Andy Burnham, 38, was known as the "Mr Nice Guy" of the Cabinet until the outcry over his comments about Shami Chakrabarti and David Davis.
One of the Government's rising stars, Mr Burnham was seen as a potential leadership contender after Gordon Brown steps down.
The "smear" allegations are widely regarded by MPs as out of character. One of his close friends said: "He's got this remarkable knack of not making enemies. We all make enemies, but not Andy."
A former minister said he had a reputation around Whitehall for being late. "He is late for everything, if he ever became Chancellor he'd be known as the Late Chancellor."
Cambridge educated with working-class Catholic roots, he was regarded as a Blairite moderniser but quickly won the trust of Mr Brown. He was moved by Mr Brown from the Treasury to the plum job of Culture Secretary in a reshuffle caused by the departure of Peter Hain in January.
Mr Burnham was a special adviser to Chris Smith when he was Culture Secretary and said it was his "dream job".
A lifelong Everton fan, he was judged to be a sports fan with the common touch who would feel at home running the department covering media, sport and the arts.
His Liverpool background gave him an advantage in celebrating the city's year of culture and he was praised for maintaining his love of football after securing a seat in the rugby-mad town of Leigh.
He took up the controversial cause of fluoridation for the West Lancashire water supply to cut dental decay when he entered Parliament, and later became parliamentary private secretary to David Blunkett.
He shared Mr Blunkett's no-nonsense approach to crime, and joked that he had been nicknamed "Burnham and Floggem". Mr Burnham was regarded as a breath of fresh air in the Government. His wife, Frankie van Heel, once appeared on Blind Date with Cilla Black, and he plays bass in the parliamentary rock band, MP4.
His friends are speculating on the reason behind his remarks in the Blairite Progress magazine. Few believe it was merely a gaffe, but think it could have been part of a carefully managed campaign designed to shatter support for David Davis's stand in a by-election that backfired disastrously.
That could explain why the normally affable Mr Burnham is said to be "absolutely furious" at being caught up in the row.