Former BP CEO Lord Browne: ‘The oil industry is so heterosexual’

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

The former chief executive of BP, Lord Browne, says the heterosexual atmosphere of the oil industry stopped him from being open about his sexuality.

Lord Browne was forced to resign as chief executive of BP in 2007 after it emerged that he had lied to the High Court about where he had met a former partner who was planning to take details of their relationship to the press.

On Friday, the 65-year-old told the BBC’s World at One: “I was out to one or two people very selectively [who were] very close to me, but no I wasn’t out [at BP]… and the reason for that – perhaps I should have been – but I was born in 1948. It was a long time until the findings of the Wolfenden Report were accepted and went into law, where it was no longer criminal for two men to have sex.

“Now you could say ‘well that all happened in the late 60s and so it was fine then’ – well it wasn’t because by that time your head had been adjusted in a different way of thinking. Plus also people didn’t talk about it; it was as if homosexuality had been airbrushed out of my life.

“And so while there was a secret life that I had, and I did have a secret life, I had from the very beginning a public professional life that didn’t involve homosexuality.”

When asked if he always knew that he was gay, Lord Browne replied: “I think I recognised I was gay from the age of about 13. I’m not unique by any means.”

Asked why he felt unable to come out during his long career in the oil sector, Lord Browne said: “I think the whole atmosphere was so heterosexual that I didn’t even think about it. I mean everything was just heterosexual, that was it.”

The crossbench peer also spoke of having to run “two lives”.

“When I lived in cities I could obviously go out… the concern I had was that I would meet someone I was working with and would that cause a leak or something? but then I’d figure out that they were probably at as much risk as I was”.

He added: “I think some elements were thrilling and actually in some ways you could delude yourself [into thinking] that running two lives was an interesting James Bond-like activity existence, which is wholly wrong.”

Lord Browne also regretted that his former partner of four years made public his sexuality by going to the papers. He said: “I did feel betrayed especially as the story was sold. So I became reduced to just a bunch of money, not good, not good at all.”