Des Wilson

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Des Wilson (born 5 March 1941)[1] is a New Zealand born British campaigner, political activist, businessman, sports administrator, author and poker player. He was one of the founders of the British homelessness charity Shelter and was for a while an activist in, and President of, the British Liberal Party.


From a working-class family in New Zealand, Wilson attended Waitaki Boys' High School, leaving at 15 to become a reporter on the local newspaper. After periods working for the Otago Daily Times and the Evening Star in Dunedin, and the Melbourne Star[citation needed] in Melbourne, Australia, Wilson moved to the United Kingdom in 1960 at the age of 19.

Over the next few years he took a range of jobs before becoming a journalist.[2] He became the founding director of the housing charity Shelter in 1966,[3] and then became a columnist for The Observer newspaper. He also spent two years as director of public affairs for the Royal Shakespeare Company.[4] He edited the magazine Social Work Today for the British Association of Social Workers. He then returned to campaigning, running Friends of the Earth and the Campaign for Freedom of Information and CLEAR, the Campaign for Lead Free Air.

Des Wilson in 1987 as president of the Liberal party, holding as symbol of his office a copy of John Milton's Areopagitica

In December 1968, Wilson was Michael Parkinson's 'castaway' on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs.[5]

In many ways an anti-establishment radical, he joined the Liberal Party in order to stand in the 1973 Hove by-election. Although unsuccessful, he stayed involved in the Liberal Party and in 1986 he became its President, a position which allowed him to act as its Campaign Director in the 1987 General Election. He later wrote a book, The Battle For Power, about the strained relationship between the Liberals and the Social Democratic Party (SDP) during that campaign, the last general election fought as the SDP–Liberal Alliance. He was an enthusiastic supporter of the merger between the two parties in 1988 and became Campaign Manager for the new party the Liberal Democrats under Paddy Ashdown in the 1992 General Election.[6]

Somewhat disillusioned with party politics after that campaign, Wilson then moved on to become Director of Corporate and Public Affairs for BAA plc. He became chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board's corporate affairs and marketing committee in 2003,[7] but resigned in 2004 over the controversy related to England touring Zimbabwe.[8]


  • Wilson, Des (1983). The Lead Scandal. Ashgate. ISBN 0-435-83946-2.
  • Wilson, Des (1984). Secrets File: The Case for Freedom of Information in Britain Today. Heinemann Educ. ISBN 0-435-83939-X.
  • Wilson, Des (1984). The Environmental Crisis: A Handbook for All Friends of the Earth. Ashgate. ISBN 0-435-83944-6.
  • Wilson, Des; Andrews, Leighton (1994). Campaigning: The A to Z of Public Advocacy. Thorogood. ISBN 1-85418-036-3.
  • Wilson, Des (2006). Swimming with the Devilfish... Under the Surface of Professional Poker. Macmillan. ISBN 1-4050-8952-0.
  • Wilson, Des (2007). Ghosts at the Table: The amazing story of Poker... the world's most popular game. Mainstream Publishing. ISBN 9781845962081.
  • Wilson, Des (3 March 2011). Memoirs of a Minor Public Figure (Hardcover ed.). Quartet Books. ISBN 978-0704372054.


  1. ^ "Birthdays", The Guardian, p. 39, 2014
  2. ^ prelims2.qxd
  3. ^ "When she needed Shelter, you were there". The Independent. London. 2 September 1996. Retrieved 18 August 2010.
  4. ^ "Pan Macmillan biography". Archived from the original on 16 October 2006. Retrieved 12 June 2006.
  5. ^ Presenter: Roy Plomley (9 December 1968). "Des Wilson". Desert Island Discs. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 23 September 2016.
  6. ^ Holden, Anthony (11 June 2006). "Straight-up guys". The Observer. London. Retrieved 11 August 2008.
  7. ^ Stern, John (February 2004). "Des Wilson – Power broker". ESPNcrickinfo. ESPN Sports Media Ltd. Retrieved 22 January 2015.
  8. ^ "Tour row claims ECB scalp". BBC Sport. 28 April 2004. Retrieved 22 January 2015.


External links[edit]

Party political offices
Preceded by
David Penhaligon
President of the Liberal Party
Succeeded by
Adrian Slade