John Leahy

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Person.png John Leahy  Rdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
(diplomat, deep state operative)
John Leahy.jpg
BornJohn Henry Gladstone Leahy
7 February 1928
Worthing, Sussex, UK
Died17 November 2015 (Age 87)
Alma materTonbridge School, Clare College (Cambridge), Yale
Member ofLe Cercle
UK diplomat with "a safe pair of hands"

Employment.png Diplomat Wikipedia-icon.png

In office
1952 - 1988
EmployerHM Diplomatic Service

Sir John Leahy was a senior British diplomat who was UK Ambassador to South Africa from 1979 to 1982, and British High Commissioner to Australia from 1984 to 1988. He became Chairman of Lonrho in 1994 after Tiny Rowland was forced out.[1]

Early career

John Leahy attended Tonbridge School, Clare College (Cambridge) and Yale University. After National Service in the Royal Air Force, Leahy joined the Foreign Office in 1952 at the age of 24. He began his career with a position in the Central Department as "Desk Officer", responsible for dealing with the Soviet zone of post WWII Germany (i.e., "East Germany" and occupied Austria).


Leahy was appointed Assistant Private Secretary to the Minister of State Selwyn Lloyd in 1953. His first overseas posting was to Singapore in 1955 as Third, later Second Secretary. He returned to Western Department in the Foreign Office in 1957 and was posted to Paris in 1958 as Second, later First Secretary (Commercial). He joined the Joint Intelligence Staff, FO, in 1962 and went as Head of Chancery to Tehran in 1965. Promoted to Counsellor, Personnel Department of the FCO in 1968 he became Head of Personnel Services Department in 1969. Two years later, when Alec Douglas-Home was Foreign Secretary, Leahy was appointed Head of News Department, FCO. He was posted as Counsellor and Head of Chancery to Paris in 1973. He was seconded for a time to the Northern Ireland Office as Under-Secretary of State and returned to the FCO as Assistant Under-Secretary of State in 1977. Leahy was appointed Ambassador to South Africa (1979-82) and subsequently became the FCO's Deputy Under-Secretary of State (DUSS) for Africa and the Middle East. His last diplomatic appointment was as High Commissioner to Australia (1984-88).[2]

Sensitive assignments

Regarded as having "a safe pair of hands", Leahy carried out a number of sensitive assignments on behalf of the British government, and came face to face with leading political figures of the day. For example, in April 1984, he was sent to Jamba in Angola to secure the release of 16 Britons who had been taken hostage by the Angolan rebel leader, Jonas Savimbi. At the time, Savimbi's UNITA guerrilla movement was financed and supported militarily by the apartheid regime in South Africa. The mission was successful and Leahy brought the captives back to London.[3]

Post FCO

After his retirement from HM Diplomatic Service, Leahy held several non-executive appointments, including being a director of the Observer newspaper (owned by Tiny Rowland), before joining Lonrho as a non-executive director in October 1993. He became Chairman in November 1994 when Rowland was forced out.[4] In 1997 Leahy was succeeded by Sir John Craven.

Book Publication

Life of Spice is a book written by Sir John Leahy, published in 2006. The book includes details of his life prior to becoming a career diplomat. It also extensively includes details of his later appointments and travels as Ambassador to South Africa, Deputy Under-Secretary for Africa and the Middle East (including a specific chapter regarding his position in Tehran, Iran as Head of Chancery), and as High Commissioner in Australia. It contains many original photographs and noteworthy mention of his extensive travels, including both personal and professional aspects of his life. It also contains detailed descriptions regarding some of the operations and conflicts in which he was engaged around the world.

Sir John Leahy was invited as a guest speaker by the School of International Studies (SIS) at the "University of the Pacific" in Stockton, CA. Marjorie Chase, International Editor for the Pacifican newspaper (1990-1991) took the rare opportunity to personally interview him. She published a brief article about him in the Pacifican. Regarding the interview, she states, "I found him to have been a fascinating man, fully professional, but quite down to earth." As Miss Chase was also educated at a British institution of higher learning (Worcester College (Oxford)), she enjoyed sharing an inside understanding of Britain's unique culture. At the time of the interview, Chase was pursuing a degree at U.O.P. in International Affairs and Commerce and was quite involved in news coverage of Middle East affairs of Iran, Iraq, Kuwait and other Middle East countries (especially as his visit was during the height of the Iraq/Kuwait invasion), so she considered this interview to be an exclusive privilege.

He died on 17 November 2015 at the age of 87.[5]


Leahy and his wife Anne had four children.

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  • A Life of Spice published 12 December 2006 [1]
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