Virginia Bottomley

Virginia Hilda Brunette Maxwell Bottomley, Baroness Bottomley of Nettlestone, PC, DL is a British Conservative Party politician and headhunter. She was a Member of Parliament in the House of Commons from 1984 to 2005. She was raised to the peerage in 2005.

Early life and career

Virginia Hilda Brunette Maxwell Garnett was born in Dunoon, Scotland, to Barbara Rutherford-Smith, a teacher and elected Conservative member of the Inner London Education Authority and W. John Garnett CBE, former director of what was then called The Industrial Society, grandson of physicist and educational adviser William Garnett. Her paternal aunt was Labour Greater London Council Member Margaret Jay. She first met Peter Bottomley, her future husband, when she was 12 years old; they wed in 1967.
Bottomley was educated at Putney High School, an independent school for girls in Putney in southwest London, before going up to the University of Essex to study sociology. She later graduated from the London School of Economics with the degree of Master of Arts.
She began her working life as a social scientist, researcher for Child Poverty Action Group, social worker, magistrate, and Chairman of the Inner London Juvenile Court.

Member of Parliament and in government

After unsuccessfully contesting the Isle of Wight in the 1983 general election, she was elected to Parliament with 21,545 votes in a by-election in 1984, as the Member for South West Surrey, was PPS to Chris Patten and then to Foreign Secretary Sir Geoffrey Howe, received her first ministerial position in 1988 as a Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department of the Environment and was appointed Minister of State at the Department of Health in 1989. She was appointed a member of the Privy Council upon joining John Major's Cabinet as Secretary of State for Health in 1992 and served until 1995. She was the ninth woman in the British cabinet.
She then served as Secretary of State for National Heritage from 1995 to 1997. After the 1997 general election, she returned to the backbenches, and become a headhunter at Odgers, where she now chairs the company's Board & CEO Practice.


She stepped down from the House of Commons when the 2005 general election was called. On 24 June 2005 she was created a life peer with the title Baroness Bottomley of Nettlestone, of St Helens in the County of Isle of Wight, the parish where she was baptised and celebrated her marriage.

Personal life

Bottomley is involved with charitable and academic bodies in addition to business. She was on the founding Council of the University of the Arts, London. She is also a Council Member of the Ditchley Foundation and was President of Farnham Castle, Centre for International Briefing. From 2000 until May 2012 she has sat on the Supervisory Board of Akzo Nobel. She was a non-executive director of Bupa, a healthcare company. She is on the Advisory Council of the International Chamber of Commerce UK and was for the Judge School of Management, Cambridge. Bottomley has been a trustee and is a fellow of the Industry and Parliament Trust. She was National President of the Abbeyfield Society and a Vice-Patron of Carers and of Cruse Bereavement Care. She was a lay canon of Guildford Cathedral, and a Freeman of the City of London.
In 2006, she was elected and installed as Chancellor of the University of Hull, succeeding Lord Armstrong of Ilminster in April 2006. She was also appointed a Deputy Lieutenant of Surrey in March of that year and Sheriff of Hull in 2013.
Virginia Garnett married Sir Peter Bottomley in 1967, after the birth of their eldest child; since 1975 he has been an MP. They live in Westminster and Milford, Surrey; they have three children, Cecilia, Adela and Joshua and eight grandchildren.
During her time in Prime Minister John Major's cabinet, the satirical puppet show Spitting Image often portrayed Major as having an unrequited crush on Bottomley; years later, it was revealed that Major was having an affair with Edwina Currie at the time.
Bottomley's family includes many figures in politics and public life. Her brother, Christopher Garnett, was the chief executive of train operating company GNER. Her aunt Pauline married Roland Hunt who is not, contrary to persistent false rumour, connected to Sir Nicholas Hunt, father to Jeremy Hunt who succeeded her as MP.
Her cousins include Peter Jay, and Lord Hunt of Chesterton.
More distant relatives include Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay, and Baron Jay of Ewelme .
Dame Julia Cleverdon married Bottomley's late father, John. Her husband's niece is Kitty Ussher.