Sir John Holmes, GCVO, KBE, CMG, was born in Preston, in the north of England, in April 1951. Following his education at Preston Grammar School and Balliol College, Oxford, he entered the Foreign & Commonwealth Office in 1973. After spending three years as a desk officer in London, including a period of temporary duty at the British Mission to the UN in New York, he was appointed to the British Embassy in Moscow as a 3rd Secretary Chancery, and subsequently promoted 2nd Secretary.
On returning to the FCO in 1978, he first took up an appointment in the Near East and North Africa Department before becoming Assistant Private Secretary to the Foreign Secretary in 1982.
In 1984 Holmes was posted to the British Embassy in Paris as 1st Secretary (Economic). He returned to London in 1987 as Assistant Head of the Soviet Department and between 1989 and 1991 he was seconded to Thomas De La Rue & Co, before moving to India as Economic and Commercial Counsellor at the High Commission in New Delhi.
He returned to London in 1995, first as Head of the European Union Department in the FCO and then as Private Secretary, and subsequently Principal Private Secretary to the Prime Minister. Between 1999 and autumn 2001, John Holmes was Ambassador to Portugal. He had been Ambassador to France since October 2001. In January 2007, he was appointed Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
He was awarded the CMG in 1997 in the Resignation Honours List of former Prime Minister John Major for his service as Principal Private Secretary. In 1998 he was appointed CVO and in 1999 awarded the KBE on the recommendation of Tony Blair on leaving the senior job at No. 10 Downing Street, a higher honour than normally bestowed, because of his work on the Northern Ireland Peace Talks. In 2005 Queen Elizabeth II promoted him to be a GCVO at the conclusion of her state visit to France to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Entente Cordiale.
In 1976 he married Penelope Morris. John and Penny Holmes have three daughters: Sarah, Lucy and Emilie.