PROFILE: Harvey Thomas, Freelance PR Consultant - Forgiveness has put Thomas in public eye - Today programme thinker Harvey Thomas's generosity impressed the media

By his own admission, former Tory director of press and

communications Harvey Thomas is a mountain of a man. After he was found

lying in the rubble of the Grand Hotel in Brighton's 1984 bombing - the

perpetrator of which the devout Christian Thomas was revealed to have

forgiven last week, capturing the public's attention - it took nine

firemen and medics to carry him to safety.



'I said I could walk, but they insisted I was carried,' he says. 'I

think they regretted it!' He's six-foot five and has huge arms and

hands. He crosses and uncrosses his huge limbs frequently, often placing

them behind his ears as he talks.



The father of two is a formidable raconteur, his talk meandering through

curves, tributaries and eddies. He oozes calm and kindness, and is

anecdotal and informative. No doubt about it, Thomas is a smooth PR

operator.



Time passes quickly as his stories unfold. Names of the global elite

drop into the interview like old friends (some are, he says). He covers

all four corners of the world, discussing his travels.



And yet for someone with such a clearly successful PR practice, he is

coy about his clients. Alas, he says, much of the PR work he has

undertaken sine leaving Conservative Central Office in 1991 is 'very

hush-hush'.



'This is off the record,' he says, before outlining upcoming

campaigns.



It's PR work for some very important people in government and business

across the world. 'There's 18 or 19 that I have worked for or continue

to work for. But I really can't say more than that,' he says.



Thomas worked with former South African president FW De Klerk on his

campaign against Nelson Mandela's ANC in the historic 1994 election. De

Klerk was the last president elected under the apartheid system. 'I

don't put that one on the CV, but seeing as they are both retired you

can publish that if you like,' he says, eyeing my notepad.



Lately, Thomas has been 'doing reconciliation work', the recent events

that have made him a centre of attention. Two years ago, he wrote to

Brighton bomber Patrick Magee, saying that he forgave him. The pair met

last year and consider each other friends. Last week, someone spilled

the beans about this reconciliation process to the press and Thomas has

been doing the media rounds ever since.



As PRWeek arrived, a local newspaper reporter was leaving Thomas's

cramped Potters Bar office, which is stuffed full of books and artefacts

and in which photographic memoirs fight for space on crowded walls. His

wife Marlies runs the office and, during school holidays, his daughters

Leah and Lani muck in. They are packing suitcases with literature for

their father's next PR expedition.



Thomas's early career saw him spend 15 years trotting the globe for

Evangelist Billy Graham's Christian Crusade, becoming a PR expert in the

process.



He was the 'advance man', arranging huge gatherings of the faithful

around the world.



He moved into speech writing, presentation and broadcasting and is now a

regular on Radio 4's Today's Thought for the Day slot. In short, he has

experience in nearly every part of communications. 'I didn't get a

degree. I am an example of the value of experience,' he says.



In 1978, he walked up to Tory Central Office and banged on the door,

asking for a job. His impact was immediate, with supporters and the

media claiming that Tory conferences took on a revivalist air. He was

called the UK's first spin doctor. For 14 years, he served Thatcher, who

he groomed for the party faithful, the media and the masses, polishing

the product. 'Remember, she never lost an election,' he says,

gleefully.



The stature and presence of Ian Paisley spring to mind, as do Terry

Waite's ease and sincerity. Indeed, Thomas shares with these figures his

faith and evangelism, which stretch to communications. 'In PR and

politics, there has to be vision,' he says. 'You need substance to

project. You can't project an image of nothing'.



Freelance writer Roy Lilley has worked with Thomas on numerous projects

since the early 1990s. Together they wrote the training manual If They

Haven't Heard It - You Haven't Said It. 'Harvey's a workaholic. He has

great vision to see that a campaign will work and work well. Every PR

office should have a Harvey,' says Lilley.



Honesty is the most effective form of PR, Thomas says: 'PR is about

relationships with your public. It's not about controlling or clever

spin, or glorifying in cover-ups or cheap publicity. That type of PR

attracts the dregs. Such people are not in PR - they are

publicists.'



Despite the apparent links, Thomas insists he never confuses his PR work

with his Christianity. 'I am a PR expert with Christian beliefs,' he

says. 'I don't believe in doing anyone any wrong and I have never had to

be untruthful in my PR work.' A big claim from a big man.



HIGHLIGHTS

1961: PRO and comms aide, Billy Graham Evangelistic Association

1978: Press/field director, Conservative Party

1991: Freelance international PR consultant, writer, broadcaster and

speaker



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