Shed a tear for loving Tessa

Shed a tear for loving Tessa


norman lebrecht

May 13, 2018

Tessa Jowell, who died today of brain cancer at the age of 70, was Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport in the Blair Government for six years, 2001 to 2007.

Unlike most holders of that office, she loved going out.

You would see her at concerts and theatre her eyes alight with excitement. Backstage, she would tell artists how much they are loved. A party loyalist who once said she would throw herself under a bus if it helped Tony Blair, she did not hesitate to pose with political enemies – here with David Cameron on the Beatles crossing – if its served her cause, in this case winning the Olympics for London.

Her end was swift, sad and – as so often with Tessa – geared to the public good. Stricken with brain cancer, she made a heart-rending speech to the House of Lords urging better care for patients and more effort to beat the cancer blight.

I last saw her at a mutual friend’s house a few days before the Brexit referendum. Her party had fallen into extremist hands and she feared and loathed the coming Brexit victory, but Tessa was upbeat as ever, bubbling over about her teaching post at Harvard and quizzing me about what was cooking in the music world. She bore rancour to no-one and saw hope where others saw only darkness.

God rest her good soul.



  • Lawrence Kershaw says:

    Lovely comments, Norman and I am sure will be shared by all those in the arts. She was a rare beast.

  • Michael Endres says:

    A truly couragious and inspiring woman.
    Here is the link to her speech at the House of Lords


    Fine and deserved words. Few politicians have one achievement to match Sure Start or the triumphant delivery of the Olympics to the their name; and that she oversaw both means that her name will endure with honour in the history of this nation. Besides which, by all accounts she was a person of rare warmth and integrity.

    Just one slightly pedantic gripe is the word “enemies.” She had “opponents”: but as was very clear from the debate on cancer in the House of Commons last month, she had no enemies – in any party.

  • David Lloyd says:

    I have known Tessa Jowell since the 1980s and public service was in her DNA. She was warm and empathy was at her core. A rare politician with a hinterland and people skills that went beyond electioneering.

  • Martin Atherton says:

    This is a beautiful, moving and fitting tribute – thank you for setting it down.