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July 9, 1999

Mo Mowlam did not need a degree in social anthropology at Durham University to make her a people person. Her charm has been a noted aspect of her work as secretary of state for Northern Ireland. One commentator said: "If you haven't been kissed by Mo in Northern Ireland, you must have been running very hard in the opposite direction."

She was born in Watford and raised in Coventry, attending Coundon Court Comprehensive School, becoming head girl.

After Durham, where she joined the Labour Party, she took an MA and PhD in political science at Iowa University. She lectured at Florida State University for a year then returned to Britain to take a lecturing job at Newcastle University.

There, she was noticed by senior figures in the Labour Party for her work on behalf of Neil Kinnock in the 1983 leadership election. For three years, she was an administrator at Northern College, Barnsley, before gaining the safe Labour seat of Redcar in 1987.

She displayed her chameleon qualities again by supporting Kinnock, then John Smith, then Tony Blair. This kept her close to the party leadership despite her outspokenness. Successively front-bench spokesman on Northern Ireland, City and corporate affairs, the Citizens' Charter and women and national heritage before Labour came to power, her appointment as secretary of state was a popular choice with the public.

It came as she completed a course of steroids and radiotherapy for a brain tumour, but she never made a fuss over her health, just removing her wig in meetings when she became too hot.

Married four years ago, aged 46, to Jon Norton, a socialist merchant banker, she has two stepchildren. Her hobbies include swimming and jigsaws. She can have had little time for either recently. This is unlikely to change even if she is moved in the next reshuffle to a high-profile campaigning role.

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