Chris Smith was born in 1951, and was educated at Cambridge, where he gained a double first in English, and at Harvard, where he was a Kennedy Scholar. He wrote his PhD thesis on the poetry of Wordsworth and Coleridge.
As a Labour Party politician, he was Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport from 1997 to 2001. He was first elected as Member of Parliament for Islington South & Finsbury in 1983, and held this position until 2005, when he became a life peer.
He was the Labour Party’s nominee on the Committee on Standards in Public Life; Chairman of the Wordsworth Trust; Chairman of the Donmar Warehouse Theatre; and a Member of the Board of the National Theatre. He is also a Visiting Professor in Culture and the Creative Industries at the London Institute. From 2003 Smith was Director of the Clore Leadership Programme, which aims to help develop a new generation of leaders for the cultural sector in the UK. He stepped down from this position in July 2008, in order to become Chairman of the Environment Agency. Since July 2007 he has also been the Chairman of the Advertising Standards Authority. From 1992 to 2007 he was President of SERA; from 2004 to 2008 he was President of the Ramblers' Association.
He has presented television programmes on the work of Auden, Eliot and Larkin, and on Emily Bronte.