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Libby Purves

For the Australian actress and writer, see Libby Purvis.
Libby Purves
Born Elizabeth Mary Purves
(1950-02-02) 2 February 1950
London, England, UK
Occupation Radio presenter, journalist and author
Spouse(s) Paul Heiney
Children Nicholas Heiney (died 2006)
Rose Heiney

Elizabeth Mary "Libby" Purves, OBE (born 2 February 1950) is a British radio presenter, journalist and author.


  • Early life and career 1
  • Later career 2
  • Personal life 3
  • Bibliography 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6

Early life and career

Born in London, a diplomat's daughter, she was raised in her mother's Catholic faith and educated at convent schools in Israel, Bangkok, South Africa and France, and at Beechwood Sacred Heart School, Tunbridge Wells.[1]

Purves won a scholarship to St Anne's College, Oxford, where she was awarded a first class degree in English. She was elected Librarian of the Oxford Union. In 1971, she joined the BBC as a studio manager. By the mid-1970s she was a regular presenter on BBC Radio Oxford where she could be frequently heard on the station's early morning shows. In 1976, she joined Brian Redhead on the BBC's Today programme, becoming the programme's first female and youngest ever presenter.

In 1983 she was editor of the Tatler magazine for four months.[2]

Later career

For her column in The Times newspaper, she was named columnist of the year in 1999 and in the same year was appointed an OBE for services to journalism. She has written books on childcare, twelve novels including Mother Country, a memoir of religious upbringing, Holy Smoke, and a travel book, One Summer's Grace, about a 1,700-mile sailing journey round Britain with children aged three and five.

Purves is a keen sailor and has a monthly column in the sailing magazine Yachting Monthly and is a contributor to The Oldie magazine. She was appointed a patron of the British Art Music Series Trust [3] along with James MacMillan and John Wilson. She served ten years as a Trustee of the National Maritime Museum.

In February 2010 she was appointed The Times drama critic, succeeding Benedict Nightingale,[4] but her work for The Times in this area ended in autumn 2013.[5]

On being sacked without explanation as Chief Theatre Critic, she announced in the London Evening Standard two days later, 13 October 2013, that her commitment to, and interest in, theatre commentary was so great that she intended to continue, and on that day she inaugurated, a succinct review website covering much the same first nights as before. Its first fortnight garnered 4,800 hits, and she stated her intention to carry on as long as she could and had the support of the theatre community.[6]

She is outspokenly in favour of gay rights, and has written many articles supporting this position.[7][8] In 2009, she debated at the Cambridge Union against Dr. Glenn Wilson and Rupert Myers on the motion This House Would Rather Be Gay.[9] Following a column on the anti-gay policies of Russian President Vladimir Putin, a Greek businessman Demetri Marchessini took out a quarter-page advertisement in The Daily Telegraph on 28 January 2014 to criticise her views on homosexuality and religion. According to Purves, while Marchessini is "free to approve of the beatings and hangings of young men across the world in the name of what he considers religion" she is also "free to say he is a loony."[10]

She has presented Midweek on BBC Radio 4 for 30 years, but left the educational programme The Learning Curve in frustration at the low quality and inconsistency of government policy in the 1990s.

Personal life

She is married to broadcaster Paul Heiney. The couple has one surviving child, Rose, an actress and writer, who has been an occasional columnist for The Times but since has flourished as a TV comedy scriptwriter, playwright and author of the novel Days of Judy B.

Their first child, Nicholas, died on 26 June 2006, at age 23. He hanged himself in the family home after a serious mental illness. A collection of his poems and sea-logs of a Pacific journey under square-rig, The Silence at the Song's End, has been published, inspired a song cycle by Joseph Phibbs, and was broadcast on Radio 4.[11]


  • Britain at Play (1982)
  • Adventures Under Sail (1982)
  • Sailing Weekend Book (with Paul Heiney, 1985)
  • How Not To Be A Perfect Mother (1986)
  • One Summer's Grace (1989)
  • How Not to Raise a Perfect Child (1991)
  • How Not To Be The Perfect Family (1994)
  • Casting Off (1995)
  • A Long Walk in Wintertime (1996)
  • Home Leave (1997)
  • More Lives Than One (1998)
  • Holy Smoke (1998)
  • Regatta (1999)
  • Passing Go (2000)
  • A Free Woman (2001)
  • Mother Country (2002)
  • Love Songs and Lies (2005)
  • Shadow Child (2007)


  1. ^ "Presenters: Libby Purves".  
  2. ^ Libby Purves "Profane, sniggering, rum-swigging: my merry hell as editor of Tatler", Daily Mail, 11 October 2009
  3. ^ "The British Art Music Series - BAM Series". Retrieved 13 April 2015. 
  4. ^ Preston, Peter (7 February 2010). "A cinema critic who's making her big-screen debut (Organ Grinder blog)". The Guardian. 
  5. ^ Nicola Merrifield "Times axes theatre critic Libby Purves", The Stage, 16 September 2013
  6. ^ "Libby Purves 'axed' as lead theatre critic of The Times", What's On Stage, 16 September 2013
  7. ^ Rejoice! Bring out the pink champagne, The Times, 12 December 2006.
  8. ^ "Gay-bashers bashed", The Times, 1 November 2007
  9. ^ "This House Would Rather Be Gay : Free Download & Streaming : Internet Archive". Retrieved 13 April 2015. 
  10. ^ "Pro-gay Libby Purves gets a ticking off from Ukip", London Evening Standard, 28 January 2014
  11. ^ A testament of youth, The Times, 31 October 2007, accessed 15 November 2007.

External links

  • Libby Purves's blog
  • The Silence at the Song's End by Nicholas Heiney, Libby Purves, Duncan Wu (editor), Alan Parker (illustrator), Song's End Books (31 Oct 2007) ISBN 0-9557085-0-8
  • RE Nicholas Heiney's suicide
Media offices
Preceded by
Tina Brown
Editor of the Tatler
Succeeded by
Mark Boxer
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