cambridge he gained a first class honours degree in English, and a PhD with a thesis on Coleridge and Wordsworth.[4] He attended Harvard University as a Kennedy Scholar,[4] and was president of the Cambridge Union Society.

Member of Parliament

He worked for a housing charity and became a councillor in the London Borough of Islington. He came third at Epsom and Ewell in the 1979 general election before narrowly winning the seat of Islington South and Finsbury at the 1983 general election, defeating George Cunningham, who had ultimately defected to the Social Democrats from Labour. Cunningham stood again at the 1987 general election when Smith retained the seat.[5]

In 1984, he became Britain's first gay MP to choose to "come out". There had been several gay MPs before this whose homosexuality had been common knowledge in some circles, including their constituents in some cases, but they had not been completely open about it. (In 1975 Maureen Colquhoun had been effectively "outed" by press revelations.) During a rally in Rugby, Warwickshire, against a possible ban on gay employees by the town council, Smith began his speech: "Good afternoon, I'm Chris Smith, I'm the Labour MP for Islington South and Finsbury and I'm gay."[6] This was unscripted, and the decision to include it in his speech was made at the last minute.[7] He immediately received a standing ovation from most of the audience.

He became an opposition whip in 1986, a shadow Treasury minister from 1987 to 1992, and shadowed the environment, heritage, pensions and health portfolios between 1992 and 1997.

Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

In 1997, he was appointed to Tony Blair's Cabinet as the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. As a Minister known to have a close connection with the arts scene in Britain, his time at DCMS is generally regarded as a success, for many projects funded through the National Lottery came to fruition. There were controversies, such as his approval during his first week as minister of the appointment of Mary Allen to the Royal Opera House. In this case, a Select Committee report later found that he had exceeded his authority and had improperly failed to seek advice from his Permanent Secretary. In 2000, he managed to secure a tax rebate that enabled many museums to give free admission.[7][pages needed] He held this position throughout the Labour government's first term, but was sacked and returned to the back benches after the 2001 election, being replaced by Tessa Jowell.[8]

Appointment to the House of Lords

After over 20 years in Parliament, Smith stepped down from the House of Commons at the 2005 general election. It was announced on 30 April 2005 that he was to be created a life peer, and the title was gazetted on 22 June 2005 as Baron Smith of Finsbury, of Finsbury in the London Borough of Islington.[9][10]

Retirement from politics

Smith was appointed Chair of the London Cultural Consortium (successor body to the Cultural Strategy Group) by Ken Livingstone, the then Mayor of London, and served from 2005 to 2008. He was awarded an Honorary Fellowship in 2010 from the University of Cumbria.[11] In November 2006, he was appointed as Chairman of the Advertising Standards Authority.[12] He was one of the founding directors of the Clore Leadership Programme, an initiative aimed at helping to train and develop new leaders of Britain's cultural sector.[13][14] He is also currently Chairman of the Wordsworth Trust.[15]

Smith is a keen mountaineer, and was the first MP to climb all the 3,000 ft "Munros" in Scotland;[16] in April 2004, he was elected President of the Ramblers' Association.[17] He is a patron of London-based HIV charity The Food Chain,[18] and also Patron of HIV support charity The National Long-Term Survivors Group (NLTSG). He is also an honorary life member of BAFTA.[19]

Smith was announced as the new Chairman of the Environment Agency on 8 May 2008, and took up the new role in mid-July.[20] In an interview with The Independent in August that year he said Britain faced hard choices over which coasts to defend and which to leave to the sea, because it would not be possible to save all coastal homes from sea erosion.[21] Lord Smith was re-appointed as Chair of the Environment Agency for a further three years by Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman in 2011. On re-appointment he received £100,813 pro rata for 2011–12, based on working three days a week.[22] Lord Smith continued in this role until 13 July 2014.

Smith became a vice-president of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality in February 2009.[23]

In December 2014, it was announced that Lord Smith would become the next Master of Pembroke College, Cambridge in 2015, succeeding Sir Richard Dearlove. He oversaw the receipt of the biggest single donation ever received by the University of Cambridge in 2015, when Ray Dolby donated £35m towards an expansion of the College grounds.[24] He accepted an invitation to become the Chairman of Trustees of the Cambridge Union Society in 2015.

He is currently listed as the Chairman of the Task Force on Shale Gas.[25]

Personal life

In 2006, Smith entered a civil partnership with Dorian Jabri,[26] his partner since 1989.[27] The couple separated in 2012.[28] Smith was a director of the Finsbury-based world jazz ensemble Grand Union Orchestra for a period in the mid-1990s.[29]

HIV status

In 2003, Smith was contacted by a reporter from The Sunday Times asking for a comment on his health but declined, citing the Press Complaints Code. However, two years later, in 2005, he contacted the paper's editor and revealed in a story, titled "Why This is the Time to Break my HIV Silence", he had been diagnosed as HIV-positive as long ago as 1987.[3][7][pages needed] He stated he had decided to go public following Nelson Mandela's announcement of his son's death from AIDS.[2]


  1. ^ As Secretary of State for National Heritage from May to July 1997.


  1. ^ "Lord Smith of Finsbury". Parliament of the United Kingdom.
  2. ^ a b "Former minister is HIV positive". BBC News Online. 30 January 2005. Retrieved 28 September 2008.
  3. ^ a b Why this is the time to break my HIV silence, Chris Smith writing in The Sunday Times, 30 January 2005
  4. ^ a b [1], Environment Agency. "Rt Hon Lord Smith of Finsbury, Chairman." Retrieved 2 August 2013.
  5. ^ According to Election Demon Archived 5 August 2016 at the Wayback Machine, in 1983 Smith got 13 460 votes to Cunningham's 13 097, in 1987 the respective totals were 16 511 to 15 706
  6. ^ Campbell, Dennis (30 January 2005). "The pioneer who changed gay lives". The Observer. Retrieved 28 September 2008.
  7. ^ a b c Reynolds, Andrew (2019). The children of Harvey Milk: how LGBTQ politicians changed the world. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. p. 119. ISBN 978-0-19-046095-2. OCLC 1023814403.
  8. ^ Brown, Maggie (11 June 2001). "Welcome to the ministry of fun, Tessa". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 October 2020.
  9. ^ "No. 57685". The London Gazette. 27 June 2005. p. 8317.
  10. ^ "Lord Smith of Finsbury". Archived from the original on 9 November 2010. Retrieved 9 September 2010.
  11. ^ "2010 | University of Cumbria".
  12. ^ Sweney, Mark (7 November 2006). "Chris Smith to head ASA". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 October 2020.
  13. ^ "The Clore Leadership Programme". Archived from the original on 5 January 2016. Retrieved 29 December 2015.
  14. ^ "GOV.UK". Environment Agency. Retrieved 29 December 2015.
  15. ^ "Trustees". Archived from the original on 22 February 2014. Retrieved 16 February 2014.
  16. ^ "Scottish Mountaineering Club". Scottish Mountaineering Club. Archived from the original on 27 September 2011. Retrieved 23 August 2011.
  17. ^ Pyke, Nicholas; Lacey, Hester (25 April 2004). "Rambling Tsar comes to the aid of Madonna". The Independent on Sunday. Independent News & Media. Retrieved 28 September 2008.
  18. ^ "Patrons | People in the Chain | About Us | The Food Chain".
  19. ^ "Film Industry". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). House of Commons. 28 January 2003. col. 200WH–201WH.
  20. ^ Gerrard, Neil (9 May 2008). "Chris Smith becomes new Environment Agency chairman". Contract Journal. Reed Business Information Limited. Retrieved 28 September 2008.[permanent dead link]
  21. ^ Morris, Nigel (18 August 2008). "Stark warning on Britain's shrinking coast". The Independent. Retrieved 28 September 2008.
  22. ^ "Re-appointments to the Environment Agency". Defra. Retrieved 5 March 2013.
  23. ^ "CHE > In the news". Archived from the original on 28 February 2017. Retrieved 16 May 2019.
  24. ^ Jack Higgins. "Pembroke to receive record-breaking £35m donation". Varsity (Cambridge).
  25. ^ "About the Task Force - Task Force on Shale Gas". Archived from the original on 6 January 2017. Retrieved 5 January 2017.
  26. ^ Shoffman, Marc (25 July 2006). "Ex-Cabinet minister becomes first peer to have civil partnership". PinkNews. Retrieved 22 October 2020.
  27. ^ Bale, Joanna (31 January 2005). "No 10 rallies round as leading MP admits: 'I'm HIV positive'". The Times. Retrieved 22 October 2020. ... Mr Smith, who met his partner, Dorian Jabri, two years after the diagnosis ...
  28. ^ Moss, Stephen (16 February 2014). "Environment Agency head Chris Smith: 'I'm not having my staff belittled'". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 October 2020.
  29. ^ "Members' Interests". The Guardian. 5 August 1996. p. 86/13.
Parliament of the United Kingdom Preceded byGeorge Cunningham Member of Parliamentfor Islington South and Finsbury 19832005 Succeeded byEmily Thornberry Political offices Preceded byBryan Gould Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment 1992–1994 Succeeded byFrank Dobson Preceded byMo Mowlam Shadow Secretary of State for National Heritage 1994–1995 Succeeded byJack Cunningham Preceded byDonald Dewar Shadow Secretary of State for Social Security 1995–1997 Succeeded byIain Duncan Smith Preceded byVirginia Bottomleyas Secretary of State for National Heritage Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport 1997–2001 Succeeded byTessa Jowell Party political offices Preceded byMaggie Rice Chair of the Fabian Society 1997–1998 Succeeded byMargaret Hodge Government offices Preceded byJohn Harman Chair of the Environment Agency 2008–2014 Succeeded byPhilip Dilley Orders of precedence in the United Kingdom Preceded byThe Lord Moonie GentlemenBaron Smith of Finsbury Followed byThe Lord Cunningham of Felling Academic offices Preceded bySir Richard Dearlove Master of Pembroke College, Cambridge 2015–present Incumbent