Tim Bell, the public relations guru who played a central role in Margaret Thatcher’s three successful general election campaigns, died surrounded by his family, at his London Belgravia home, on Sunday 25th August.
The spin doctor, one of the founders of the public relations firm Bell Pottinger, known for his involvement in the Tories “Labour isn’t working” campaign, died following an illness. He had suffered from cancer and diabetes, and in 2001 underwent a triple heart bypass. A PR giant of the old school, and an 80 a day smoker, he believed in long lunches, and staying at the best hotels.
His clients ranged from Boris Yeltsin to Andrew Lloyd Webber, although he also became deeply involved in the representation of dictatorships and others of high profile such as the Pinochet Foundation and the governments of Bahrain and Egypt. Tim Bell said, “We do communications work. If people want to communicate their argument we take the view that they are allowed to do so.”
Bell Pottinger, the company he had run for 28 years, went into administration in 2017.
Born in north London, Tim Bell was a grammar school student who first went to work as a post boy for ABC television, but then took several jobs in advertising agencies before Joining Charles and Maurice Saatchi at the age of 29, as they were starting their eponymous advertising agency.
He was given a knighthood by Lady Margaret Thatcher, and a life peerage by former Prime Minister Tony Blair. He set up a new PR business called Sans Frontières, after resigning in 2016 as the chairman of Bell Pottinger, a departure that he linked to the company’s work in South Africa. He was inducted into the PR Week Hall of Fame in 2016.
Conor Burns, Minister of State at the Department for International Trade, described Lord Bell as a communications genius, who put his talent to great use by helping Lady Thatcher communicate her message.
As recently as this summer, he continued to be involved in politics, when he wrote to all Conservative MPs, urging them to back Boris Johnson in the party’s leadership contest.
Lord Bell’s former business partner, Piers Pottinger, described him as a pioneer in political communication, an amazing advertising executive and the most brilliant public relations strategist.
“Tim was a devoted family man and passionate supporter of the Conservative party, most famously helping Margaret Thatcher win three general elections. He was my business partner for over 30 years, during which time Tim developed and led a company which became a major force in the marketing communications business internationally. He was an inspiration to everyone who worked with him. Most importantly to me, he was always a true and loyal friend. Nobody can replace him.”
Francis Ingham, the Director General of the Public Relations and Communications Association said: “Of all those who can be said to have made the modern PR industry, Tim Bell stood pre-eminent, an undisputed giant who proved the power of communication.”
He was married to Lady Jackie Bell and had two children, Harry and Daisy.