Helen joined the civil service from Oxford University, where she read modern history. During her civil service career, Helen worked in a wide range of Government departments, working on a range of social policy issues, including child poverty, asylum and immigration, and local community regeneration. She also worked on key environmental policies, including climate change mitigation and adaptation, and the protection of habitat for endangered species. In the 1990s and early 2000s, Helen worked at the heart of Government, in Cabinet Office, advising on efficiency and propriety issues. She spent seven years as a Permanent Secretary (CEO) in two departments, Defra and Home Office. In late 2012, Helen moved to become Director General of the National Trust, where her interest in history, people and places, and her commitment to the environment come together.
Helen is a long-term member of the Trust and of her local Wildlife Trust in Oxfordshire. She is married to an academic and has a son and daughter, who are in their early twenties. She lives in Oxford, and includes family life, looking after her allotment, walking and watching ballet among her relaxations.