Sir Christopher John Rome Meyer, KCMG (born 22 February 1944) is a former British Ambassador to the United States (1997–2003), former Ambassador to Germany (1997) and the former chairman of the Press Complaints Commission (2003–2009).
He is married to Catherine Meyer, founder of the charity Parents & Abducted Children Together.
Early life and education
Meyer was born in 1944 to Reginald Henry Rome Meyer and his wife Eve. Reginald was a flight lieutenant in Coastal Command of the RAF who was killed in action over the Greek island of Ikaria 13 days before his son was born (in 2011 Meyer visited the island and met witnesses of the shooting-down and burial of his father). Meyer was educated at Lancing, the Lycee Henri IV in Paris and Peterhouse at the University of Cambridge, where he graduated in History (he has been an honorary fellow of Peterhouse since 2002). After graduating, he attended the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies at Bologna.
He began his career in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 1966 in the West and Central African Department as desk officer for French-speaking African countries. Following a year's training in the Russian language, his first posting, at the age of 24, was as third secretary to the British embassy in Moscow in 1968, where for his first year he was the ambassador's private secretary. From 1970 to 1973 he was second secretary at the British embassy in Madrid. This was followed by five years in London, firstly, as the head of the Soviet section in the East European and Soviet Department; and, secondly, as speech-writer to three successive Foreign Secretaries: James Callaghan, Anthony Crosland and David (now Lord) Owen. Meyer was then sent from 1978 to '82 to the UK permanent representation to the European Communities in Brussels, followed by two years as political counsellor in the British embassy in Moscow. He returned to London in 1984 to become press secretary to the Foreign Secretary, Sir Geoffrey (now Lord) Howe, a position which he occupied until 1988, when he went for a year to Harvard University's Centre for International Affairs as a Visiting Fellow. This was followed by five years at the British embassy in Washington as minister-commercial and deputy head of mission. He returned to London in 1994 to become Prime Minister John Major's press secretary and government spokesman. He was posted briefly to Germany as ambassador in 1997, but was transferred in the same year to Washington as Britain's ambassador to the United States.
HM Ambassador to the United States
His final posting was as British Ambassador to the United States from 1997 until his retirement in 2003. Meyer gave evidence about his time in the role to the Iraq Inquiry in November 2009.
The Press Complaints Commission (PCC)
Meyer was appointed chairman of the UK press's self-regulating body in March 2003.
During his tenure from 2003 to 2009, Meyer introduced a number of reforms to enhance the profile, independence and credibility of the Commission. These included increasing the majority of independent Commissioners, introducing independent scrutiny of the PCC's internal processes and decision-making, instituting PCC "away-days" twice a year in the cities and towns of the UK and extending the PCC's remit to online editions of newspapers, including audio-visual material. This led to a significant increase in public use of the PCC, with complaints about the press rising from 2,630 in 2002 to 4,698 by the time Meyer retired as Chairman. He was also responsible for developing the PCC's pre-publication activity, including its anti-harassment service, which proved highly effective in protecting people from the unwanted attention of media scrums.
Meyer's tenure coincided with the gaoling in 2007 of the News of the World reporter, Clive Goodman, and the enquiry agent, Glenn Mulcaire, for phone-hacking offences under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. This prompted the resignation of the News of the World's editor, Andy Coulson. Later, as the phone-hacking scandal spread, the PCC, and Meyer himself, were criticised for not having brought those responsible to account. But the Lord Judge, Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, pointed out in a lecture to the Human Rights Law Conference on 19 October 2011 that "To criticise the PCC for failing to exercise powers it does not have is rather like criticising a judge who passes what appears to be a lenient sentence, when his power to pass a longer sentence is curtailed." Meyer had himself reminded the Leveson Inquiry in his witness statement, submitted on 14 September 2011, and at his appearance before the Inquiry on 31 January 2012 that phone-hacking was a crime under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 and that it was not in the remit of the PCC either to apply the criminal law or to carry out investigations that rightfully belonged to the police.
In 1998, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II appointed him Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George (KCMG).
Meyer is a non-executive director of the Arbuthnot Banking Group. He is also Chairman of the Advisory Board of Pagefield and an Honorary Fellow of Peterhouse, Cambridge University. He is a Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspapermakers and a Freeman of the City of London. On 3 April 2012 he was appointed Court Assistant honoris causa by the Company. Since 2013 Meyer has been a Senior Associate Fellow of the Royal United Services Institute. Meyer was named in 2010 the Morehead-Cain Alumni Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of North Carolina.
He published his memoirs, DC Confidential, in November 2005, with extracts serialised in The Guardian and the Daily Mail. The book gave rise to considerable controversy. It was attacked by members of the Labour government, while a group of MPs urged him to "publish and be damned". Meyer gave a detailed rebuttal of his critics in written evidence submitted to the House of Commons Select Committee on Public Administration. In 2005, the memoirs were included in his books of the year by Jim Hoagland, the authoritative Washington Post commentator on foreign affairs, who described them as "thorough" and "credible".
In 2009 he published a second book, Getting Our Way, a 500-year history of British diplomacy that accompanied a BBC 4 television series of the same name. He was again in the news with this book, serialized this time in The Sunday Times and The Daily Telegraph, and again openly critical of the Labour Government under which he served.
In November 2013 Meyer published a third book, the Amazon Kindle Single, Only Child, a personal memoir of his childhood interwoven with the story of how his father was shot down and killed in the Second World War. It includes interviews with still surviving witnesses of his father's crash and burial.
Meyer writes regularly on international affairs for a variety of newspapers and publications.
Meyer has presented several television and radio documentaries on diplomacy for the BBC, including Mortgaged to the Yanks (BBC Two/BBC Four 2006), Corridors of Power, How to Succeed at Summits, and Lying Abroad, all for BBC Radio 4 in 2006 and 2007. These were followed in 2009 by a BBC Radio 4 documentary series on the press called The Watchdog and the Feral Beast. 2009 also saw him present a BBC television series Getting Our Way, which chronicled episodes from British diplomatic history over the last 500 years and was later turned into a book (see below). In 2012 he fronted a 6-part international documentary series for Sky Atlantic called "Networks of Power", which examined the power-brokers of Mumbai, Rome, Moscow, New York, Los Angeles and London. The Guardian found the series "immensely watchable" and described Meyer as "Paxmanesque - quizzical, authoritative, faintly mischievous". He frequently appears on news and current affairs programmes, for example, providing analysis for the BBC's coverage of President Barack Obama's state visit to Britain in May 2011.
Meyer, when asked (in an interview with the BBC) "Which foreign government has the most influence on Washington?", unequivocally responded: "Israel." When he was then asked "And then?", he said, "Well, in the hit parade I think Israel is in a class of its own..."
Since 1997 he has been married to Catherine Meyer (née Laylle). He has two sons from a previous marriage, and two stepsons from his present marriage. He sits on the board of the charity his wife founded, PACT (Parents and Abducted Children Together).
- Christopher Meyer (2005), DC Confidential, Weidenfeld & Nicolson. (ISBN 0-297-85114-4)
- Christopher Meyer (2009), Getting Our Way: 500 Years of Adventure and Intrigue: the Inside Story of British Diplomacy, Weidenfeld & Nicolson (ISBN 0-297-85875-0)
- Christopher Meyer (2013) "Only Child", Amazon Kindle Single ()