Tom Shakespeare

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Tom Shakespeare

Shakespeare in 1994
Born (1966-05-11) 11 May 1966 (age 57)
Academic background
EducationRadley College
Alma materPembroke College, Cambridge
King's College, Cambridge
Academic work

Sir Thomas William Shakespeare, 3rd Baronet, CBE, FBA (born 11 May 1966) is an English sociologist and bioethicist. He has achondroplasia and uses a wheelchair.

Early life and education[edit]

Son of Sir William Geoffrey Shakespeare, 2nd Baronet, and Susan Mary, daughter of A. Douglas Raffel, of Colombo, Sri Lanka,[1] his grandfather, Sir Geoffrey Shakespeare, was made a baronet following long service as a Member of Parliament and in various senior government roles. While still a student, Tom was featured in a television documentary by Lord Snowdon connected to his 1976 report 'Integrating the Disabled' about his restricted growth, along with his father, a prominent medical practitioner, who was also born with achondroplasia.[2][3][4] His mother was a nurse of Sri Lankan Burgher descent.[5]

Shakespeare was educated at Radley College, Oxfordshire, taking A-levels in English, History, and History of Art; and Pembroke College, Cambridge, where he matriculated in 1984 to read Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic,[6] completing that tripos in 1986.[7] He gained a MPhil degree from King's College, Cambridge, in 1991.[8]


Appearing on After Dark in 1994

Shakespeare then lectured in sociology at the University of Sunderland from 1993 and returned to King's College in 1995 to obtain his PhD degree. His father died in 1996 and Shakespeare inherited his baronetcy, but does not use the title. He is also a campaigner for disability rights, a writer on disability, genetics and bio-ethics and was the co-author of The Sexual Politics of Disability (1996; ISBN 0-304-33329-8).[9]

He studied political science at Cambridge University. As a student, he supported liberation movements such as feminism, anti-racism and lesbian and gay rights. During his MPhil, he wrote a book about the politics of disability. He also wrote the book Disability Rights and Wrongs published by Routledge in 2006 and edited Arguing About Disability published in 2009 by Routledge.

He has worked as a research fellow at both Newcastle University and Leeds University, and has worked for the World Health Organization in Geneva. Shakespeare was a coauthor and coeditor of the 2011 World Report on Disability, published by the World Health Organization and World Bank.[10] He served as a member of the Arts Council of England between 2003 and 2008. He has presented programmes on BBC Radio 4, including A Point of View.[11]

Shakespeare giving a speech at De Montfort University in 2017

Shakespeare is (as of 2021) Professor of Disability Research in the medical faculty at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine,[12] and was previously Professor of Disability Research in the medical faculty at the University of East Anglia (UEA).[13] At UEA, he conducted research, including one regarding group singing and its beneficial effects against depression and anxiety; the findings were published in the academic journal Medical Humanities.[14]

In July 2018 Shakespeare was elected a Fellow of the British Academy.[15]

Shakespeare was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2021 Birthday Honours for services to disability research.[16]

Personal life[edit]

In 2002 Shakespeare married dancer and disability rights campaigner Caroline Bowditch.[17] By 2010 he had split with his wife and he lived in Geneva with his partner, Alana. He has two children, both of whom also have achondroplasia; his daughter Ivy is a social worker, and his son Robert is a civil servant. His first grandchild was born in 2020. Owing to a spinal cord injury in 2008, Shakespeare mainly uses a wheelchair, but with physiotherapy had regained the ability to walk with leg splints and cane.[18][19] In 2016 he featured on the ITV show 500 Questions, winning £14,000 by answering 42 out of 50 questions. He received a standing ovation for his efforts.[20] His father's maternal half-brother was Conservative politician Sir Nigel Fisher.[21]


Coat of arms of Tom Shakespeare
In front of a portcullis Sable an eagle rising grasping with the dexter claw a spear Or barbed Argent.[22]
Or on a bend between in chief a portcullis and in base an anchor Sable a spear of the field.


  1. ^ Burke's Peerage, Baronetage and Knightage, 107th edition, vol. 3, ed. Charles Mosley, Burke's Peerage Ltd, 2003, p. 3578
  2. ^ Defying Disability: The Lives and Legacies of Nine Disabled Leaders, Mary Wilkinson, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2009, pg 83
  3. ^ Kristof, Nicholas D. (4 July 2003). "Opinion | the New Eugenics". The New York Times.
  4. ^ "Pass it on » Tom Shakespeare".
  5. ^ "Biography » Tom Shakespeare". Tom Shakespeare. Retrieved 18 January 2018.
  6. ^ 'Tom Shakespeare: Academic', in Mary Wilkinson, Defying Disability: The Lives and Legacies of Nine Disabled Leaders (London: Kingsley, 2009), pp. 79-98 (at p. 83).
  7. ^ 'Appendix V. Candidates who Took the Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic Tripos between 1900 and 1999', in H. M. Chadwick and the Study of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic in Cambridge, ed. by Michael Lapidge [=Cambrian Medieval Celtic Studies, 69–70] (Aberystwyth: Department of Welsh, Aberystwyth University, 2015), pp. 257–66 (p. 264). ISBN 978-0-9557182-9-8.
  8. ^ "Biography » Tom Shakespeare". Tom Shakespeare. Retrieved 18 January 2018.
  9. ^ "Biography » Tom Shakespeare". Tom Shakespeare. Retrieved 18 January 2018.
  10. ^ World Health Organization and World Bank (2011). World Report on Disability. Geneva: World Health Organization.
  11. ^ "Parliament Roadshow". A Point of View. BBC. Retrieved 4 September 2016.
  12. ^ "Professor Tom Shakespeare FBA". Retrieved 25 March 2021.
  13. ^ "UEA website". Retrieved 21 April 2017.
  14. ^ Shakespeare, Tom; Whieldon, Alice (2018). "Sing Your Heart Out: community singing as part of mental health recovery". Medical Humanities. 44 (3): 153–157. doi:10.1136/medhum-2017-011195. PMID 29175881. S2CID 39409432. Retrieved 21 December 2017.
  15. ^ "Record number of academics elected to British Academy | British Academy". British Academy. Retrieved 22 July 2018.
  16. ^ "No. 63377". The London Gazette (Supplement). 12 June 2021. p. B10.
  17. ^ "Caroline fathoms magic of dance". The Journal. Retrieved 3 April 2017.
  18. ^ "Biography » Tom Shakespeare". Tom Shakespeare. Retrieved 18 January 2018.
  19. ^ Sue Fox (17 October 2010). "Impatient, bloody minded, stubborn... that's me and my dad". Archived from the original on 26 August 2016. Retrieved 3 April 2017.
  20. ^ "500 Questions - Episode 4". ITV Hub. 28 August 2016. Archived from the original on 28 August 2016.
  21. ^ Burke's Peerage, Baronetage and Knightage, 107th edition, vol. 3, ed. Charles Mosley, Burke's Peerage Ltd, 2003, p. 3578
  22. ^ Burke's Peerage. 1949.

External links[edit]

Baronetage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by Baronet
(of Lakenham)