Andrew Neil

For the Canadian photographer and music director, see Andrew MacNaughtan.
Andrew Neil

Neil, photographed in 2011
Born Andrew Ferguson Neil
(1949-05-21) 21 May 1949
Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland
Nationality British
Alma mater University of Glasgow
Occupation BBC television presenter,
Chairman: Press Holdings
Notable credit(s) This Week,
Daily Politics
Sunday Politics,
The Economist
The Spectator,
Apollo Magazine
Spouse(s) Susan Nilsson (m. 2015)[1]

Andrew Ferguson Neil (born 21 May 1949) is a British journalist and broadcaster and the editor of The Sunday Times for 11 years. He currently presents live political programmes Sunday Politics and This Week on BBC One and Daily Politics on BBC Two. He is also the former editor-in-chief and current chairman of the Press Holdings group, which owns The Spectator.[2]

Early life and career

Neil was born in Paisley, Renfrewshire. He grew up in the Glenburn area and attended the local Lancraigs Primary School. At 11, Neil passed his 11-plus examinations and obtained entrance to the then-selective Paisley Grammar School.[3] His father was an electrician and member of the Territorial Army, and his mother worked in the local cotton mills.[4][5]

After school, Neil attended the University of Glasgow.[2] While there, he edited the student newspaper, the Glasgow University Guardian and dabbled in student television. He was also 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;[2][6] he had been tutored by Vince Cable.[7]

After his graduation, Neil briefly worked as a sports correspondent for local newspaper, the Paisley Daily Express, before working for the Conservative Party as a research assistant. In 1973, he joined The Economist as a correspondent and was later promoted as editor of the publication's section on Britain.

A passionate follower of cricket, he is a member of Marylebone Cricket Club.

The Sunday Times

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.[8]

Opposition to perceived public school and Oxbridge attitudes was a hallmark of Neil's Sunday Times editorship. 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.[9] During his editorship, the newspaper lost a libel case over claims that it had made concerning a witness interviewed in the Death on the Rock documentary on the Gibraltar shootings.[10]

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.[11] The News of the World suggested Bordes was a call girl.[12] 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.[13] He certainly did not know about Bordes,[12] which the Telegraph had accepted by the time the libel case came to High Court of Justice in January 1990,[11] but the paper still defended their coverage as fair comment.[14] Neil won both the case and £1,000 in damages[15] plus costs.

The Sunday Times was campaigning for an already-discredited claim that AIDS is neither an infectious disease and was not caused by HIV.[15] In 1992 Neil was criticised by anti-Nazi groups[16] and historians like Hugh Trevor-Roper[17] for employing, as a translator of the diaries of Joseph Goebbels, the Holocaust denier David Irving.[16]


Neil (centre) with Sky News anchor Adam Boulton (left) in 2013

In 1988 he also 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 down market, 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 West London on 5 February 1989 to witness the launch of the service at 18.00. 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 also 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 and successful television companies in Europe.

Post-News Corp career

He eventually parted company with Murdoch on bad terms in 1994. According to Neil, he was replaced as Sunday Times editor because Murdoch had become envious of his celebrity,[15][18] and 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 also closed down in February 2008. He exchanged his role as chief executive of Press Holdings for chairman in July 2008.[19]

In June 2008, Neil led a consortium which bought talent agency Peters, Fraser & Dunlop (PFD) from CSS Stellar plc for £4 million. Neil will be chairman of the new company in addition to his other activities.[20] Neil served as Lord Rector of the University of St Andrews from 1999 to 2002.


Nick Clegg being interviewed by Andrew Neil for The Daily Politics

As well as Neil's newspaper activities he has also maintained a television career. While he worked for The Economist, he provided news reports to American networks. 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 and Is This Your Life? (made by Open Media for Channel 4), which was nominated for a BAFTA award for "Best Talk Show"[21] and on which Neil interviewed a wide variety of personalities, from Albert Reynolds and Morris Cerullo to Jimmy Savile and Max Clifford.[22] He also 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 has presented live political shows, This Week on BBC One and Daily Politics on BBC Two. From 2007 to 2010, he also presented the weekly one-on-one political interview programme Straight Talk with Andrew Neil on the BBC News Channel. He has also presented Sunday Politics on BBC One since 2012 and has occasionally guest presented Newsnight on BBC Two ever since Jeremy Paxman's departure, in 2014.[2]

Neil has also 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.

Private Eye

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.[23]

A photograph of Neil in a vest and baseball cap, embracing a woman (often mistaken for former Miss India Pamella Bordes but really an African American make-up artist with whom Neil was once involved)[4] has appeared frequently for many years in the magazine. A longrunning 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 is duly published alongside the letter.[24] Neil has found "fascinating" what he sees as an example of "public school racism" on the part of the magazine's editorial staff.[4]

Personal life

Neil married Susan Nilsson on 8 August 2015.[1][25] Neil 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.[26] By 2006 he had 14 godchildren but he has no children of his own.[27]


  1. 1 2 Dearden, Lizzie (15 August 2015). "Andrew Neil married: BBC presenter weds Swedish partner in French Riviera". The Independent. London. Retrieved 15 August 2015.
  2. 1 2 3 4 Newswatch – Profiles – Andrew Neil, BBC News, 10 June 2004, retrieved 24 April 2009
  3. BBC Documentary – Posh and Posher: Why Public School Boys Run Britain. First broadcast – BBC2 January 26, 2011 at 21:00
  4. 1 2 3 Mary Riddell "Non-stop Neil, at home alone", British Journalism Review, Vol. 16, No. 2, 2005, p13-20
  5. Andrew Neil: 'I am a better journalist than I am a businessman' – Profiles – People – The Independent, retrieved 1 May 2015
  6. "Andrew Neil biography from Biogs". Biogs.
  7. Why Vince Cable is not too sexy for his party The Spectator, 19 September 2009
  8. Roy Greenslade Press Gang: How Newspapers Make Profits From Propaganda, London: Macmillan/Pan, 2003 [2004], p.387. Greenslade uses the word "many", but cites only Paul Foot's essay "The Slow Death of Investigative Journalism" (in Stephen Glover (ed.) Secrets of the Press: Journalists on Journalism, Allen Lane, 1999, pp. 79-89, 85) as evidence
  9. "Vanunu: Israel's nuclear telltale". BBC. 20 April 2004. Retrieved 17 October 2012.
  10. John Pilger "Murdoch: a cultural Chernobyl", New Statesman, 23 July 2009, as reproduced on ITV's Pilger website
  11. 1 2 Greenspan, Edward (29 January 1990). "Sin, sex, news editors fill London front pages". Ocala Star-Banner. Toronto Globe and Mail. p. 43. Retrieved 11 February 2016.
  12. 1 2 Greenslade, Roy (2004). Press Gang: How Newspapers Make Profits From Propaganda. London, Basingstoke and Oxford: Pan Mamillan. pp. 503–5.
  13. Heller Anderson, Susan (31 January 1990). "Chronicle". The New York Times.
  14. "Libel case Journalist Taken Back to His Schooldays: Court Told of Afternoon on the Art Room Sofa". The Glasgow Herald. 27 January 1990. p. 7. Retrieved 11 February 2016.
  15. 1 2 3 Ben Summerskill "Paper tiger" The Observer, 28 July 2002
  16. 1 2 Rosie Waterhouse, et al "Irving back to anti-Nazi fury" The Independent on Sunday, 5 July 1992
  17. Peter Pringle and David Lister "Hitler apologist does deal for Goebbels war diaries: 'Sunday Times' contract with David Irving over rediscovered Nazi material alarms scholars" The Independent 3 July 1992
  18. "The Wapping Kid". The Daily Telegraph. 28 October 1996. Retrieved 11 February 2016.
  19. Stephen Brook "Neil takes step back from Spectator", The Guardian, 8 July 2008
  20. Stephen Brook "Andrew Neil consortium buys PFD talent agency", The Guardian, 18 June 2008
  21. Open Media, accessed 24 April 2009
  22. A.A.Gill, The Sunday Times, 6 August 1995
  23. Dale, Iain (10 May 2010). "In Conversation with Andrew Neil". Total Politics. Archived from the original on 13 June 2013. Retrieved 7 September 2012.
  24. Walker, Tim (20 September 2011). "Haunted by that photo: One for the album?". The Independent. Retrieved 24 March 2014.
  25. "Bachelor of Fleet Street ties the knot". The Times.
  26. "Andrew Neil: 'I am a better journalist than I am a businessman' – Profiles – People – The Independent". The Independent. 15 January 2012. Retrieved 6 March 2015.
  27. Ross, Deborah – Andrew Neil: An audience with the broadcaster – The Independent 19 July 2006

External links

Media offices
Preceded by
Frank Giles
Editor of The Sunday Times
Succeeded by
John Witherow
Preceded by
Charles Garside
Editor of The European
Succeeded by
Gerry Malone
Academic offices
Preceded by
Donald Findlay
Rector of the University of St Andrews
Succeeded by
Clement Freud
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