Parris is the eldest of six children (three brothers and two sisters) and grew up in several British territories and former territories: South Africa, Cyprus, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Swaziland and Jamaica, where his father was working as an electrical engineer. His parents ended up working and living in Catalonia, an autonomous region of Spain, where Parris later bought a house.
Parris was educated at Waterford Kamhlaba United World College of Southern Africa, an independent school just outside Mbabane in Swaziland, followed by Clare College, Cambridge, from which he gained a first class degree in law and where he was a member of Cambridge University Liberal Club. He then won a Paul Mellon scholarship and studied international relations at Yale University.
At the age of 19, Parris drove across Africa to Europe in a Morris Oxford; the trip was traumatically punctuated when he and his female companion were attacked, and he was forced to witness her rape.
Parris was offered a job as a secret agent, but instead worked for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for two years. In 1976 he left this secure career because he did not like its formality, and because he wanted to become a Member of Parliament. He eventually joined the Conservative Research Department and moved on to become correspondence secretary to Margaret Thatcher. He was awarded an RSPCA medal (presented by Mrs Thatcher, then Leader of the Opposition), for jumping into the Thames and rescuing a dog.
He served as the Conservative MP for the rural parliamentary constituency of West Derbyshire from 1979 until 1986. Competing prospective candidates for the seat included Peter Lilley and Michael Howard, later Conservative leader. As an MP he voiced his support for gay rights. Parris eventually left politics to pursue a career in journalism.
Parris is now a radio and television presenter and pundit. As an MP he took part in a World in Action documentary during 1984 requiring him to live in Newcastle for a week on £26.80, the then state social security payment set for a single adult by the government he supported as a Conservative. The experiment came to an embarrassing end when he ran out of money for the electricity meter. Twenty years later, in 2004, he attempted the experiment again for the documentary For the Benefit of Mr Parris, Revisited.
Parris resigned as an MP by applying for the Crown position of Steward of the Manor of Northstead and left Parliament specifically to take over from Brian Walden as host of ITV's influential Sunday lunchtime current-affairs series Weekend World in 1986. The series, broadcast since 1977 with Walden at its helm, ran for two more years under Parris before being cancelled in 1988.
He presents BBC Radio 4's Great Lives biography series, and has appeared on the comedy news programme Have I Got News for You and presented After Dark. In 2007, Parris presented two light-hearted but caustic documentaries for Radio 4 on politicians' use of cliché and jargon, entitled Not My Words, Mr Speaker.
On 8 July 2011, on Radio 4's Any Questions, at the height of the furore surrounding the alleged illegal and corrupt activities of News of the World journalists, Parris eulogised the newspaper and gave an enthusiastic appreciation of what he considered the virtues and positive achievements of Rupert Murdoch.
Parris is a prolific writer and has written many books on politics and travel. In 1991, a compilation of his pieces in The Times appeared, entitled So Far, So Good. Since then there have been further compilations. Scorn, a book he has edited of quotations about curses, jibes and general invective, was published in October 1994. His success has been as a parliamentary reporter, due to his knowledge and understanding of politicians and ability to express this well. He worked as parliamentary sketch writer for The Times newspaper from 1988 to 2001.
His writing has largely concerned current events rather than a historical account of his own time in politics. He has weekly columns in The Times and The Spectator magazine. In 2004, Parris became Writer of the Year in Granada Television's What the Papers Say Awards. In part, this was for reporting on elections in Iraq and Afghanistan. His previous accolades include Columnist of the Year in the 1991 and 1993 British Press Awards, and in the What the Papers Say Awards 1992. In 1990 he received the London Press Club's Edgar Wallace Outstanding Reporter of the Year Award. In 2005, Parris published A Castle in Spain about his family's project to refurbish a derelict sixteenth-century mansion, L'Avenc, in Catalonia, close to the foothills of the Pyrenees, and make his home there.
In 2011, Total Politics said that Parris' column "is considered essential reading by many in Westminster. He has a penchant for holding opinions that go against the grain. Parris has written scathingly about the localism agenda, and was a long-time defender of the yah-boo politics of PMQs, although he recently changed his mind."
Parris's writing has often attracted wider comment. For example, a 2007 tongue-in-cheek article in which he suggested stringing piano wire across country lanes in order to decapitate cyclists attracted a number of complaints. After around two hundred letters to the Press Complaints Commission, making it the year's third-most complained about article, Parris issued an apology: "I offended many with my Christmas attack on cyclists. It was meant humorously but so many cyclists have taken it seriously that I plainly misjudged. I am sorry." In the same year Alastair Campbell called Parris "a little shit" in his diaries, to which Parris responded "I'd rather be a little shit than a big cunt".
Parris mocked the initial 2015 leadership election for the Labour Party. Referring to recent rule changes under Ed Miliband, which meant that any individual who donated £3 to the Labour Party could vote in its leadership elections, Parris said in August 2015 that he had attempted to register all four of his llamas as supporters, "as they wished to vote in the leadership election, having been caught up in all the media fuss". Following a second leadership election, which incumbent leader Jeremy Corbyn won with an increased majority, Channel 4 presenter Krishnan Guru-Murthy said that Parris and Michael Dobbs commented that Corbyn's reelection "will break the Labour Party".
In October 2016, Parris argued in The Times that Britain should stop selling weapons to Saudi Arabia. He accused Saudi Arabia of "blackmailing" Britain and of engaging in "a merciless siege" of Yemen. "We shall lose arms sales," he wrote, "but we shall gain in intangible ways from showing ourselves to be neither entirely merciless in our pursuit of self-interest, nor as purblind to what's coming as we so often seem to be."
Parris has made several expeditions abroad, including to Mount Kilimanjaro in 1967 and 1989, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) in 1973, the Sahara in 1978, and Peru and Bolivia. In 1990 he published Inca-Kola, about his travels in Peru. He spent the Antarctic winter of 2000 on the French possession of Grande Terre, part of the Kerguelen Archipelago in the Indian Ocean, with a few dozen over-winterers, mostly researchers. One of them was fatally shot in an accident during his stay, an event about which he wrote for The Times.
Parris attempted to out himself in a late-night debate in the House of Commons in 1984, but failed when nobody noticed. He later announced that he was gay in one of his weekly newspaper columns. In a live interview on Newsnight, during the Ron Davies scandal of 1998, he told interviewer Jeremy Paxman that there were two gay members of the then current Labour Cabinet, one being Peter Mandelson. He has stated that there are between 30 and 60 unannounced gay members of the British Parliament. In August 2010, in a list compiled by the Independent on Sunday, Parris was voted the 49th most influential LGBT person in Britain. In August 2006 Parris entered into a civil partnership with his long-term partner, Julian Glover, a speech writer for David Cameron and a former political journalist at The Guardian. At the time of their partnership, they had been together for 11 years.
Parris owns homes in Spain, Derbyshire, and the Docklands in East London. He is the honorary patron of Clare Politics, a student-run politics society at his alma mater, Clare College, Cambridge. He was a keen marathon runner, taking part in the London Marathon event several times. His personal best was 2:32:57 hours, which he recorded in 1985 at the age of 35. He decided that he wanted to go out on top, and arguing that serious running is not good for one's health, he stopped running marathons after that. No British MP, sitting or retired, has bettered Parris' marathon-running time.
|Parliament of the United Kingdom|
|Member of Parliament for West Derbyshire
Sir Patrick McLoughlin