|Birth Day:||May 26, 1953|
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In 1961, Portillo appeared in a television advertisement for Ribena, a blackcurrant cordial drink. He was educated at Stanburn Primary School in Stanmore, Greater London, and Harrow County School for Boys and then won a scholarship to Peterhouse, Cambridge, where he studied history. While at school Portillo had supported the cause of the Labour Party; he attributed his embrace of conservatism at Cambridge to the influence of the right-wing Peterhouse historian Maurice Cowling. In 1999, Portillo gave an interview in which he discussed homosexual relationships he had whilst at university.
Portillo graduated in 1975 with a first-class degree in history, and, after a brief stint with Ocean Transport and Trading Ltd., a shipping and transport company, he joined the Conservative Research Department in 1976. Following the Conservative victory in 1979, he became a government adviser to David Howell at the Department of Energy. He left to work for Kerr-McGee Oil between 1981 and 1983. In the 1983 general election, he fought his first electoral contest, in the Labour-held seat of Birmingham Perry Barr, losing to the incumbent Jeff Rooker.
On 12 February 1982 Portillo married Carolyn Claire Eadie.
Portillo returned to advisory work for the government, and, in December 1984, he stood for and won the Enfield Southgate by-election, following the murder of the incumbent, Sir Anthony Berry, in the bombing of the Grand Hotel, Brighton by the IRA. Initially, he was a Parliamentary Private Secretary to John Moore, and then an assistant whip.
In 1987, Portillo was given his first ministerial post, as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security; the following year, he was promoted to Minister of State for Transport. Portillo has stated that he considers "saving the Settle to Carlisle railway" was his greatest achievement. He was a strong supporter of Margaret Thatcher.
In 1990, Portillo was appointed Minister of State for Local Government, in which post he argued in favour of the ultimately highly unpopular Community Charge system (popularly known as "the Poll Tax"). He demonstrated a consistently right-of-centre line (exemplified by his insistence, in a well-publicised speech, on placing "clear blue water" between the policies of the Conservatives and other parties) and was favoured by Norman Tebbit and Margaret Thatcher, who said of him "[W]e expect great things of you, do not disappoint us". His rise continued under John Major; he was made a Cabinet Minister in 1992 as Chief Secretary to the Treasury and was admitted to the Privy Council the same year. He subsequently became Secretary of State for Employment (1994–95), and then Secretary of State for Defence (1995–1997).
Portillo's loss of the Enfield Southgate seat, in the 1997 general election to Labour's Stephen Twigg, came as a shock to many politicians and commentators, and came to symbolise the extent of the Labour landslide victory. Halfway through the campaign, Portillo invited aides Andrew Cooper and Michael Simmonds to his house and presented them with some ideas for a leadership campaign following the expected Conservative defeat and asked them to finish it off. However, when a poll in The Observer on the weekend before the election showed that Portillo held only a three-point lead in his hitherto-safe seat, Portillo asked Cooper, who oversaw the party's internal polling, to reassure him that it was wrong; Cooper was unable to and Portillo began to think that he might lose.
1998 saw Portillo make his first foray into broadcasting on Channel 4 with Portillo's Progress—three 60-minute-long programmes looking into the changed social and political scene in Britain. From 2002 onwards, Portillo developed an active career in media, both as a commentator on public affairs and as a writer and/or presenter of television and radio documentaries.
Since 1998, Portillo has been a Commissioner of the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP). He is President of DEBRA, a British charity working on behalf of people with epidermolysis bullosa (EB), a genetic skin blistering condition.
On 1 February 2000, William Hague promoted Portillo to the Shadow Cabinet as Deputy Leader and Shadow Chancellor. On 3 February, Portillo stood opposite the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, in the House of Commons for the first time in his new role. During this session, Portillo declared that a future Conservative government would enhance the independence of the Bank of England and increase its accountability to Parliament, and that it would not repeal the national minimum wage.
Following the 2001 general election, Portillo contested the leadership of the party. In the first ballot of Conservative MPs, he led well. However, there followed press stories, including references to his previous homosexual experiences and to his equivocation at the time of Major's 1995 resignation. He was knocked out in the final round of voting by Conservative MPs, his sexual history – according to Kenneth Clarke – having damaged his chances, leaving party members to choose between Iain Duncan Smith and Kenneth Clarke.
In September 2002, Portillo became a non-executive director of the multinational defence contractor BAE Systems. He stepped down from that position in March 2006, owing to potential conflicts of interest. He was a member of the board of the Kerr-McGee Corporation for a few months in 2006.
Portillo has featured in a number of television documentaries. In 2002 these included one about Richard Wagner, and one in Spain: Great Railway Journeys: From Granada to Salamanca, for BBC Two (2002). In 2006 he made a programme on Spanish wildlife for BBC Two's The Natural World series. For an episode of the 2003 BBC Two series My Week In The Real World, in which politicians stepped into the shoes of members of the public, Portillo took over, for one week, the life, family and income of a single mother living on benefits in Wallasey.
He chose to present Queen Elizabeth I for the BBC's series of Great Britons in 2002. Between 2002 and 2007, he presented a discussion series called Dinner with Portillo on BBC Four, in which political and social questions were explored by Portillo and his seven guests over a four-course meal. His guests included Bianca Jagger, Grayson Perry, Francis Wheen, Seymour Hersh, PD James, Baroness Williams, George Galloway, Benazir Bhutto and Germaine Greer. In 2007, he participated in the BBC television project The Verdict, serving, with other well known figures, as a jury member hearing a fictional rape case. He was elected as the jury's foreman.
When Duncan Smith was elected leader, Portillo returned to the backbenches. In March 2003, he voted in favour of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. In November 2003, he turned down an offer of a Shadow Cabinet post from the incoming Conservative leader Michael Howard. He did not seek re-election in the 2005 general election. His membership of the Conservative Party has since lapsed.
Between its inception in 2003 and cancellation in 2019, Portillo appeared in the BBC weekly political discussion programme This Week with Andrew Neil, and, until September 2010, Labour MP Diane Abbott.
The documentary How To Kill a Human Being in the Horizon series featured Portillo carrying out a survey of capital punishment methods (including undertaking some near death experiences himself), in an attempt to find an 'acceptable' form of capital punishment. It was broadcast on BBC Two on 15 January 2008. He made a second Horizon documentary, titled How Violent Are You?, broadcast on 12 May 2009.
In 2008, Portillo made a documentary as part of the BBC Headroom campaign, which explored mental health issues. Portillo's documentary Michael Portillo: Death of a School Friend explores how the suicide of Portillo's classmate Gary Findon affected Findon's parents, brother, music teachers, schoolteachers, classmates, and Portillo himself. The programme was originally broadcast on 7 November 2008.
In 2009, he filmed a series titled Great British Railway Journeys, in which he explored, with the aid of George Bradshaw's 1863 tourist handbook, how the railways had a profound influence on the social, economic and political history of Britain. The series commenced broadcasting in January 2010. A second series was broadcast on BBC Two in 2011, and as of February 2019, there have been a total of ten series. Portillo also presented a similar television series called Great Continental Railway Journeys, following Portillo around continental Europe.
Portillo has written a regular column for The Sunday Times, contributes to other journals (he was a theatre critic for the New Statesman until May 2006), and is a regular radio broadcaster on UK radio. He is a long-serving member of the panel in the BBC Radio 4 series The Moral Maze. In September 2011, he presented a two-part series on BBC Radio 4 called Capitalism on Trial. He has also presented a history series on BBC Radio 4 called The Things We Forgot to Remember.
In 2011, Portillo became chairman of a new arts endowment fund supported by the Arts Council, the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Applicants could bid for grants of between £500,000 and £5m, which were to be matched from the private sector. The fund, which operated under the title "Catalyst: Endowments", made 31 awards over the two years 2012–13 totalling £36 million. Recipients included Dulwich Picture Gallery, the Mary Rose Trust, Lincoln Cathedral and the Severn Valley Railway.
A second series was broadcast in 2013, and to date there has been a total of six series. In 2014, as part of the BBC's World War I commemorations, Portillo presented Railways of the Great War with Michael Portillo over five nights in August 2014. In early 2016, Portillo began a new BBC travel documentary series, Great American Railroad Journeys, which saw him travelling across the United States by rail. Other similar series followed: Great Indian Railway Journeys from 2018 and Great Alaskan and Canadian Railroad Journeys, which started airing in January 2019. A series Great Australian Railway Journeys began airing on BBC2 on 26 October 2019, with six journeys across Australia. This was followed by a series Great Asian Railway Journeys from 27 January 2020.
In June 2013, he presented a series of twelve 15-minute radio programmes (following the daily World at One news programme) on BBC Radio 4 called 1913 – the Year Before, about the state of Britain in the years preceding World War I, challenging the view that these years were optimistic and cheerful.
A ten-part BBC Two series, Portillo's State Secrets, in which Portillo examines classified documents from the British National Archives, commenced on 23 March 2015.
Talking to Andrew Neil on This Week in May 2016, he gave his views on the effectiveness of David Cameron's government and its legislative plans as described in the Queen's speech; "After 23 years of careful thought about what they would like to do in power ... the answer is nothing", a description which The Guardian described as "elegant".
Portillo has supported Brexit, though also has expressed the opinion that in the British system, where Parliament is sovereign, the 2016 Brexit referendum "absolutely does not fit with our system" and that "parliament has the right to interpret" the result. In a 2016 television discussion he said that "because of the catastrophic blunder committed by David Cameron, [Nigel] Farage deserves a place in history" because "he spooked the Prime Minister into holding a referendum that he then lost." He also condemned Theresa May's 2018 "Chequers Plan" for exit negotiations as "the most dreadful betrayal, and if I had been a member of the Cabinet, I would have been one of the ones who would have quit over the weekend." On another occasion Portillo exclaimed (as a pundit on This Week) that "short of marching Mrs. May into a railway carriage in the Compiègne forest, they could not have produced a more humiliating surrender."
The Enemy Files, a documentary presented by Portillo, was shown on RTÉ One in Ireland, as well as the BBC, ahead of the centenary of the Easter Rising in 2016.
A Channel 5 series, Portillo's Hidden History of Britain, was broadcast in 2018.
In 2018 he accepted the role as President of the Friends of the Settle–Carlisle Line following the death of previous incumbent, Sir William McAlpine.
In August 2019, the two-part series Portillo: The Trouble With The Tories, which examined the history of the Tory party's divisions, was shown on Channel 5.
On 7 May 2020, it was announced that Portillo would join the new digital station Times Radio, which launched in June 2020. He currently hosts a Friday evening programme on politics, culture and history.
Currently, Michael Portillo is 69 years, 2 months and 16 days old. Michael Portillo will celebrate 70th birthday on a Friday 26th of May 2023.
Find out about Michael Portillo birthday activities in timeline view here.