BBC chair Richard Sharp ‘helped friend get paid job’ advising corporation

<span>Photograph: House of Commons/PA</span>
Photograph: House of Commons/PA

The embattled BBC chair, Richard Sharp, is facing a fresh row after reportedly helping a close friend land a paid role advising the corporation on editorial standards and impartiality.

Sharp, 67, is under pressure to resign after it was revealed he had helped then-prime minister Boris Johnson secure a guarantee on a loan of up to £800,000 in 2020. Sharp was appointed as BBC chair weeks later in 2021. He is awaiting the result of an investigation by Adam Heppinstall KC, who was tasked by the government with re-examining Sharp’s appointment process.

His reputation took another hit this month, after the BBC’s controversial move to suspend the Match of the Day host Gary Lineker after he criticised the government’s language when discussing asylum seekers.

According to the Sunday Times, Sharp advanced Caroline Daniel for an advisory position in a 2021 review of its leadership and editorial procedures led by Nicholas Serota. The review was triggered by the scandal surrounding Martin Bashir’s 1995 Panorama interview with Diana, Princess of Wales.

Sharp allegedly introduced Daniel to the BBC’s senior independent director, who was responsible for the appointment and ultimately hired her.

The Sunday Times quoted an anonymous source close to the review as saying: “Other people were uncomfortable about their relationship – they felt she was being shoehorned into the review … However, it was useful having her perspective.”

Speaking to the House of Commons digital, culture, media and sport committee in January 2021, Sharp described Daniel – who was hired alongside former Sunday Times political editor Michael Prescott – as one of “two independent members, who were very important within the investigation”.

In June, the chair also reportedly endorsed Daniel’s appointment to another role, this time as an external editorial adviser to the BBC. He did not state their friendship publicly nor in his declaration of personal interests, which was published a month later. Sharp also failed to recuse himself from deliberations over Daniel’s appointment at the BBC’s nominations committee, which he chairs.

The public advertisement for the editorial adviser role – which was described as paying £15,000 a year for approximately 15 days’ work – stated that candidates “need to be demonstrably independent of the BBC at the point of appointment”, the Sunday Times said.

Sharp reportedly attended Daniel’s wedding in 2019 as an usher, and may have even introduced her to her husband, former Emmerdale actor Christopher Villiers.

The ceremony was officiated by Lucy Winkett, who regularly appears on Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. After the wedding at St James’s Piccadilly in London, the reception was held at the Royal Academy of Arts, for which Sharp was once chair of trustees.

Daniel, 51, is a London-based partner at Brunswick – a public relations firm – advising on media and technology. She previously worked at the Financial Times, where she held the position of editor at FT Weekend.

While Sharp has declined to comment on the matter, Daniel, who was holidaying in the Maldives, told the Sunday Times: “The relationship with Richard Sharp was fully disclosed with relevant BBC executives at the time, in line with the BBC requirements.”

The BBC responded to the report by stating the relationship was disclosed to the corporation.

A BBC spokesperson said: “Following the completion of the Serota Review into editorial process, governance and culture in October 2021 – and in line with recommendations in the review – the BBC appointed two independent, external editorial experts to advise the BBC Board’s Editorial Guidelines and Standards Committee.

“These roles were formally advertised externally and open to anyone to apply. The appointment process was overseen by the Nominations Committee, in line with BBC rules, and the appointments were approved by the full BBC Board.

“This process set out clearly the expectations of independence required for the role, and it included full disclosure of any relevant conflicts of interest. We are completely satisfied that all process and procedure has been complied with in full.”

Sharp has been contacted for comment.

• This article was amended on 21 March 2023 to make clear it was the second role Daniel was appointed to, of external editorial adviser, that was publicly advertised by the BBC. The position advising the Serota review was not advertised, as an earlier version suggested.