Timothy Bell, Baron Bell

Last updated

The Lord Bell
Lord Bell 2008.jpg
Bell in 2008
Member of the House of Lords
Lord Temporal
In office
31 July 1998 25 August 2019
Life Peerage
Personal details
Timothy John Leigh Bell

(1941-10-18)18 October 1941
Southgate, London, England
Died25 August 2019(2019-08-25) (aged 77)
London, England
Political party Conservative
OccupationAdvertising and public relations executive
Known forCampaign work for Margaret Thatcher [1]

Timothy John Leigh Bell, Baron Bell (18 October 1941 – 25 August 2019), was a British advertising and public relations executive, best known for his advisory role in Margaret Thatcher's three successful general election campaigns and his co-founding and 30 years of heading Bell Pottinger.


Early life and career

Bell was born in Southgate, North London on 18 October 1941, to Belfast-born Arthur Leigh Bell, a Crosse & Blackwell sales representative, and Greta Mary Finlay, an Australian. His father left the family when his son was four, moving to South Africa and becoming a radio broadcaster known as "Uncle Paddy." [2] [3]

In 1952, his mother remarried Peter Pettit, the solicitor who had handled her divorce. [4] Bell was educated at Osidge Primary School and Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School, Barnet, and joined ABC Weekend TV at 18 as a post boy. [5] He worked in various advertising/PR firms in the late 60s including the London agency Colman Prentice & Varley and later Geers Gross, before helping to found and becoming managing director of Saatchi and Saatchi in 1970, later serving as chairman and managing director of Saatchi and Saatchi Compton from 1975.[ citation needed ]

On 19 November 1977, Bell was fined £50 for indecency. He had exposed himself while masturbating at his Hampstead bathroom window on 21 October in full view of female passers-by. [6] [7]

He left the Saatchis to join Frank Lowe and Geoff Howard-Spink in 1985 to have his name on the door at Lowe Howard-Spink and Bell where he served as deputy chairman. Later, in 1989 he bought out the PR division which became his own agency, Lowe Bell Communications, [5] and he became chairman of Chime Communications in 1994 (which included the Bell Pottinger group).

Thatcher years

Bell was instrumental in the Conservative general election campaign victories of Margaret Thatcher and was seen as Thatcher's "favourite spin-doctor and confidante." [8] For her first 1979 victory, he developed the strategy for the 'Labour Isn't Working' campaign, created by Saatchi creative director Jeremy Sinclair [5] and Bell advised the future Prime Minister on interview techniques, clothing, and even hairstyle choices. He also courted newspaper editors and worked on devastating attacks on the Labour Party.

In 1984, Bell was seconded to the National Coal Board to advise on media strategy at the start of the miners' strike. He worked on media relations and helped set the terms of the negotiations and course of government policy.

Bell was knighted in 1991 [9] after nomination by Margaret Thatcher, and created a Life Peer after nomination as a Conservative working peer as Baron Bellof Belgravia in the City of Westminster on 31 July 1998. [10] He was often later seen on panels and current affairs programmes discussing the issues of the day, and was chairman of the Conservative Party's Keep the £ Campaign. He also served on various arts and public administration bodies. On 8 April 2013 it was Bell who officially announced the news of Lady Thatcher's death.[ citation needed ]

International work

Bell advised Hernán Büchi, a former minister of the Pinochet dictatorship, in the presidential election of 1989. [11] Büchi eventually lost by a large margin to Patricio Aylwin. [12]

Lord Bell, a friend of Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky, handled the media attention behind poisoned Russian ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko, who died in hospital 23 November 2006. The Bell Pottinger Communications agency distributed a photograph showing a hairless Litvinenko in his hospital bed. The PR Agency also offered advice to relatives of Litvinenko and his spokesman Alex Goldfarb. [13]

In December 2006, Lord Bell successfully lobbied on behalf of the Saudi government to discontinue the Serious Fraud Office investigation into alleged bribes in the Al Yamamah arms deal. [14]

Lord Bell also performed public relations work for the authoritarian government of Belarus, [15] and for the Pinochet Foundation (Fundación Pinochet).

In addition, he worked as an advisor to former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. [16]

In late 2011, Bell's lobbying interests were investigated by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism for The Independent newspaper which reported claims that the company attempts to interfere with Google results to "drown" out coverage of human rights abuses, that his employees had altered English Wikipedia entries to create a better impression of clients and had easy access (via former Conservative MP Tim Collins) to the Cameron government and others overseas. [17] Bell Pottinger, via a sting operation, were found to be willing to work for the authoritarian regime in Uzbekistan. [17] Bell launched an internal inquiry, but believed he had been singled out for his connection with Mrs Thatcher. [18]

Chime disposed of Bell Pottinger in June 2012 (while retaining a 25% stake in the business), when Bell also resigned as a director of Chime. [19]

Bell Pottinger exit under cloud of PR malpractice

Bell Pottinger announced Lord Bell's departure as chairman to set up an advisory firm, Sans Frontières Associates, in August 2016. He retained a 7% stake in Bell Pottinger. [20]

Tony Walford, partner at Green Square stated, "Perhaps not coincidentally, Sans Frontières was the original name of the public relations firm he set up before it was renamed Bell Pottinger; it was also the name of the unit that handled the firm's controversial lobbying and consultancy work for the governments of countries such as Belarus and Sri Lanka." [21]

A "leading PR figure" told The Times that his resignation from his own agency didn't come as a surprise, saying: "Ultimately, he did not fit with the kind of corporate image Bell Pottinger wanted to project", in the end. [22] Walford explained that, "there is big money to be made from representing governments and other entities, no matter how reviled they are. The problem is, this kind of activity sits increasingly uneasily with corporates keen on projecting a responsible image." [21]

In January 2017, the Huffington Post reported that Johann Rupert, CEO of Remgro and Richemont, ended an 18-year-old contract with Bell Pottinger due to their 'concerted effort on social and other media to discredit him'. Rupert had spoken out against state capture and called on President Jacob Zuma to resign "for the sake of our children". As the Guptas back Zuma, Rupert asserted that Bell Pottinger painted him as the embodiment of "white monopoly capital" and as the counterweight to the Guptas and state capture, an example of how state capture allegedly worked under apartheid. [23]

Eleven months after leaving Bell Pottinger and six days after the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) acknowledged receipt of the Democratic Alliance's complaint, [24] on, 11 July 2017, Bell announced for the first recorded time to PRWeek that he had left Bell Pottinger after raising his concerns about its "smelly" relationship with the Gupta family's Oakbay conglomerate in South Africa but that they had "completely ignored me"; Bell Pottinger denied his claims. [25]

The PRCA expelled Bell Pottinger for at least five years from September 2017 for inflaming racial tensions in South Africa. The PRCA found Bell Pottinger guilty of four breaches of its code of conduct and dispensed its toughest possible punishment. PRCA director-general, Francis Ingham told the Financial Times , "This is the most blatant instance of unethical PR practice I’ve ever seen. Bell Pottinger's work has set back South Africa by possibly 10 years." [26]

During a live Newsnight interview on 4 September 2017, Lord Bell mentioned that he was the most senior director at the several hour long initial meeting with the Guptas. Bell explained to Kirsty Wark that upon his return to London he told Bell Pottinger CEO James Henderson, "it's a very interesting piece of business but we can't handle it because there's a conflict of interest". Wark then read Bell his own email, dated 26 January 2016, stating, "The trip was a great success and we will put forward a deal whereby we will earn £100,000 per month plus costs and I will oversee this and make further reports." Wark asserted that the email was in "direct conflict with what you just said". Bell went on to deny this on the basis the email was sent before his return to London. Rather than oversee the deal, Bell claimed that upon his return "I did absolutely nothing", but Bell Pottinger "submitted a [fee] proposal". Bell went on to deny Wark's assertion that he is the senior figure working on the Gupta account, but rather he is a "father figure of the meeting". Wark asked that when Bell, as the founder of the company, stated that there was a conflict of interest, "nobody listens? Really?" Bell responded, "Nobody listens to me. That's why I left the company". Wark then produced a further Bell-authored email, dated 3 months later (April 2016), in which Bell offered further advice regarding the account. Bell retorted, "You can attack me all you like but I had nothing to do with getting this account." [27]

Bell's Newsnight performance was pilloried by the UK press, with The Spectator labelling it, "Lord Bell's Newsnight PR disaster". [28]

The Daily Express 's take was, "Lord Bell was left red-faced after his phone rang twice while he was live on air during a Newsnight interview.". [29]

An alternative view of what happened was published in The Drum on 5 September 2019. It stated Bell had a genuine desire to help the Indian-descended Guptas from being discriminated against in South Africa. However, Bell suffered a stroke in 2016 and was put on three months medical leave. CEO James Henderson used Bell's absence to ensure the account was run exclusively by his financial PR Team, under Victoria Geoghegan. Fake Twitter accounts were set up accusing white businessmen, such as Johann Rupert, of "white monopoly capital". When Bell returned from medical leave, he had a row with Henderson telling him he had to resign the account and when he refused, Bell resigned from the company. After the story broke in 2017, Johann Rupert claimed Bell was "the only person to have acted with honour in the entire affair." [30]

The story of Bell's rise and fall is covered in Influence , a 2020 Canadian/South African documentary film directed by Richard Poplak and Diana Neille, [31] and described as a hugely detailed, unnerving exposé. [32]

Personal life

Bell was married three times: first, in the 1960s, to Suzanne Cordran (marriage dissolved in 1985); in 1988 he married Virginia Hornbrook with whom he had a son and daughter (marriage dissolved in 2016); in 2017, he married Jacky Phillips. [4]

Bell died from complications of vascular parkinsonism at his home in London, aged 77, on 25 August 2019. [33]


Coat of arms of Timothy Bell, Baron Bell
Coronet of a British Baron.svg
Bell Escutcheon.png
An owl wings displayed and rising affronty Azure grasping in the dexter claw a trumpet bendwise Or.
Azure two chevrons between three bells Or each charged with a crescent Sable.
Dexter a labrador Sable supporting between the forelegs a trumpet bendwise sinister the bell upwards Or; sinister a labrador Or supporting a like trumpet bendwise Sable. [34]
In Te Domine Spes (In Thee Lord Is Hope)

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Norman Tebbit</span> English politician

Norman Beresford Tebbit, Baron Tebbit is a British politician. A member of the Conservative Party, he served in the Cabinet from 1981 to 1987 as Secretary of State for Employment (1981–1983), Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (1983–1985), and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Chairman of the Conservative Party (1985–1987). He was a Member of Parliament (MP) from 1970 to 1992, representing the constituencies of Epping (1970–1974) and Chingford (1974–1992).

<i>Newsnight</i> Weekday BBC Television current affairs program

Newsnight is BBC Two's news and current affairs programme, providing in-depth investigation and analysis of the stories behind the day's headlines. The programme is broadcast on weekdays at 22:30 and is also available on BBC iPlayer.

Saatchi & Saatchi is a British multinational communications and advertising agency network with 114 offices in 76 countries and over 6,500 staff. It was founded in 1970 and is currently headquartered in London. The parent company of the agency group was known as Saatchi & Saatchi PLC from 1976 to 1994, was listed on the New York Stock Exchange until 2000 and, for a time, was a constituent of the FTSE 100 Index. In 2000, the group was acquired by the Publicis Groupe. In 2005 it went private.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Andrew Rosindell</span> British politician (born 1966)

Andrew Richard Rosindell MP is a British Conservative politician. He became the Member of Parliament (MP) for the Romford constituency in Greater London in 2001.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Maurice Saatchi, Baron Saatchi</span> British businessman, politician

Maurice Nathan Saatchi, Baron Saatchi is a British-Iraqi businessman, and with his brother, Charles, co-founder of the advertising agencies Saatchi & Saatchi and M&C Saatchi.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Kirsty Wark</span> British journalist and television presenter

Kirsteen Anne "Kirsty" Wark FRSE is a Scottish television presenter with a long career at the BBC.

Timothy William George Collins, CBE is a British politician, once a prominent member of the Conservative Party. Collins was active in the 1990s and was later the Member of Parliament (MP) for Westmorland and Lonsdale in north-west England from 1997 until his defeat at the 2005 general election by Tim Farron, later leader of the Liberal Democrats.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Johann Rupert</span> South African entrepreneur (born 1950)

Johann Peter Rupert is a South African billionaire businessman, who is the eldest son of business tycoon Anton Rupert and his wife Huberte. He is the chairman of the Swiss-based luxury-goods company Richemont and the South Africa-based company Remgro. Since April 2010, he has been the CEO of Compagnie Financiere Richemont. Rupert and family were ranked second-richest in South Africa on the 2021 Forbes list, with an estimated net worth of US$7.1 billion.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Big Ben</span> Clock tower in London, England

Big Ben is the nickname for the Great Bell of the Great Clock of Westminster, at the north end of the Palace of Westminster in London, England, and the name is frequently extended to refer also to the clock and the clock tower. The official name of the tower in which Big Ben is located was originally the Clock Tower, but it was renamed Elizabeth Tower in 2012 to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bell Pottinger</span> Controversial defunct British multinational public relations and marketing company

Bell Pottinger Private was a British multinational public relations, reputation management and marketing company headquartered in London, United Kingdom. On 12 September 2017 it went into administration (bankruptcy) as a consequence of a scandal caused by its activities in South Africa.

Chime Communications Limited is a marketing services company headquartered in Westminster, London, United Kingdom. Chime is the holding company for companies which include sports marketing, public relations, advertising, digital, marketing, research, corporate responsibility and healthcare communications.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism is a nonprofit news organisation based in London. It was founded in 2010 to pursue "public interest" investigations. The Bureau works with publishers and broadcasters to maximise the impact of its investigations. Since its founding it has collaborated with Panorama, Newsnight, and File on 4 at the BBC, Channel 4 News and Dispatches, as well as the Financial Times, The Daily Telegraph, and The Sunday Times, among others. The Bureau has covered a wide range of stories and won many awards including for its coverage of the drone wars and investigation of "joint enterprise" murder convictions. Its CEO/Editor in Chief is Rozina Breen.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Public Relations and Communications Association</span>

The Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) is a trade association for the public relations sector in the United Kingdom. The association lobbies on behalf of its member companies and also provides a forum for sharing information. It is the largest PR association in Europe, with more than 12,000 members including agencies, in-house communications teams and individual media professionals.

Conflict-of-interest (COI) editing on Wikipedia occurs when editors use Wikipedia to advance the interests of their external roles or relationships. The type of COI editing of most concern on Wikipedia is paid editing for public relations (PR) purposes. Several Wikipedia policies and guidelines exist to combat conflict of interest editing, including Wikipedia:Conflict of interest and Wikipedia:Paid-contribution disclosure.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Black First Land First</span> Political party in South Africa

Black First Land First (BLF) is a black consciousness, pan-Africanist and revolutionary socialist political movement and political party in South Africa. It was founded in 2015 by Andile Mngxitama following his expulsion from the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), led by Julius Malema.

The Gupta family is a wealthy Indian-born family with business interests in South Africa, whose most notable members are brothers Ajay, Atul, and Rajesh "Tony" Gupta—as well as Atul's nephews Varun, and US-based Ashish and Amol. The family owns a business empire spanning computer equipment, media, and mining. The family name became synonymous with corruption in South Africa and they have been sanctioned by multiple countries for their activities.

Tokozile Xasa is a South African politician, replaced as Minister of Tourism of South Africa by President Cyril Ramaphosa in his cabinet re-shuffle on 26 February 2018. Under Xasa's watch SA Tourism, an entity under the Department of Tourism, spent R6.9 million on the PR services of Bell Pottinger, at the same time the controversial Gupta Family were using Bell Pottinger to sow racial division in South Africa. Xasa was the Minister of Sport and Recreation from 26 February 2018 to 29 May 2019.

White Monopoly Capital is a South African phrase used in contemporary political discourse. The origin of the term, the exact meaning of the term, and even the existence of what the term is thought to mean is disputed. The term is thought to mean everything from an oligopoly owned by a super wealthy white elite that dominates of large sectors of the economy consisting of colluding monopolies to business groups that are critical of corruption and alleged state capture within the administration of former South African president Jacob Zuma.

James Brodie Henderson is an English businessman working in the public relations sector. He founded a successful financial PR firm which merged with a Bell Pottinger company in 2010. Henderson subsequently became chief executive of the Bell Pottinger group, but was forced to resign in 2017 over a scandal relating to its work for a South African client and which also led to the company going into administration (bankruptcy), with the company's administrator later considering lawsuits against Henderson and other former Bell Pottinger partners. In January 2018, he founded J&H Communications Ltd.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Phumzile van Damme</span> South African Consultant

Phumzile Van Damme is a South African consultant and former Member of Parliament representing South Africa’s official opposition, the Democratic Alliance described by the United Nation’s Africa Renewal as a “Young MP with a mission.” She was first elected at the 2014 South African general election and re-elected in 2019. She served as a Whip in the National Assembly and was the Shadow Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies Committee.


  1. Field, Michele (24 January 1986). "Tim Bell Love Newspapers, Gorillas and Maggie T". The Age.
  2. "Lord Bell obituary". thetimes.co.uk. 26 August 2019.
  3. Bates, Stephen (26 August 2019). "Lord Bell obituary". theguardian.com.
  4. 1 2 Obituary, The Telegraph, 28 August 2019.
  5. 1 2 3 "Tim Bell: 'There's never been so much tension between business and politicians'", telegraph.co.uk, 17 April 2010.
  6. Mark Hollingsworth The Ultimate spin doctor: the life and fast times of Tim Bell, London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1997, p. 45
  7. Brian Basham "Thatcher exposed in Tim Bell revelations", Marketing Week, 14 March 1997.
  8. "A famous London PR firm suffers a PR disaster". The Economist . 7 September 2017.
  9. "No. 52543". The London Gazette . 28 May 1991. p. 8208.
  10. "No. 55216". The London Gazette . 5 August 1998. p. 8519.
  11. Andy Beckett, Pinochet in Piccadilly. Britain and Chile's Hidden History (Faber and Faber, 2002), p. 217.
  12. Angell, Alan; Pollack, Benny (1990). "The Chilean Elections of 1989". Bulletin of Latin American Research . Society for Latin American Studies. 9 (1): 1–23. doi:10.2307/3338214. JSTOR   3338214.
  13. "Berezovsky link draws Lord Bell into action". Financial Times. 24 November 2006. Retrieved 27 November 2006.
  14. David Leigh; Rob Evans (16 December 2006). "Brutal politics lesson for corruption investigators". The Guardian. UK. Retrieved 16 December 2006.
  15. "No breakthrough in Belarus", The Economist, 2 October 2008
  16. Moseley, Ray (18 February 1994). "Malaysia Dam Linked To Arms Deal With Britain". Chicago Tribune . Chicago. Retrieved 26 December 2014.
  17. 1 2 Melanie Newman and Oliver Wright "Caught on camera: top lobbyists boasting how they influence the PM", The Independent, 6 December 2011.
  18. Stephen Robinson "'Of course I regret it, I need it like a hole in the head, all this s**t'", Evening Standard (London), 8 December 2011. Retrieved 27 February 2013.
  19. "Completion of Disposal". Market Announcements, Monday 2 July 2012. Chime plc. Archived from the original on 14 January 2013. Retrieved 20 August 2012.
  20. Mance, Henry (25 August 2016). "Lord Bell quits as Bell Pottinger chairman". Financial Times. Retrieved 29 June 2017.
  21. 1 2 Walford, Tony (2 September 2016). "Why maverick PR man Lord Bell may enjoy being his own man again". The Drum. Retrieved 5 September 2017.
  22. Stuart, Rebecca (26 August 2016). "Lord Bell departs from Bell Pottinger to open new PR firm Sans Frontières". The Drum. Retrieved 5 September 2017.
  23. du Toit, Pieter (25 January 2017). "How Rupert Was Warned About Bell Pottinger: 'They're Behind It.'". HuffPost . London. Retrieved 5 September 2017.
  24. "Bell Pottinger probed for stoking racial tension in SA". Sunday Times (South Africa). 4 July 2017. Retrieved 5 July 2017.
  25. Burne James, Sam (11 July 2017). "'I kept saying it was smelly': Lord Bell claims Bell Pottinger ignored his concerns over Gupta work". PRWeek . London. Retrieved 4 September 2017.
  26. Bond, David (4 September 2017). "'Bell Pottinger expelled by industry body for unethical practice". Financial Times . London. Retrieved 4 September 2017.
  27. Demianyk, Graeme (4 September 2017). "'Lord Bell on BBC Newsnight: Bell Pottinger Co-Founder's Extraordinary Interview Amid Firm's South Africa Racism Row. His phone going off twice is just the tip of the iceberg". HuffPost . London. Retrieved 4 September 2017.
  28. Steerpike (5 September 2017). "'Lord Bell's Newsnight PR disaster". The Spectator . London. Retrieved 5 September 2017.
  29. Hunt, Darren (5 September 2017). "'Someone's popular!' Nail-biting moment Newsnight guest's phone interrupts tense interview". Daily Express . London. Retrieved 5 September 2017.
  30. Moszynski, Michael (5 September 2019). "With the passing of Lord Bell, I fear we will not see his like again". The Drum. Retrieved 26 August 2021.
  31. "influence". www.sundance.org. Retrieved 3 January 2021.
  32. "Influence: The story of the most wicked man in the world" . Retrieved 3 January 2021.
  33. Smith, Harrison (26 August 2019). "Tim Bell, swaggering PR executive and spin doctor for Margaret Thatcher, dies at 77". The Washington Post . Retrieved 26 August 2019.
  34. Debrett's Peerage. 2019.