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
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
'This is off the record,' he says, before outlining upcoming
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
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,
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
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.
1961: PRO and comms aide, Billy Graham Evangelistic Association
1978: Press/field director, Conservative Party
1991: Freelance international PR consultant, writer, broadcaster and