Tessa Jane Helen Douglas Palmer began her life in London in 17 September 1947 – the oldest of three siblings. Like Blair, hers was a middle-class family of Conservative voters.
Her childhood was spent in Aberdeen – where her father, Kenneth, was a chest specialist at the university medical school. Her radiographer mother, Rosemary, bridled against the social snobbery of university life – where lecturers’ wives did not have coffee with the professors’ wives.
St Margaret’s School for Girls was fee-paying and traditional – occasionally described as “Scotland’s Roedean”. Age 14, she saw Stanley Kubrick’s film Spartacus – which “moved me hugely with its themes of exploitation, courageous revolt and the heroism of the slave uprising”.
Tessa Jane Helen Douglas Palmer abandoned notions of a career in medicine and qualified as a psychiatric social worker. A friend recalled meeting her for lunch at London’s Maudsley Hospital – finding her physically shaking after an encounter with an aggressive patient.
She was elected to Camden Council – chairing its Social Services Committee at just 25 – a standard bearer of Labour “sensiblism” against “loony left” activists bent on confrontation with Margaret Thatcher. Once, she ended up covered with chicken livers hurled from the floor.
She fought the Ilford North by-election in 1978 – only to lose Labour’s majority. “It was the worst three weeks of my life,” she said, targeted by the National Front and the Society for the Prevention for the Unborn Child, which sent her pictures of foetuses.
The press also hounded her – smelling scandal. She’d left her first husband – statistician Roger Jowell – and was living with corporate lawyer, David Mills. They later married. It was another 13 years before she made it to Westminster – as MP for Dulwich & West Norwood in 1992.
“Her contribution to the Olympic and Paralympic Games is easily defined – quite simply, without Tessa there would have been no London 2012, and without Tessa they would not have been the success they were.”
Lord David Blunkett said: “Tessa was one of my closest friends for over 40 years.
“Alongside the triumph of helping to win the Olympic Games for London, it will be Tessa as a person who I will remember. There when people needed her, both personally and also with her political hat on, and with her bravery over the last year, always thinking of others.”
Tessa Jowell Family
Tessa Jowell was intensely family-focused. When her teenage son’s girlfriend Amelia Ward died in an accident in 2001, she cancelled all ministerial engagements to support him and the Ward family. She worked hard to maintain a work-life balance and spoke movingly of the sustaining love of her family after her cancer diagnosis.
She became a grandmother for the first time in 2017, aged 69, when her musician daughter Jess gave birth to a daughter.
Dame Tessa Jowell is survived by her husband, son, daughter, granddaughter and stepchildren.
UPDATES: Tessa Jowell Passes Away
Tessa Jowell, the former Labour cabinet minister, has died aged 70, her family has announced.
She had been diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer last May, and died at around 10pm on Saturday with her family by her side.
She had been in a coma since suffering a haemorrhage on Friday.
– Tessa Jane Helen Douglas Palmer Biography and Profile