The York schoolboy who became ‘Britain’s most powerful man’ has died

Sir Jeremy Heywood with the Queen and Prince Philip in 2015. Photograph: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire
4 Nov 2018 @ 1.11 pm
| News, Politics

The man who rose from a York education to the role of Britain’s most powerful unelected man has died.

Senior figures from across the political spectrum have paid tribute to Sir Jeremy Heywood, the former head of the Civil Service who served four prime ministers, after his death at the age of 56.

Sir Jeremy was born in Glossop. His father Peter was head of English at Bootham School, and Jeremy was educated there.

‘A pupil of vast abilities’

Sir Jeremy after was made a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath in 2012. Photograph: John Stillwell / PA Wire
Michael Allen taught him history and cricket at Bootham. Writing in the school magazine when the former student was appointed Cabinet Secretary in 2011 Mr Allen recalled:

  • Those of us lucky enough to teach him remember a pupil of vast abilities.

    Jeremy was respected and liked for his sense of humour, independence of thought, integrity and discretion.

    It is possible to wonder whether Bootham, with its tolerance, its encouragement of the individual and its aim of bringing out the best in all its pupils, may have helped him to respond positively and thoughtfully to the variety of people and pressures around him.

Mr Allen told the BBC: ” He didn’t flaunt himself but he had the extraordinary knack of getting to know everybody and responding to different sorts of people.”

Rise to the top

Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood (top left back row) with the cabinet as it was in September 2016. Photograph: Zoe Norfolk / Downing Street / PA Wire
Jeremy became head boy of the school before gaining a first in history and economics at Oxford University.

After working in the Treasury, Jeremy was selected to work with Norman Lamont, then Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Sir Jeremy had been Cabinet Secretary since 2012 and previously served as principal private secretary to prime ministers Blair and Brown, chief of staff to Mr Brown and Downing Street permanent secretary to David Cameron.

He revealed earlier this year that he had been diagnosed with cancer in June 2017, but remained in post during a summer of political upheaval triggered by the shock general election result.


The announcement of his death came just days after he had retired after decades as one of Whitehall’s most senior mandarins in roles that led to him being regarded as a key behind-the-scenes influence in the shaping of modern Britain.

Prime Minister Theresa May hailed his impact on the country, saying: “The many retirement tributes paid to Jeremy from across the political spectrum in recent weeks demonstrated his extraordinary talent supporting and advising prime ministers and ministers, and leading the Civil Service with distinction.”

Former prime minister Tony Blair said Sir Jeremy had been “a quite outstanding public servant and someone I came to have enormous respect for both as a professional and as a person”.

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