Peter Harding (RAF officer, born 1933)

Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir Peter Robin Harding, GCB (born 2 December 1933) is a retired Royal Air Force officer who served as a bomber pilot in the 1950s, a helicopter squadron commander in the 1960s and a station commander in the 1970s. He became Chief of the Air Staff in 1988 and served in that role during the Gulf War in 1991. He became Chief of the Defence Staff in December 1992 but resigned after his affair with Lady (Bienvenida) Buck, the wife of Conservative MP Antony Buck, became public.

Sir Peter Harding
Born (1933-12-02) 2 December 1933
Lambeth, London, England
AllegianceUnited Kingdom
Service/branchRoyal Air Force
Years of service1952–94
RankMarshal of the Royal Air Force
Commands heldChief of the Defence Staff (1992–94)
Chief of the Air Staff (1988–92)
RAF Strike Command (1985–88)
No. 11 Group (1981–82)
RAF Bruggen (1974–76)
No. 18 Squadron (1966–69)
Battles/warsGulf War
AwardsKnight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath

RAF career

Born in Lambeth to Peter Harding and Elizabeth (née Clear), Harding was educated at Chingford High School[1][2] and commissioned into the Royal Air Force as an acting pilot officer on national service on 3 September 1952[3] and given a permanent commission in the same rank on 15 October 1952.[4] He was promoted to the substantive rank of pilot officer on 12 August 1953[5] and posted to No. 12 Squadron flying Canberra bombers in 1954.[1]

Promoted to flying officer on 10 September 1954,[6] Harding became a qualified flying instructor and flight commander at the Royal Air Force College Cranwell in 1957,[1] before being promoted to flight lieutenant on 10 March 1958.[7] In 1960 he was sent to Australia to serve as a pilot with No. 1 Squadron RAAF flying Canberra bombers again.[1] He attended RAF Staff College in 1963 and was promoted to squadron leader on 1 July 1963.[8] In 1964 he started a tour in the Air Secretary's department at the Ministry of Defence.[1] He became Officer Commanding No. 18 Squadron at RAF Gütersloh and then RAF Acklington in 1966, flying the Westland Wessex helicopter[9] and then, having been promoted to wing commander on 1 July 1968,[10] he joined the Defence Policy Staff at the Ministry of Defence in 1970.[1]

After attending the National Defence College at Latimer in 1969,[1] Harding became Director of Air Staff Briefing in 1971.[1] Promoted to group captain on 1 July 1972,[11] he became Station Commander at RAF Bruggen in July 1974.[1] He was appointed aide-de-camp to The Queen on 1 January 1975.[12] Promoted to air commodore on 1 January 1976,[13] he was then made Director of Defence Policy at the Ministry of Defence in 1976 and Assistant Chief of Staff (Plans and Policy) at SHAPE on 18 July 1978.[14]

He was promoted to air vice-marshal on 1 January 1979[15] and appointed a Companion of the Order of the Bath in the 1980 Birthday Honours.[16]

Harding became Air Officer Commanding No.11 Group on 7 January 1981,[17] and Vice-Chief of the Air Staff with the acting rank of air marshal on 28 August 1982.[18] He was advanced to Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath in the 1983 New Year Honours.[19] Promoted to air chief marshal on 1 January 1985,[20] he became Vice Chief of the Defence Staff early that year.[1] Appointed Air Officer Commanding Strike Command on 29 August 1985,[21] he was advanced to Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath in the 1988 New Year Honours.[22] He was made Air Aide-de-Camp to The Queen on 14 November 1988[23] and became Chief of the Air Staff on the same day.[24] As Chief of the Air Staff he advised the British Government on the deployment of air power during the Gulf War.[25]

Promoted to Marshal of the Royal Air Force on 6 November 1992,[26] Harding became Chief of Defence Staff on 31 December 1992.[27] However he resigned in March 1994 after it was revealed by Max Clifford and the News of the World that he had an affair with Lady (Bienvenida) Buck, the wife of Conservative MP Antony Buck.[28][29] Although Harding was a serving officer rather than a politician, the story was especially embarrassing as it coincided with a string of scandals (known, after John Major's slogan of October 1993, as "Back to Basics") associated with members of the Conservative government at that time.[30] Unlike other Marshals of the Royal Air Force who only relinquished their appointments, Harding resigned his commission on 14 June 1994.[31] Consequently, he ceased to be listed in the Air Force List.[32]

Later work

After leaving the RAF, Harding was deputy Chairman of GEC-Marconi from 1995 to 1998.[1] He was also Chairman and Chief Executive of Merlyn International Associates from 1997 to 2006 and Chairman of Thorlock International from 1999 to 2000.[1]

He became a vice-patron of the United Kingdom National Defence Association.[33]

He was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science from Cranfield University in 1990.[1]

Personal life

In 1955 Harding married Sheila Rosemary May; they have three sons and one daughter.[1]


  1. Who's Who 2010, A & C Black, 2010, ISBN 978-1-4081-1414-8
  2. "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 30 March 2017.
  3. "No. 39658". The London Gazette (Supplement). 30 September 1952. p. 5190.
  4. "No. 39707". The London Gazette (Supplement). 28 November 1952. p. 6339.
  5. "No. 39972". The London Gazette (Supplement). 25 September 1953. p. 5168.
  6. "No. 40276". The London Gazette (Supplement). 10 September 1954. p. 5252.
  7. "No. 41332". The London Gazette (Supplement). 7 March 1958. p. 1592.
  8. "No. 43044". The London Gazette (Supplement). 28 June 1963. p. 5638.
  9. "Sqn Histories 16-20_P". Retrieved 9 February 2019.
  10. "No. 44625". The London Gazette (Supplement). 28 June 1968. p. 7352.
  11. "No. 45718". The London Gazette (Supplement). 3 July 1972. p. 7981.
  12. "No. 46469". The London Gazette (Supplement). 20 January 1975. p. 874.
  13. "No. 46786". The London Gazette (Supplement). 5 January 1976. p. 208.
  14. "No. 47593". The London Gazette (Supplement). 17 July 1978. p. 8626.
  15. "No. 47745". The London Gazette (Supplement). 15 January 1979. p. 667.
  16. "No. 48212". The London Gazette (Supplement). 13 June 1980. p. 3.
  17. "No. 48498". The London Gazette (Supplement). 19 January 1981. p. 824.
  18. "No. 49122". The London Gazette (Supplement). 27 September 1982. p. 12545.
  19. "No. 49212". The London Gazette (Supplement). 30 December 1982. p. 3.
  20. "No. 50006". The London Gazette (Supplement). 14 January 1985. p. 508.
  21. "No. 50258". The London Gazette (Supplement). 16 September 1985. p. 12794.
  22. "No. 51171". The London Gazette (Supplement). 30 December 1987. p. 2.
  23. "No. 51524". The London Gazette (Supplement). 7 November 1988. p. 12504.
  24. "No. 51543". The London Gazette (Supplement). 28 November 1988. p. 13394.
  25. "London Journal; For 20%, He Sells Scandal, Keeping Britain Agog". New York Times. 21 March 1994. Retrieved 2 June 2012.
  26. "No. 53103". The London Gazette (Supplement). 9 November 1992. p. 18862.
  27. "No. 53184". The London Gazette (Supplement). 25 January 1993. p. 1376.
  28. Morgan, Piers (2002). "...As Hugh Cudlipp said..." British Journalism Review. 13 (2): 19–24. doi:10.1177/095647480201300204. ISSN 0956-4748. Archived from the original on 29 July 2012. Retrieved 2 June 2012.
  29. "Caretaker defence chief likely to be appointed as successor". The Independent. 15 March 1994. Retrieved 2 June 2012.
  30. "The Major Scandal Sheet". BBC. 27 October 1998. Retrieved 2 June 2012.
  31. "No. 53814". The London Gazette (Supplement). 10 October 1994. p. 14206.
  32. The Air Force List, 2006. HMSO; ISBN 0-11-773038-6
  33. "UKNDA – Patrons & Vice Presidents" (PDF). UK National Defence Association. 11 September 2008. Archived from the original (PDF) on 17 February 2012. Retrieved 2 June 2012.
Military offices
Preceded by
David Harcourt-Smith
Station Commander RAF Bruggen
Succeeded by
John Walker
Preceded by
Peter Latham
Air Officer Commanding No. 11 Group
Succeeded by
Kenneth Hayr
Preceded by
Sir David Craig
Vice-Chief of the Air Staff
Post disbanded
Preceded by
Sir Peter Herbert
Vice-Chief of the Defence Staff
January 1985–August 1985
Succeeded by
Sir Patrick Hine
Preceded by
Sir David Craig
Commander-in-Chief Strike Command
Chief of the Air Staff
Succeeded by
Sir Michael Graydon
Preceded by
Sir Richard Vincent
Chief of the Defence Staff
Succeeded by
Sir Peter Inge
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