PROFILE: David Peel, Shandwick Public Affairs - Downing St PRO sets Shandwick agenda. Whatever the pressure, Shandwick's David Peel knows how to stay calm

David Peel is a mild-mannered adrenaline junkie. He speaks slowly and quietly but has volunteered to put himself in the line of media fire enough times to support the claim that what really motivates him is the thrill of the fight.

David Peel is a mild-mannered adrenaline junkie. He speaks slowly and quietly but has volunteered to put himself in the line of media fire enough times to support the claim that what really motivates him is the thrill of the fight.

The former press officer at 10 Downing Street, now a director at Shandwick International's public affairs arm is a newcomer to the consultancy world.

A career in local and regional newspapers followed by a decade in major Whitehall departments might be the ideal preparation for joining the world's biggest PR firm.

Indeed, it was Peel's long spell as a local and regional newspaper sub editor that drove him into the PR trade: 'News is so reactive. You wait there for the stories to come in, simply being fed material. I wanted to be on the other end of that exchange driving the agenda forward,' he says.

Peel started as a sub editor on the Diss Express in south Norfolk in 1978, and in six years there rose to the post of deputy editor. From there he moved to the Western Daily Press - thought of by him at the time as 'a stepping stone to Fleet Street' - and from there to its sister title, the Bristol Evening Post. He had targeted working on national newspapers as his goal and was heading there the traditional way.

He is known as a hard worker by those who have shared office space with him, a trait honed on the absurd shift patterns of the local press. 'At the Western Daily Press I was working from four in the afternoon until one in the morning. At the Evening Post it was from the crack of dawn until late afternoon. It was appalling hours but very exciting. I thrived under that sort of pressure,' he says.

A sense of disillusionment with the news industry haunted his early venture into the national scene, when - after a six-month spell travelling the world - he started doing shift work on a range of Sunday tabloids.

The urge to drive the content of news headlines rather than just to come up with their wording compelled him to make the jump to the PR side of the fence: 'On the backbench of the News of the World after several weekends hard at it I realised that if this was the pinnacle of my career I had made a terrible mistake'.

This realisation led Peel to apply for, and take, a job at the Central Office of Information in Bristol, where he was still living despite working shifts at Wapping. His love of action was demonstrated when he was asked a year later by a COI interviewer what he wanted to do in the future: ''I want to work in Downing Street', I told them. I then realised that the route through Whitehall to Downing Street is a long hard slog.'

The slog took him through the Department of the Environment in 1994 and two years later into the Department of Education. 'I heard a Blair speech where he said education would be the passion of his government and I thought 'well, I have to be in the department of education',' he recalls.

As if manoeuvering himself into one of the most energised departments of state was not enough, Peel also went to great lengths to ensure that of all the incoming Labour ministers, he ended up with the one reputed to be 'aggressive, demanding, and sharp' - the then schools minister Steven Byers. He worked as Byers' press secretary for two years on new Labour initiatives to raise educational standards.

The departure from the Downing Street press office of Siobhan Kenny - now communications director at NatMags - created a vacancy which Peel, after two years at education, filled. The last three years at the centre of power have given him unrivalled insight into the tricks of the high-end media relations trade, even when everything didn't quite go according to plan. Peel was the press officer on duty when the Prime Minister gave his disastrous address to the Women's Institute, which ended with slow hand-claps and booing from the predominantly Tory and rural audience.

In a way consistent with his quiet daredevil reputation, Peel was calm under pressure. According to his then colleague, now director of communications for the Labour party, Lance Price: 'He is calm but can be very determined. He always stays polite but never lets go when he has a task and tends to deliver,' says Price.

Of the barrage of criticism Peel witnessed following the WI debacle, he says: 'I had six years on board as Major's government publicly disintegrated. One day of bad headlines about the WI was not the end of the world.'

Peel is now busy putting the finishing touches to a new issues management and strategic media relations practice before offering it to the corporates.

It remains to be seen whether the consultancy lifestyle will suit the mild-mannered extreme political sportsman's love of crisis.


1990: Sub editor, News of the World

1996: Press officer, Department of Education

1998: Press officer, Downing Street

2000: Director, Shandwick Public Affairs.

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