Prime minister Rishi Sunak has undertaken a mini-reshuffle at the top of government, and, on the defence secretary side, the country has got itself a new man in the job.
Grant Shapps, who has served as MP for Welwyn Hatfield since 2006, was appointed to the Ministry of Defence on Thursday morning after Ben Wallace revealed last month that he would be leaving the role the next time Sunak made changes to his cabinet.
Shapps had been serving as the energy security and net zero secretary before his promotion. His new cabinet position will be his fifth in less than a year, having famously served as home secretary for six days under Liz Truss before becoming business secretary and then energy secretary under Sunak.
While Shapps’ appointment comes during one of the Tories’ less turbulent chapters in recent years, his own career has often been characterised by bizarre, mysterious and controversial events. He is famous for once allegedly using the aliases Michael Green, Sebastian Fox and Corinne Stockheath while he held a second job as the founder of a web publishing business selling “get rich quick” self-help guides (he has denied going by Fox and Stockheath, but admitted to Green).
He has also faced allegations of doctoring his own Wikipedia page to edit out references to his O-level results, as well as taking secret cryptocurrency payments from a blockchain company. During the last Tory leadership campaign, he was dubbed the “spreadsheet schemer” after it was said he was recording Tory colleagues’ doubts about former prime minister Liz Truss in a running spreadsheet, wielded on a pricey foldable smartphone (yes, he threw his hat into the ring to replace Boris Johnson in the last leadership race, only to withdraw it three days later and back Sunak).
From his background as a licensed pilot to his carousel of government positions, here’s everything you need to know about the UK’s new defence secretary.
A car crash, a coma and the Clash
The early part of Shapps’ CV tell a slightly different story from that of some of his shire Tory colleagues.
Born in Hertfordshire in 1968 to a Jewish family, Shapps was educated at Watford Grammar School for Boys. He achieved five O-levels (allegedly – more on this later), and went on to complete a business and finance course at Manchester Polytechnic.
Although a self-made man, Shapps does have some glittering family connections. His brother Andre played keyboards with post-punk band Big Audio Dynamite alongside his cousin, the Clash guitarist Mick Jones, as Shapps is keen to mention in interviews.
In 1989, Shapps was involved in a car crash in the US which left him in a coma for a week. Returning to the UK, he founded PrintHouse Corporation, a successful printing company still in business today.
Tragedy struck again in 1999 when Shapps was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma – a cancer affecting the lymphatic system – at only 31 years old. Undergoing chemotherapy and radiotherapy, he successfully beat the disease.
A very bizarre editing scandal
Shapps launched an unsuccessful bid to win Welwyn Hatfield in 2001 but triumphed four years later. From here, his parliamentary career quickly took off.
In May 2005 he was made a member of the public administration select committee and the same year was appointed a vice-chairman of the Conservative party, with responsibility for campaigning. Two years later he was promoted to shadow housing minister and, following the 2010 election, became housing minister and a privy councillor. In September 2012 he was appointed chairman of the party.
In the same month, Shapps found himself embroiled in his first scandal, and it was a bizarre one. The Observer reported that Shapps had deleted information from his Wikipedia page, including the names of donors to his private office.
One of the strangest edits was to delete a reference to his studies at Watford Grammar School for boys, where the site claimed he “obtained four O-levels including an A in CDT”. Without revealing his identity, Shapps justified his edits as the removal of politically slanted or unreferenced “info” and by claiming “content must be verifiable”.
His political career stalled after the 2015 election – he was removed as chair of the Tory party and appointed as international development secretary, which was widely seen as a demotion.
The artist formerly known as Michael Green
Perhaps the most farcical moment in Shapps’ career came in 2012 (not a good year for him), when it emerged that, operating under the pseudonym Michael Green, Shapps had established a web sales business, HowToCorp, which claimed that clients who spent $200 on its software could “make $20,000 in 20 days guaranteed or your money back.”
The Guardian obtained a recording of “Green”, made in 2006, in which he boasted his products could make listeners a “ton of cash by Christmas”. The existence of at least three people – including “Sebastian Fox” and “Corinne Stockheath” – who allegedly provided testimonials for the company has been questioned.
At first Shapps denied having used a pseudonym or having a second job after entering parliament and, in 2014, threatened legal action against a constituent who had stated on Facebook that he had.
In 2015, Shapps ultimately admitted to having had a second job while being an MP and practising business under a pseudonym, later saying he had “over-firmly denied” having a second job.
Planes, trains and automobiles
In 2016, Shapps found himself in hot water again. He was forced to resign as trade minister amid claims he had failed to act on allegations of bullying as co-party chair after the death of party activist Elliott Johnson.
Hit with scandals and misfortunes, Shapps quietly returned to the backbenches for nearly four years, until July 2019 when the recently elected prime minister, Boris Johnson, appointed him as transport secretary.
Shapps headed the transport department during the Covid-19 pandemic and the ensuing airport chaos as travel resumed, and later faced criticism for failing to engage with unions over strike action. He also oversaw millions of pounds of investment in cycle lanes and e-scooter trials.
During his tenure as transport secretary it emerged that Shapps, a keen pilot, had registered his UK-based private plane in the US, meaning that he benefited from less stringent regulations than those in the UK.
‘I was told I would never have children’
Shapps met his future wife, Belinda Goldstone, in 1995 in a pub in Headingley, when Grant was 26 and she was 21.
While little is known about Belinda’s personal life, according to Companies House she was a director at the now-dissolved AuctionGirl.co.uk from 2013 to 2021, a website which promised users to “turn their clutter into cash”.
Belinda, who also recently retrained as a psychotherapist, moved to London after the couple met and they tied the knot in August 1997. Yet the early days of their marriage were overshadowed by Shapps being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma two years later.
Two weeks before starting chemotherapy and radiotherapy, the couple had to freeze their eggs and sperm amid the threat of chemotherapy rendering Shapps infertile.
He told the Express in 2014: “I was told I had cancer and would never have children.”
Shapps hailed his wife for her support during that time, telling the Guardian: “She said to me, you can’t die, we’ve got too much to do together. She was brilliant.”
Despite being told he wouldn’t be able to have children, the couple managed to successfully conceive through IVF. They now have three children together - a boy called Hadley, born in 2001 and daughter and son twins Tabytha and Noa born in 2004.
From ‘spreadsheet schemer’ to defence secretary
Shapps held onto his job until Boris Johnson resigned in July 2022. He then entered and swiftly withdrew from the Tory leadership campaign.
After Liz Truss became prime minister, Shapps was appointment to home secretary in October 2022, a role he served for just six days before Truss announced her resignation the following morning. The brief appointment to home secretary surprised some: Shapps had backed Truss’s rival Sunak, and after she took office, Truss sacked him after she reportedly told him there was “no room at the inn”.
Shapps was then appointed business secretary but Truss’s successor Sunak, before moving into the newly created portfolio of Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero after a cabinet reshuffle four months later.
Now entering his fifth cabinet position in less than a year, Shapps is taking on the new challenge of defence secretary. One of the most important ministerial roles, Shapps said he was honoured to be appointed and paid tribute to Wallace’s “enormous contribution” to UK defence and global security over the past four years.