Gordon Brown, prime minister in waiting, is an enigma


London : Despite having played a pivotal role in government for the past 10 years, Gordon Brown remains something of an enigma.

Support TwoCircles

The introvert son of a Church of Scotland minister has kept his person – and his politics – pretty much to himself.

While being credited with having masterminded Britain's economic success since Labour came to power in 1997, Brown has revealed little about where he would take the country should he become prime minister.

Brown, the longest-serving Chancellor of the Exchequer in Britain in 200 years, is generally respected, by friends and foes, for his astute stewardship of the British economy and impressive performances on the world stage.

However, one subject he frequently talks about is his strict but caring upbringing in the small town of Kirkcaldy, near Glasgow, in the 1950s.

"You see life as the son of a church minister, you see the bereaved, the poor and the needy come through your father's door," Brown said in a rare television interview.

The Protestant ethic instilled by his father's sermons, and the help and advice dispensed to the poor and needy in the home of the Reverend John Brown, and his wife Elizabeth, has been his moral compass in life, Brown has said.

One of his favourite phrases is that the "West has a duty" to help the world's poor.

During a meeting with Pope Benedict in Rome earlier this year, Brown presented the pontiff a selection of sermons delivered by his father in the Presbyterian Church.

Brown, one of three brothers, was born in Glasgow on February 20, 1951.

At the age of 12, he was canvassing for the local Labour Party, which he joined aged 18.

An injury in a school rugby match meant that Brown, then 16, lost sight in his left eye, and was threatened with total blindness, an experience that is said to have shaped him profoundly.

Brown gained a first class degree in History from Edinburgh University by the time he was 20, where he went on to complete a doctorate.

At 21, he was elected rector of the university, combining lecturing with political activism and work in television.

He was elected to parliament in London for the first time in 1983, where he came to share an office with another newly elected Labour member of parliament (MP), Tony Blair.

In 1994, Brown was widely tipped to become party leader, but agreed, in a much talked about secret deal, to stand aside in favour of the more charismatic, and popular, Blair.

Brown is hard working, and known to do serious reading on holidays.

In the 1997 election campaign, that led Labour to victory, he is reported to have worked an average of 18 hours a day, six days a week, after running on a treadmill for an hour each morning.

"It was politics, politics, politics," Brown's former girlfriend of five years, Princess Marguerite of Romania, the eldest daughter of ex-King Michael of Romania, said about him.

Brown remained a bachelor up to the age of 49, when he married, in 2000, Sarah Macaulay, a high-flying PR consultant he had been dating for six years.

The couple's first child, Jennifer, was born in December 2001, but died ten days after her premature birth.

Brown's initial joy, soon to be replaced by the image of a heartbroken man, touched the nation.

The couple has since had two boys, John, aged 3, and Fraser, aged 10 months.

Brown has since described being a father as "being the best thing in the world" and made an attempt to shed his "earnest image" by smiling a lot more and swapping dark suits for more casual clothes.

But Brown, remaining true to his fundamental convictions, has made clear that he believes the publics' appetite for "celebrity politicians" is exhausted.

"I actually think that in the next few years politics will become more about character, and people will judge politicians on whether they can deal with the big issues," Brown said.

He names security, terrorism, globalisation and the "relations between religion and society" as major international challenges.

"The world is changing so fast that only people who understand and then act upon these big challenges are going to be able to answer the questions that the public have about the pace of change around them," says Brown.