Born in London, Tessa Jowell atended the University of Aberdeen, the University of Edinburgh and Goldsmiths College, London. She became a psychiatric social worker and eventually assistant director of the mental health charity MIND.
Elected as an MP at the 1992 general election, she was successively appointed as an opposition spokesperson on health, an opposition whip and spokesperson on women before returning to the shadow health team in 1996, in time to become a minister in the Department of Health after the 1997 landslide. She moved to the Department for Education and Employment in 1999.
Jowell was appointed Culture Secretary after the 2001 election, replacing the sacked Chris Smith. Her main concern as Culture Secretary has been the future of television broadcasting. She blocked the BBC's original plans for the digital channel BBC3 on the grounds that they were insufficiently different from commercial offerings, and imposed extra conditions on BBC News 24 after it was criticised on the same grounds by the Lambert Report. She was also responsible for the Communications Act 2003 which established a new media regulator, OFCOM. It also relaxed regulations on ownership of UK television stations, though a "public interest" test was introduced as a compromise after a rebellion in the House of Lords.