The Rt Hon Marjorie (Mo) Mowlam, Minister for the Cabinet Office, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, was educated at comprehensive school in Coventry, Durham University and the University of Iowa, where she got her PhD. After graduation she worked as a research assistant to Tony Benn MP, then as a lecturer and as an administrator in adult education.
Dr Mowlam was promoted to Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary in 1994, at a crucial time in Northern Ireland's history. She was a key member of Tony Blair's campaign team during the leadership election, and has been a prominent advocate of "modernisation" within the Labour Party.
Popular and outspoken, her honest and lively style has attracted attention, not least when she acknowledged that she once smoked cannabis as a student (with the qualification that she didn't enjoy it). In recent months, however, it has been said that she has fallen from favour within the Labour hierarchy.
In 1997, she was diagnosed as having a benign brain tumour, which successfully responded to treatment. The journalist Julia Langdon is currently writing her biography.
You're a tough politician, yet popular - what is the secret? Margaret Foster, Swanage
There's no real secret - I like people. People like politicians who say what they think and I've always tried to do that. Being in Northern Ireland put me in the public eye quite a bit but there's no way any of the things that were achieved could have been done without the work and commitment over the years of so many other people - they're the ones who deserve the real credit. But if I had to analyse what people think of me, I'd say it was a combination of them hoping for the best in Northern Ireland, and their support when I was coming through the benign tumour.
Would you like to be PM? J Davies, Amersham
The job's not vacant! Tony's doing a great job and he has the skills, vision and determination to be one of Britain's great prime ministers. The short answer is no.
Do you have any more dirty jokes? J Mundy, London
Frank Dobson sometimes tells me a good one but I can never remember them! My current favourite: What do toilet bowls, birthdays and the clitoris have in common? Men miss them!
Do you wish you'd had children? Linda Stuart, Nottingham
No. With the pleasure of having two stepchildren, I feel I have the best of both worlds - all the pleasure of playing and talking and none of the worry of doctor's appointments or getting them ready for school.
How did you feel when dismissed as Northern Ireland Secretary? Pat Walsh, Belfast
After five years, in opposition and government, it took time to adjust because I wasn't just leaving a job, I was leaving a place and people I love. But I've got a new job now, with new challenges, which I enjoy.
What is your favourite perfume? Lisa Brandon, Chester
I don't have one particular favourite. Usually I end up stealing my stepdaughter's. I've nearly finished a bottle of Obsession and from a quick look at her dressing table, Escape's next.
Why do we hear so much less of you on the Today show than your predecessor, Jack Cunningham? Nigel Partridge, London SW7
I like the Today programme, particularly John Humphrys. I still do it, but we shouldn't pretend it's the only way for the Government to get their message across. Of course, different people have different ways of dealing with the media, and I've used other programmes such as So Graham Norton and Live & Kicking as ways of talking to different audiences.
Do you think that the laws on cannabis should be liberalised? Sara Smith, by e-mail
Following the recent Police Foundation report, the Government clearly set out the policy on cannabis. I am in favour of the medical use of cannabis and I am awaiting the results of the scientific trials.
What inspires you? Imogen Brooks, Glasgow
Lots of things. People inspire me. I suppose the things I find most rewarding are the personal qualities they show in going about their daily lives - their determination to fight for a better life for themselves and their families, their humour in the face of adversity, their ability to work together to get things done.
Considering your (alleged) reputation for the use of rather "industrial" language at times, how did this wash with the likes of the Luddite Mr Paisley? Neil Templeton, Belfast
Ian Paisley once was so offended that he didn't speak to me for a while. I'm not sure if I noticed or not, but he was very proud of the fact that he was one of the first politicians not to speak to me! On a personal level, he is quite different and has a sense of humour. He always said he pitied my husband for having to put up with "the sinner", which is what he often called me - as well as many others.
Which is your favourite paper? P Elverston, by e-mail
I go through cycles of reading them all - or not reading any of them. Journalists move about quite a bit and I prefer reading a range of columnists to get their views. My favourite reporter is The Independent's David McKittrick, who is always good and always straight about Ireland.
Do you think the English are the root cause of the problems in Northern Ireland? Conor Moreland, Clapham
Probably one of many, but rather than go round in circles talking about the past, the important thing is to solve the problems in Northern Ireland today, which is what the people there want above all.
How do you feel about being a gay icon? T Lloyd, Rochester
I'm not sure I am an icon, but some of my best friends...
What was it like to lose your hair? Any advice for wig-wearers? Cynthia Harris, Gloucester
Yes - if you don't like it, wear it as little as possible. People don't care if you don't. There are lots of happy, bald men! If you do want to wear a wig, get your hairdresser to cut your hair and the wig the same, so the transition is less obvious.
Did you really not enjoy that joint? Thandi Ali, by e-mail
No - at the time I was much more into sport, so that's what I stuck to.
How do you feel about being the subject of an unauthorised biography? Have you any plans for writing an autobiography? Elena Clarke, by e-mail
I think I'm too young to have a biography written about me - there are still lots of things I want to do! I think quite a lot of people wanted to do one and although Julia Langdon's biography isn't authorised it is done with my knowledge. One nice outcome has been the letters I'm getting from people I haven't heard from in more than 20 years, so I'm reviving some long-lost friendships.Reuse content