BBC Home
Explore the BBC
BBC News
Launch consoleBBC NEWS CHANNEL
Last Updated: Friday, 19 August 2005, 09:02 GMT 10:02 UK
Obituary: Mo Mowlam
Mo Mowlam
Mo Mowlam: Witty and engaging
Mo Mowlam's straight talking and easy-going nature made her one of New Labour's most popular faces. As Northern Ireland Secretary, she oversaw the negotiations which led to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Once described as a "national treasure", Marjorie "Mo" Mowlam was mischievous, outspoken and famously touchy-feely.

All these characteristics endeared her to people of all political persuasions, and made her one of the UK's most charismatic and popular political figures.


Born in 1949, she became active in Labour politics at a young age and, after working as a university lecturer, she entered the House of Commons in 1987 as MP for Redcar.

Mo Mowlam in the late 1980s
The new MP: Mo Mowlam in the late 1980s
A loyal Blairite from the earliest days - she was among the first to join Tony Blair's leadership campaign - Mo Mowlam entered the Cabinet as Northern Ireland secretary after Labour's 1997 election victory.

In the following years she showed both personal and political courage.

Treatment for a brain tumour, a condition she kept from the press for some time, caused her hair to fall out and contributed to her gaining weight.

Indeed, one journalist unkindly suggested she looked like a Geordie trucker.

Standing ovation

However, once Ms Mowlam's illness became public knowledge, the press, which had once taunted her for her looks, soon hailed her as a heroine.

As Northern Ireland secretary, she displayed another type of courage, by defying her advisers and visiting loyalist inmates at the Maze prison during the talks leading up to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Mo Mowlam with Peter Mandelson
Mo Mowlam with Peter Mandelson, her successor in Northern Ireland
In the tortuous discussions leading up to the signing of the agreement, Mo Mowlam relieved the tension by famously removing her wig.

In the months following the agreement, Mo Mowlam's reputation hit its highest point.

She received a standing ovation at the 1998 Labour Party conference and was even talked of as a possible successor to Tony Blair.

Success in Northern Ireland should have led to a series of high profile cabinet jobs.

Courted controversy

In fact, Ms Mowlam lost her Northern Ireland job in 1999 to Peter Mandelson - despite declaring publicly that she was not ready to go - and she moved to the Cabinet Office, a demotion in all but name.

There were accusations of a whispering campaign against her - questions about her health and abilities - and in 2001 she retired from politics.

Mo Mowlam speaking at the 2000 Labour Party conference
Mo Mowlam speaking at the 2000 Labour Party conference
Out of politics, she became a familiar face on television chat shows and presented a number of TV documentaries.

Her autobiography pulled no punches, especially about the ending of her tenure in Northern Ireland.

This was a woman who courted controversy at will, on one occasion suggesting the Royals should move out of Buckingham Palace

She never lost her habit of plain speaking and irreverence and, long after leaving Westminster, she retained the admiration and affection of high-profile friends, including the former US president, Bill Clinton.


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific