Ian Willmore obituary

Other Lives: Campaigner and PR person for various pressure groups

My friend Ian Willmore, who has died aged 61 of a heart attack, spent much of his life in and around politics – including as a trades union researcher, an assistant to the Labour MP Michael Meacher, a councillor and parliamentary candidate, and as a PR person and professional campaigner for pressure groups such as Friends of the Earth and ASH. At the latter he played a key role in the successful campaign to ban smoking in public places.

Ian was born in Cardiff to Oliver Willmore, an architect, and his wife, Anne (nee Burnell), a teacher. After Marlborough college, Wiltshire, he studied philosophy and theology at Oriel College, Oxford, before joining the civil service in 1981. His concerns about what he saw as cynical government interference in the independence of the civil service led him, in 1983, to leak to the press confidential Department of Employment advice about trade union reform to the press. The leak was widely covered and, having admitted his part and resigned, he explained his motivation on Granada TV’s World in Action programme.

Ian then became information officer in 1984 for the campaigning youth unemployment charity YouthAid, before working for the Transport and General Workers Union as a researcher (1985-91). During this time he wrote TGWU general secretary Ron Todd’s controversial speech to the Tribune rally at the 1988 Labour party conference, which with its finger-pointing at “Filofax-wielding modernisers” grabbed front-page headlines.

A longstanding member of the Labour party, Ian was a London borough of Haringey councillor (1988-97), serving at various points as deputy leader and chair of finance. He stood for parliament twice as a Labour candidate, in South West Hertfordshire in 1987 and in Braintree in 1992, both times unsuccessfully.

On leaving the TGWU he had a short-lived spell studying to become a barrister and a period working for a small consultancy before working for Meacher (1994-97). He was then head of Friends of the Earth’s press office (1997-2003) and moved to ASH as media and campaigns manager, working on the successful campaign to ban smoking in pubs and clubs.

In 2006 he went to work for two years as the first public affairs manager at the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, and thereafter renewed his links with ASH, working on the development of an international protocol to tackle the illicit trade in tobacco. That work continued until 2011, when he joined Age UK as head of campaigns. Within a year, however, he was back working part-time for ASH, where he continued until shortly before his death.

Alongside politics Ian had eclectic interests; he was a talented jazz pianist and chess player, and was an expert on everything from the American civil war to the works of the screenwriter Joss Whedon.

Erratic, impatient and sometimes abrupt, he was also generous and kind. As uncle to eight nieces and nephews, he went to enormous efforts to find out what interested them, stimulating their curiosities and travelling the length of the country to treat them to memorable lunches. 

He is survived by his father, Oliver, sisters Nicky and Paula, and brother Stephen.


Kathy Jones

The GuardianTramp

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