PROFILE: Mark Chataway, Edelman Health - Chataway succeeds where others falter. It takes a lot to faze Edelman Health European chairman Mark Chataway

There is a certain logic to a career path which goes from organising the American National Cheerleaders Final to running contraception and family planning campaigns. The cheerleading job, handled while supposedly working in the medical division of a New York PR company, is the sort of thing that just seems to happen to the appropriately-named Mark Chataway.

On the way he's had a gun pointed to his head, reduced a journalist to vomiting during a slightly too warts-and-all visit to Bangladeshi slums, been hung-up on by two right-wing American congressmen while working as a talk radio presenter and conducted an interview through an Aids charity's window because a camera crew was too nervous to enter the building.

Having lost friends to Aids and worked on both a voluntary and professional basis in raising awareness and lobbying politicians for nearly half his life, Chataway is not about to give up his links when he starts as European chairman of Edelman Health in January. The company has agreed to donate his services one day a week to a project funding research into an Aids vaccine.

The Centre for Effective and Rational Treatment director Hugh McKinney says Chataway played a vital role in persuading politicians that combination therapy - the most successful treatment for people with HIV/Aids yet developed - should be available on the NHS: 'He is a top level operator. We work with some of the biggest organisations in Europe at senior level and I see few to equal him. He is very good at visualising things, knowing what should be done and seeing things nobody else sees. He also has a great imagination for PR.'

Chataway will work from home in a small south Wales village. Supported by an assistant and freelances, he will run 'maybe the only Welsh-speaking PR agency office in the UK'.

Chataway is tasked with three roles at Edelman: providing high-level advice to agency clients, co-ordinating direct access to Edelman resources across Europe and serving on the Edelman Health global executive committee.

He insists he will only handle issues and accounts that allow him to sleep at night, not least because he believes he argues best for causes he believes in. 'Oddly enough, the pharmaceutical companies are largely on the side of right.'

He breaks into one of his regular wide grins - most are accompanied by a deep and loud laugh - acknowledging that state-funded medication helps both patients and drug companies.

After stints in freelance journalism in the 1980s, he concentrated on health-related PR, usually with an international flavour. In 1993, six years after returning to Britain, he and two American friends founded Interscience. The agency scored an early coup by winning a contract to run publicity for the Rockefeller Foundation's five-year campaign on reproductive health in developing countries. The Catholic Church's stance on birth control and the Chinese government's one child per family policy were among the larger controversies he faced.

Interscience was purchased within two years by marketing services giant, Bcom3. As part of the deal Chataway agreed to stay on for five years, a condition that he has just fulfilled.

While admitting to 'personally having a few problems with abortion', he insists this did not interfere with his population control work - and not just because most campaigns emphasise contraception and empowering girls and women over abortion. 'I certainly don't believe anyone has the right to dictate to women whether they should have an abortion. You can think abortion is undesirable without saying that abortion is murder.

We live according to God's plan and we ought to be better at going along with God's plan than making plans of our own. Since I do this so poorly in my own life, I certainly would not be in favour of using the law to force anybody else to do it,' he says.

His religion is not laid on thick and has more than a hint of unconventionality about it. His career path is also unconventional, not least as a result of winning a scholarship to an American university which, he claims, he realised too late was in an Alabama still scarred by the sixties battles over racial segregation.

Perhaps surprisingly, Chataway quite liked the place, completing a degree in southern history and speech therapy in between meddling in both university and state politics, crossing paths with segregationist governor and failed presidential candidate George Wallace.

All the while he worked on local radio and secured a job hosting a talk show on a CBS-affiliated station. A move to New York radio preceded his appointment as the first full-time PR professional working for an Aids organisation, as comms director of the Gay Men's Health Crisis.

Now he is set to abandon London, but the sound of chatting in south Wales is sure to intensify.


1990: Managing director, Eurosciences, a pan-European division of Hill & Knowlton UK

1993: Founder, Interscience

2000: European chairman, Edelman Health.

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