Charles Powell

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Charles Powell, Lord Powell of Bayswater KCMG is a member of the House of Lords and a former UK diplomat.

Charles Powell, 2011. Photo credit: Financial Times


Powell was Private Secretary to Margaret Thatcher (1983-90) and John Major (1990-91). [1] According to Gavin Esler, Powell was the key link between the UK and US, in daily telephone contact with his counterparts in Washington.[2]

Powell is a cross-bench member of the House of Lords, where he serves on the Economic Affairs Committee. He is Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Entrepreneurship.

Since 1992 he has been heavily involved in multinational business and serves on the board of several major companies - including Caterpillar, Schindler in Switzerland, Yell Group in the UK and Mandarin Oriental Hotels, Safinvest Limited - and as Chairman of Louis Vuitton Moet-Hennessy, British Mediterranean Airways, and Northern Trust Global Services. He is also on the International Advisory Boards of Rolls Royce, Barrick Gold, Magna Corporation, and on the UK advisory boards of Hicks Muse, Thales, GEMS Oriental & General Fund, International, Alfa, Wingate Capital AS and Diligence.

Previous directorships include Jardine Matheson Holdings and associated companies (1992-2000), National Westminster Bank, Arjo Wiggins Appleton, Said Holdings, J. Rothschild Name Co., Phillips, de Pury & Luxembourg, Arjo Wiggins Appleton, Trafalgar House.


Powell joined the Diplomatic Service in 1963 and served successively as Third Secretary, Foreign Office, 1963-65 (Desk officer, Muscat and Oman); Second Secretary, Helsinki 1965-67; Foreign and Commonwealth Office, 1968-71; First Secretary and Private Secretary to HM Ambassador (Lord Cromer), Washington 1971-74; First Secretary, Bonn, 1974-77; FCO, 1977-80 (Counsellor, 1979; Special Counsellor for Rhodesia [later Zimbabwe and Zambia] negotiations, 1979-80); Counsellor, UK Permanent Representation to European Communities, 1980-84.


Powell has three brothers, Chris (a senior figure in Boase Massimi Pollitt and contributor to Labour's advertising campaign in 1987), Roderick and Jonathan Powell, a member of the Labour Party who became the Chief of Staff to Tony Blair's privately-funded office. His wife, Carla Bonardi, who he married in 1964, is thought of as highly extrovert. The Independent felt compelled to add the following disclaimer to an article concerning Ms Bonardi in 1999: 'DO NOT USE this material at all - seek legal advice if writing about her.' [3]

Scott Inquiry

The Scott Inquiry (into the arming of Iraq) did not summon Powell to give evidence in public and only requested written evidence from him in the summer of 1994, six months after Thatcher's testimony. Powell told Channel 4's 'Dispatches' programme, in answer to a series of written questions in April 1994, that, at that stage, he had not been asked to give evidence, and he had not volunteered any. In an interview in The Times newspaper on September 6, 1994, he said:

"You have to take some things on your own shoulders, you've got to turn things away, to let a Prime Minister free from the detail"

Powell added cryptically:

"At the outset, the inquiry accepted that the Prime Minister knew everything about everything. In general, it was good to cultivate that view, but not in this case." [4]

Ole Hansen noted that 'During her last six years as Prime Minister, [Powell] had become her most trusted adviser and, perhaps, the second most powerful person in No 10. He controlled her foreign policy in-tray and, by her own evidence, decided what she needed to be told. [5]


Apropos of the Al-Yamamah Arms Deal and the role of Wafic Said, Gambill (2003) stated in Middle East Intelligence Bulletin (an offshoot of Pipes and Kristol's Middle East Forum) that:

"Sir Charles Powell, a long-time foreign policy advisor of Thatcher who was present during the negotiations for this deal, was later hired as chairman of Sagitta Asset Management Limited, of which [Wafic] Said is the primary shareholder." [6]

Stephen Glover in The Spectator of 24 November, 2001, quotes Powell as refuting such allegations:

"I am indeed a friend of Mr Said's, and am proud to be so: he is a remarkable man and an extraordinary benefactor of good causes in this country. But I conduct no business on his behalf in Syria or elsewhere in the Middle East. Nor do I have any connection with First Saudi Investment Company to which Mr Glover refers." [7]

But maintains:

"The two men first met in the late 1980s when Lord Powell was the prime minister's private secretary and Mr Said was involved in the 20 billion Al Yamamah arms contract between Britain and Saudi Arabia. In 1994, having left the Foreign Office, Lord Powell became a director of Said Holdings. In 1996 Mr Said made him a trustee (unpaid) of the Oxford Business School which he had just endowed. In February of this year Lord Powell became chairman of Sagitta Asset Management Ltd, which is Mr Said's main investment vehicle. Sagitta, and the companies with similar names clustered around it (e.g. Sagitta Investment Advisers Ltd), would repay hours of study. Last year Sagitta Asset Management made a loss of 1,238,395 on a turnover of 2,524,097 and paid its highest-paid director 910,000. All the Sagitta companies are subsidiaries of Sagitta International Limited, registered in Bermuda and controlled by Wafic Said." [8]

Powell became a paid adviser to BAE's chairman and was caught up in The Guardian's investigation into Al Yamamah:

"Since 2003 he has been a political adviser to BAE's chairman, firstly Dick Evans and then Dick Oliver. In 2005 it was revealed that Tony Blair was employing him as his special envoy to Brunei, at the same time as BAE was embroiled in a dispute with the south-east Asian state over the purchase of three warships. Powell denied a conflict of interests." [9]

The Guardian argues that Powell and his family "have intimate knowledge of the al-Yamamah deals". His younger brother Jonathan was Tony Blair's chief of staff "when the Saudis put pressure on Downing Street in 2006 to drop the Serious Fraud Office inquiry." Saudi officials are reported to have "met Powell to communicate their anger." Charles Powell's son, Hugh, "heads the Foreign Office's security policy department, which is concerned with BAE."

Oxford Business School

After leaving John Major's transition team in 1991, Lord Powell joined the board of Said Holdings and the board of the Said Business School at Oxford University.

The school was itself the subject of controversy. Mr Said donated £20m and its location was shifted from a central playing field to a car park by Oxford railway station.

Michael White, writing in The Guardian in 2001, stated that as well as the vice-chancellor of Oxford and three senior academic colleagues, the trustees of the business school include five appointed by Mr Said, subject only to the vice-chancellor's approval. They are Lord Alexander of Weedon (chairman of the NatWest Group of companies), Robert Genillard (a Swiss financier and industrialist), Professor William Pounds (formerly Dean of the Sloan School of Management, MIT) Ms Catherine Roe (Director of the Karim Rida Said Foundation which commemorates Mr Said's late son) and Lord Powell. [10]

Revolving door

In a Wall Street Journal investigation into outside interests held by members of the House of Lords, Powell said the Lords' conduct code prohibits him from lobbying, but does not preclude 'communicating concerns' that his companies might have to government officials, and that he wouldn’t lobby government for any of his employers.[11]

Adviser to arms trade

BAE Systems, Thales and Rolls Royce board adviser

Powell's disclosure on the Lord's register of interests shows him as an adviser to BAE in 2015, alongside his role as a member of the Thales UK advisory board and chairman of Rolls Royce international advisory board. [12]

Payments from BAE slush fund bank account

In October 2012 The Sunday Times alleged that BAE Systems had "used a bank account implicated in a global bribery investigation to pay consultancy fees to British establishment figures who acted as advisers to BAE businesses, including a former prime ministerial aide, army chief and cabinet minister".

It revealed that Lord Powell was paid £178,175 over seven months from the London-based account, which was also used to funnel more than £100m into an offshore slush fund set up to make corrupt payments to middlemen and officials around the world. *[13]


Powell has been a director of the US-based firm Textron Inc since 2001 when he was appointed the 'lead director and chairman of Organisation & Compensation Committee (2001-).

Historical list of affiliations

External resources


  1. Craig R. Whitney, 'John Major at Bat', The New York Times, 29 March, 1992. (Accessed 22 April, 2009)
  2. Gavin Esler, Different lessons that the Gulf war taught, Scotland on Sunday, 11 October 2002.
  3. Frances Hutchinson, 'Profile: Carla Powell - Her part in Peter's fall', The Independent, 3 January 1999. (Accessed 22 April, 2009)
  4. 'Interview: Charles Powell', The Times, 6 September, 1994.
  5. Ole Hansen, 'Why does Scott stop short of Thatcher?', The Independent, 27 April, 1994. (Accessed 22 April, 2009)
  6. Gary C. Gambill, 'Dossier: Wafic Said', Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, February-March 2003. (Accessed 22 April, 2009)
  7. Stephen Glover, 'Lord Powell's links with Syria show that business and diplomacy should not be mixed', The Spectator 24 November, 2001.
  8. Stephen Glover, 'Lord Powell's links with Syria show that business and diplomacy should not be mixed', The Spectator 24 November, 2001.
  9. David Leigh and Rob Evans, 'Biography: Charles Powell', The Guardian, 7 June, 2007.
  10. Michael White, 'Former Thatcher adviser to chair Wafic Said company', The Guardian, 7 February, 2001.
  11. House of Lords Wall Street Journal, 10 November 2014, accessed 10 December 2014
  12. Lords' Register of Interests, November 2015
  13. Insight, Revealed: BAE’s arms payroll, The Sunday Times, 28 October 2012
  14. 'Executive Profile: Charles David Powell', BusinessWeek, accessed 22 April, 2009.