He’s the Tory enforcer who kept a tarantula on his desk and joked about using a “sharpened carrot” to get his way.
Now Gavin Williamson has been propelled into his first cabinet role in the wake of Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon’s sudden resignation.
So what more do we know about a politician seen as rising star but whose rapid elevation has apparently upset some of his colleagues?
Theresa May’s chief whip, first elected to Parliament in 2010, wasn’t among the bookmakers’ favourites for the Ministry of Defence vacancy.
The South Staffordshire MP has no military background and had little opportunity to build up a public profile because his role in the whips office meant he did not speak in Parliament.
Raised near Scarborough by Labour-supporting parents, he ran a Staffordshire pottery firm, making and selling ceramic tableware, before becoming an MP.
After entering Parliament, Mr Williamson was given a role in the Northern Ireland Office in 2011, and then became David Cameron’s backbench aide. He was appointed a CBE in the ex-PM’s controversial resignation honours list, telling the Stourbridge News he was “extremely honoured and humbled” at the award.
And he didn’t fall out of favour as Theresa May took over in July 2016 – “literally walking out with one prime minister and in with the next” in the words of friend and fellow Tory MP James Wharton.
- Date of birth: 25 June 1976 (aged 41)
- Job: MP for South Staffordshire, since 2010. Chief whip from June 2016, now defence secretary
- Education: Went to to Raincliffe Comprehensive School and Scarborough Sixth Form College; studied social sciences at the University of Bradford
- Family: Married with two children. His father worked at the local council, his mother at a job centre. Both were Labour voters
- Honours: Awarded a CBE in 2016 in David Cameron’s resignation honours for political and public service
After a disappointing general election for the Conservatives, he played a key role in brokering the £1bn deal with the DUP to prop up their minority government.
But until now, that tarantula might have been the most commonly-cited fact about the 41-year-old – whose successor as chief whip tweeted a picture of his desk on taking over.
He has described the creature, known as Cronus, as “a perfect example of an incredibly clean, ruthless killer” – who reportedly fell foul of the strict rules about animals on the Parliamentary estate.
Kate Moody, who sold it to him at his local garden centre, told BBC Radio 4 the MP had thought it would be a “great addition” to his office.
She recalls Mr Williamson joking that he was having a “mid-life” crisis when he bought the red-legged Mexican tarantula, saying “it was a sports car or a tarantula and the tarantula won”.
And spiders aren’t the only animals close to his heart – he’s also a patron of the World Owl Trust and has built a house for hedgehogs in his garden.
He might be kind to animals, but there was a hint of a less accommodating approach in his speech to the Conservative Party conference as he described his methods in the whips office.
“We take a carrot and stick approach,” he told delegates.
“Personally I don’t much like the stick, but it is amazing what can be achieved with a sharpened carrot.”
In his own words
- On being appointed as chief whip: “I was absolutely flabbergasted, but I accepted immediately.”
- On his pet tarantula: “You have to look at all different ways to persuade people to vote with the government and it’s great to have Cronus as part of the team”
- In the Commons: “It’s very important to use our gardens which are a specific habitat for hedgehogs. Just recently in my own garden I built a hedgehog house. Sadly I have no residents in it but hopefully it will encourage them and the growth of hedgehogs in South Staffordshire.”
What others say
- “He understands the heartbeat of the party, he has a forensic knowledge of what’s going on, he puts in the work in the tea rooms and the bars. He knows everyone.” Giles Kenningham, David Cameron’s former head of political press
- “Gavin Williamson played a pivotal role in delivering a majority for the government in the House of Commons.” The DUP’s Jeffrey Donaldson.
- “Nobody has been as plugged in at the centre or knows the party quite as well as Gavin, because for the last couple of years he has been as involved in dealing with every single person in the House of Commons.” Conservative MP George Hollingbery
- “My wife and I referred to him as Tigger because of his seamless, unbounded energy. He always seemed to be optimistic and he always had a permanent smile on his face.” Ian Dudson, who ran a rival pottery business to Mr Williamson’s