Profile: Charlie Whelan, Press Secretary to Gordon Brown - Gordon Brown’s fiercest ally/Behind the Iron Chancellor is a press secretary with balls of steel

Together with Peter Mandelson, Alastair Campbell and David Hill, Charlie Whelan belongs to the spin quartet that propelled Labour to power in May. But, although Mandelson and Campbell have both been well-known figures for some time, Whelan has only recently started to gain a media profile of his own.

Together with Peter Mandelson, Alastair Campbell and David Hill,

Charlie Whelan belongs to the spin quartet that propelled Labour to

power in May. But, although Mandelson and Campbell have both been

well-known figures for some time, Whelan has only recently started to

gain a media profile of his own.



In his capacity as press adviser to Gordon Brown he is a key member of

the Treasury team. Quite how important and central his role is became

apparent in the two-part Network First fly-on-the-wall documentary on

Brown and his advisers which concluded on ITV on Tuesday last week. The

documentary showed Whelan at his outspoken, expansive best. Even

capturing him saying to camera - with a touch of bravado worthy of Ian

Richardson in House of Cards: ’You have to be economical with the truth

sometimes’.



His arrival at the Treasury was soon followed by the departure of its

press office head Jill Rutter. Media matters, it became clear from day

one, were to be handled the Whelan way.



’He’s a terrifically important player,’ says Guardian financial editor

Alex Brummer. ’He has more control of information coming out of the

Treasury than any of his predecessors.



Whelan is single-minded and fiercely loyal to Brown. Seldom one to shirk

confrontation, Whelan has made his share of enemies within the Labour

Party. But at the same time he has also won a great deal of respect for

his media skills. He himself admits to an ’obsession’ with the media, a

factor that helps drive him through the long and intense days he puts in

working for Brown.



’He’s professional to his fingertips, 16 hours a day, seven days a

week,’ says one journalist who has known Whelan for a decade. ’He always

thinks ahead and doesn’t miss an opportunity.



’He just doesn’t fear anyone and can be pretty ferocious. If he thinks

somebody has crossed him or treated Gordon unfairly he’ll cross the

street to hit them. But he can be incredibly charming - and doesn’t hold

grudges ... for more than a couple of years!’



After studying politics at City of London Polytechnic and a brief stint

in the City, Whelan began his career proper at the Amalgamated

Engineering and Electrical Union where he was taken under the wing of

Jimmy Airlie, a hero of the 1971 Upper Clyde Shipbuilders dispute. He

learnt the art of tough negotiation in disputes with multinational

corporations such as Ford, before switching to a press capacity where he

saw to it that Bill Jordan and Gavin Laird were among the most high

profile union leaders in the country.



His talents caught the eye of Mandelson who tipped him for the job with

Brown. Today there is said to be some ’creative tension’ in his

relationship with Mandelson, although he is understood to get on well

with Campbell.



Whelan is quick to deny the suggestion that it was he who engineered the

’chance’ discovery by photographers of the Chancellor having dinner with

his fiancee Sarah Macaulay. ’I don’t engineer things and I’d never do

anything like that,’ says Whelan innocently. But rarely has a denial

sounded to my ears so much like a tongue-in-cheek affirmation. Only Tim

Bell does this sort of thing better.



Whelan has been described as a ’charmer with a knife’, a man unafraid to

rough it up if his silver tongue lets him down. But he is also very good

on detail. Brown values his input and his thoroughness - whether that be

checking with Clare Short to make sure she would not be offended by a

joke the Chancellor was planning to make at her expense, or arranging

for the podium at Millbank to be brought to the Treasury to add gravitas

to Brown’s announcement on the future of the Bank of England.



Aside from his passion for politics Whelan is an avid Tottenham Hotspur

fan. To his chagrin, bitter rivals Arsenal are riding high in the

Premiership while his team languishes in its lower reaches and is the

butt of criticism.



Spurs manager Gerry Francis may have the glamorous David Ginola and Les

Ferdinand to call upon but right now he probably wishes he had Charlie

Whelan in his team too.



HIGHLIGHTS

1980

Foreign exchange dealer

1981

Researcher and assistant to Jimmy Airlie, Amalgamated Engineering and

Electrical Union

1992

Press secretary to Gordon Brown



Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in

Would you like to post a comment?

Please Sign in or register.