Tim Bell

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Person.png Tim Bell   Powerbase SourcewatchRdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
(propagandist, businessman)
Lord Bell of Belgravia.jpg
BornTimothy John Leigh Bell
Founder ofBell Pottinger
Interestspublic relations
Chair of Bell Pottinger

Employment.png Chairman

In office
1987 - Present
EmployerBell Pottinger

Lord Timothy "Tim" Bell (ennobled in 1998 as Lord Bell of Belgravia) is a British advertising and public relations executive, best known for his advisory role in Margaret Thatcher's three successful General Election campaigns.


Tim Bell began his career in 1959 at Colman Prentis and Varley and, after stints with Hobson Bates and Geers Gross, he helped form Saatchi & Saatchi in 1970, where he was Chief Executive and later International Chairman. Bell left in 1985, by which time Saatchi & Saatchi was the number one agency network in the world. Bell joined the Lowe Group (part of Interpublic) as Deputy Chairman and led an MBO of the communications division Lowe Bell Communications, which became Bell Pottinger in 1987. The firm was renamed Chime Communications when it was floated on the London Stock Exchange in 1994. Bell continued as Chairman of Bell Pottinger Private Communications Ltd, when it separated from Chime in 2012 following a management buy-out.

Knighted in 1990 after nomination by Margaret Thatcher, Sir Tim Bell was made a Life Peer in 1998 after nomination by Tony Blair as Lord Bell of Belgravia. Chairman of the Conservative Party's Keep the £ Campaign, Lord Bell serves on various arts and public administration bodies. On 8 April 2013, it was Lord Bell who officially announced the news of Lady Thatcher's death. In August 2014, Bell joined the board of trustees for the Brazzaville Foundation which, through conflict resolution, aims to bring political and social stability to African countries.[1]

Thatcher years

Tim Bell was Political Adviser to Margaret Thatcher from 1976 to 1990. In that time he successfully ran the publicity campaigns for the Conservative Party for the General Elections in 1979, 1983 and 1987. In 1979, he created the Labour Isn't Working campaign and advised the future Prime Minister on interview techniques, clothing, and even hairstyle choices. He also courted newspaper editors and worked on devastating attacks on the Labour Party.

In 1984 Bell was seconded to the National Coal Board to advise its Chairman Ian Macgregor on media strategy at the start of the UK miners' strike. He worked on media relations and helped set the terms of the negotiations and course of government policy. He also advised P & O on the seamen’s strike and Rupert Murdoch on the print union strike.

He was an advisor to Republicans Abroad for Ronald Reagan’s two presidential elections.

International work

Sir Tim Bell advised F. W. de Klerk in the post-apartheid election of 1994 in South Africa. He advised Boris Yeltsin in Russia's second presidential election of 1995. He advised Mahathir Mohamad, the Prime Minister of Malaysia, for sixteen years from 1997.[2] He has recently advised Jacques Chirac in France, John Howard in Australia, Eddie Fenech Adami in Malta, Thaksin Shinawatra in Thailand, Hassanal Bolkiah, Sultan of Brunei, Mayor Yury Luzhkov in Moscow, Benita Ferrero-Waldener in Austria, President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua in Nigeria, the Rose Revolution in Georgia and the Orange Revolution in Ukraine.

Litvinenko affair

Bell, a friend of Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky, handled the media attention behind poisoned Russian ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko, who died in hospital 23 November 2006. Bell Pottinger Public Affairs (BPPA) distributed a photograph showing a hairless Litvinenko in his hospital bed. The PR Agency also offered advice to relatives of Litvinenko and his spokesman Alexander Goldfarb.[3]

Al Yamamah

In December 2006, Lord Bell successfully lobbied on behalf of the Saudi government to discontinue the Serious Fraud Office investigation into alleged bribes in the Al Yamamah arms deal.[4]

Access to the PM

In late 2011, Bell's lobbying interests were investigated by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism for The Independent newspaper which reported claims that the company attempts to interfere with Google results to "drown" out coverage of human rights abuses, that his employees had altered Wikipedia entries to create a better impression of clients and had easy access (via former Conservative MP Tim Collins) to the Cameron government and others overseas.[5] Bell-Pottinger, via a sting operation, were found to be willing to work for the authoritarian regime in Uzbekistan. Bell launched an internal inquiry, but believed he had been singled out for his connection with Mrs Thatcher.[6]

Christmases at Chequers

In a December 2014 interview with The Telegraph, Lord Bell described Christmases spent with the Thatchers at Chequers as "sort of horrible". He recalled attending twelve such parties during her time in office. Presents were not exchanged, there were no fun traditions like the wearing of Christmas jumpers, playing silly games or singing carols, and children were banned from the festivities altogether.

Instead, the day was centred around the Queen’s speech, with Lady Thatcher glowering at anyone who interrupted the broadcast by coughing or even moving in their seats. In extracts from his memoir, "Right Or Wrong", which appear in The Times, Lord Bell told how he and his wife Virginia’s hearts would sink when the formal invitation arrived, adding that he had to get special permission one year to bring their three-month-old baby along. Once there, guests including the Thatchers’ children, Mark and Carol, Jeffrey Archer, Alistair McAlpine and John Gummer, the former Cabinet ministers, would arrive after church and gather in the central hallway of Chequers to eat nibbles such as Twiglets and drink “ordinary” champagne. Christmas lunch was shrimp cocktail followed by turkey. The “fantastic” Denis Thatcher would keep everyone’s glasses topped up, and while Mark Thatcher would be “whingeing” about what had been in the newspapers, Carol Thatcher would spend the day “trying to avoid having a row with her mother.”

Political discussion was banned, so conversation centred around television, including Lady Thatcher’s favourite programmes of The Morecambe and Wise Christmas Special and Yes Minister. Lord Bell wrote: “Was it fun; was it jolly? No, of course not. It was trying and traditional and terribly polite. And sort of horrible, really." Lord Bell added that the claim by Jimmy Savile, the BBC star and serial child sex attacker, to have spent 11 Christmases with the Thatchers at Chequers was untrue. “People make up such rubbish,” he said.[7]