Educated at Preston Grammar School and Balliol College, Oxford, Sir John joined the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 1973. He served in a number of roles in various cities, including Moscow, Paris, New Delhi, Lisbon and London until 1995 when Sir John joined the then Prime Minister, John Major, as his Private Secretary (Overseas Affairs) and his diplomatic advisor.
After Tony Blair was appointed Prime Minister in 1997, Sir John continued his role until 1999. He became Private Secretary and was an important figure in the Good Friday Agreement.
In 1999 Sir John started a new career path after he was appointed as the British Ambassador in Lisbon. He held this position until becoming the British Ambassador in Paris from 2001 – 2007. Sir John has also held positions as Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator before taking the role of Director of the Ditchley Foundation. He currently works as Chairman of the Electoral Commission.