In the 1970s Burnside served as press officer for the Vanguard Progressive Unionist Party. After the collapse of Vanguard he joined the Ulster Unionists, but took a back seat from politics for many years while working as a prominent public relations consultant based in London.
He is currently the chairman of New Century Media.
In 1984 David Burnside was recruited by the British Airways Chairman Lord King to become the company's head of public relations. In this role Burnside is widely acknowledged to have become one of the most powerful PR men in Britain, speaking for King, administering a £5,000,000 budget and receiving numerous PR awards both in the UK and around the world.
His success is perhaps overshadowed by the nature of his departure. British Airways was witnessing the emergence of a dangerous rival, Richard Branson's Virgin Atlantic. Virgin, which began with one route and one Boeing 747 in 1984 was beginning to emerge as a serious threat on some of BA's most lucrative routes.
Following a highly publicized mission of mercy to Iraq to fly home hostages who had been held by Saddam Hussein in 1991, Lord King is reported to have told Burnside and CEO Colin Marshall to "do something about Branson". This began the campaign of "dirty tricks", masterminded by Burnside, which ended in Branson suing King and British Airways for libel in 1992. King countersued Branson and the case went to trial in 1993. British Airways, faced with likely defeat, settled the case giving £500,000 to Branson and a further £110,000 to his airline; further, BA was to pay the legal fees of up to £3,000,000.
It was an article written by Burnside (given legal clearance) in BA News, the company's in house newsletter, that prompted Branson's legal action. In January 1993, following the settlement and investigations by BA's lawyers the board decided to sack Burnside. He was awarded a settlement of approximately £400,000 and free first class travel on BA for four years.
Return to politics
He was selected to fight defend the South Antrim constituency for the Ulster Unionists in a by-election in 2000, but narrowly lost to the Democratic Unionist Party.
However he reversed this defeat in the 2001 British general election. Along with Jeffrey Donaldson (MP) and the Rev. Martin Smyth (MP), Burnside became an outspoken critic of his party leader, David Trimble's support for the Good Friday Agreement, arguing that Provisional IRA slow pace of decommissioning its arms meant that Sinn Féin should not be allowed to serve in the power-sharing government.
In 2003 Burnside, Donaldson and Smyth resigned the UUP whip in the House of Commons, launching a strong attack on Trimble's leadership. The trio successfully fought off attempts to discipline them using the courts and in November 2003 both Burnside and Donaldson were elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly. However Burnside declined to follow Donaldson when he resigned from the Ulster Unionist Party in December 2003. In 2005 he lost his Westminster Parliamentary seat.
Supporters of Burnside see him as a potential future leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, however he declined to contest the 2005 leadership election.
In 1993, the same year he was fired from British Airways, Burnside set up David Burnside Associates and in 1998 he set up New Century Media. Lord Bell, the chairman of Bell Pottinger Associates, said of Burnside, "He met so many people that he realised he had an untouchable black book and he had a much better understanding of what goes on behind the headlines".
Burnside advises the Firtash Foundation, owned by the Ukrainian billionaire Dmytro Firtash, a supporter of the ousted president and ally of Putin Viktor Yanukovych. In 2012 Burnside was given a £900,000-a-year contract for reputation management, personal introductions to individuals within politics and support for his passport application for Vladimir Makhlai, a Russian billionaire who fled to Britain after being charged with financial crimes in 2005 and had the charges dropped in 2010. Burnside sued when Makhlai stopped paying and won a £500,000 ruling from the high court.
Dinner with ministers
Details of the attendees and seating plans of the Conservative's 2013 summer ball, an event where tickets cost up to £12,000 each and allows attendees to sit at the table with ministers, were leaked by the Guardian. Burnside hosted a table at the event, which included one of Vladimir Putin's aides Vasily Shestakov, Tim Lewin, a consultant at New Century Media and John Whittingdale MP. At the ball, Burnside personally introduced Shestakov to David Cameron.
- Educated at Coleraine Academical Institution, Queen’s University (Politics and Ancient History)
- Press Officer, Vanguard Unionist Party (74-77)
- Director public relations Institute of Directors 1979-84;
- Director public affairs British Airways 1984-93
- MP for South Antrim, 2001 - 2005
- UUP spokesperson for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Cabinet Office; Transport
- Member of Commons Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 2001-
- Pinay Circle from 1997
- New Century Media - cofounded with Charlie Methven in 2007.
- Sourcewatch David Burnside
- Gone fishing, the cold-eyed Union man who trusts in nobody; (1) PEACE IN PERIL (1) ULSTERMAN IS PRIME SUSPECT OVER LEAK WHICH MAY DERAIL MAJOR, by Gordon Greig, Daily Mail, 2 February 1995.
- PROFILE: FROM SECRET TAPING IN THE TICKLED TROUT TO TYING UP TRIMBLE, Sunday Business Post, 2 April 2000.
- Jo Dillon and Sophie Goodchild, 'Dirty tricks' PR expert hired to take on anti-hunt campaigners, The Independent, 28 May 2000.
- Speech House of Commons - 26 June 2001.
- Burnside hints at Gers takeover, BBC News, 4 March 2007.
- Ian Hall, Burnside’s firm targets more PA work, Public Affairs News, 23 October 2008.
- Henry McDonald, Ulster Unionist Burnside stays silent about PR role with banker 'Fred the Shred', Observer, 29 March 2009.
- David Singleton, Lobbying Firms Donate £70,000 To Tories Since General Election, PR Week, 26 November 2010.
- Henry McDonald, The Ballymoney trail: David Burnside's voyage from Troubles to oligarchs' PR, The Guardian, 7 July 2014.
- David Burnside BBC Profile, BBC Online Monday, 21 October, 2002, 17:12 GMT 18:12 UK
- Gregory, Martyn. Dirty Tricks: British Airways' Secret War Against Virgin Atlantic. London: Virgin, 2000. ISBN 0-7535-0458-8
- Robert Booth and Henry McDonald The Ballymoney trail: David Burnside's voyage from Troubles to oligarchs' PR The Guardian, 7 July 2014, accessed 17 October 2014
- Robert Booth, Nick Mathiason, Luke Harding and Melanie Newman Tory summer party drew super-rich supporters with total wealth of £11bn The Guardian, 3 July 2014, accessed 14 October 2014
- Melanie Newman Russian front: Cameron’s encounter with Putin friend at Tory party The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, 1 July 2014, accessed 17 October 2014
- About, New Century, accessed 13 March 2011.