Cover 9781849546041

For fifty years Shirley Williams has been one of Britain’s best-known and best-loved politicians, admired for her warmth, sincerity, integrity and compassion. Hailing from an impeccable intellectual background, the young Shirley seemed destined for great things as she rose effortlessly up the political ladder. Yet for all the talk of her becoming the country’s first female Prime Minister that accolade passed her by, her feisty independence earning her a career that has been anything but perpetual sunshine. In this first-ever biography, Mark Peel explores the dilemma that has faced Williams throughout the highs and lows of her political life: how to tread the line between firmly held principles and party solidarity. Drawing on his unfettered access to the family archive and conversations with Williams’s colleagues, Peel skilfully teases out the contradictions at the heart of this remarkable character.

Shirley Williams: The Biography reveals the surprisingly vulnerable figure behind the reassuring public façade. It uncovers the expectations placed on Williams by her highly ambitious parents, her guilt about her privileged background, and her often tumultuous personal relationships. The result is a touching, intimate portrait of one of the most complex and popular politicians of our time, a woman who through good times and bad has retained her essential humanity.


Mark Peel has given the reader a most perceptive insight into the personality of someone who is probably the UK’s favourite politician...

Sir Menzies Campbell MP, former leader of the Liberal Democrats

A readable and perceptive account...

Rt Hon. Peter Riddell CBE, Director of the Institute for Government

[A] fascinating, fine and sensitive biography.

Lord Hennessy, Attlee Professor of Contemporary British History

[An] Admirable autobiography.


Mark Peel is a sensitive biographer, and this book is very good on the woman behind the public façade and the dilemmas she faced, not only as a mother and a wife, but also as a politician, and why she has never quite achieved what was expected of her.

The Good Book Guide

The author recounts a life which began in the shadow of her parents…and which proceeded through the bear pit of British politics while still maintaining her humanity.

Cheshire Life

Mark Peel organises his serviceable authorised biography of Shirley Williams around an ostensible conundrum.

London Review of Books

Mark Peel’s biography of Shirley Williams is sympathetic, well written and well researched.

Vince Cable, The New Statesman
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  • ISBN: 9781849546478
  • 17 September 2013
  • £18.99

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