Chris Smith was born in 1951, and was educated at George Watson's College, Edinburgh, and Pembroke College, Cambridge where he took a double first in English. He was a Kennedy Scholar at Harvard, and completed his Cambridge PhD on Wordsworth and Coleridge in 1979. He was a Labour Councillor for Islington Borough for five years, and was Chairman of Housing from 1981 to 1983. In 1983 he became MP for Islington South and Finsbury. He served on the Environment Select Committee until 1986, and sponsored a Private Member's Bill, the Environment and Safety Information Act, in 1988.
In 1992 he joined the Shadow Cabinet as Shadow Secretary of State for Environmental Protection, and two years later moved to Heritage, then Social Security and Health. When Labour came to power in 1997 he became Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, and Chairman of the Millennium Commission.
He returned to the back benches after the 2001 election, took a prominent role in opposing the war in Iraq, and stood down from the House of Commons in 2005. Immediately afterwards he was created a life peer, taking the title of Lord Smith of Finsbury, and took his seat in the House of Lords in July 2005.
From 2003 Chris 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; and in 2004 he was Chairman of the Judges for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction.
He was a Member of the Committee on Standards in Public Life from 2001 to 2005. He is also Chairman of the Wordsworth Trust and Chairman of the Donmar Warehouse Theatre. He is a Visiting Professor in Culture and the Creative Industries at the University of the Arts London, and an honorary Fellow of Pembroke College Cambridge.