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Michael King obituary

·3-min read

My friend and colleague Michael King, who has died aged 71, was professor of psychiatry at University College London whose leadership helped to turn the UCL division of psychiatry into a leading centre of research and training. He also contributed to improving the lives and rights of LGBTQ+ people. He was brilliant, kind, forthright, wise and funny.

Born in Christchurch, New Zealand, Michael was the son of Bruce King, a farmer, and his wife, Patricia (nee Maxwell). After attending Rangiora high school, he took a degree in zoology at Canterbury University, Christchurch, then qualified in medicine in 1976 at Auckland University, also training there as a physician.

In 1977 he came to the UK and undertook training in general practice and in psychiatry, both in London. In 1984 he started work at the Institute of Psychiatry, becoming a consultant there. In 1989 he went to the Royal Free hospital school of medicine, where he became professor of psychiatry. He was a member of three royal colleges – psychiatry, general practice and physicians. In 1998 he joined UCL as professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioural sciences, staying until 2017. He led large-scale international mental health research, including EC-funded projects in Europe and South America and the evaluation of effective treatments in community mental health in the UK, India, Spain and Chile. He worked with colleagues from psychiatry, general practice and a number of other disciplines to inform his work and opinions.

Michael mentored and trained many mental health practitioners and supervised more than 30 PhD students. With his considerable skills in Spanish, French and German he also delivered keynote lectures internationally.

An outspoken gay man, he boldly challenged attitudes to homosexuality. In the early 90s he addressed the stigma facing relatives of Aids victims by calling successfully for sensitive information to be withheld from death certificates without compromising Aids death statistics.

Working with the forensic psychiatrist Gill Mezey, he was among the first to undertake research with male victims of sexual assault, looking at the impact on their mental health. His book on this was published in 1992. Out of this came the definition of male rape used in legislation.

In the late 1980s and early 90s, Michael was invited to serve as an expert witness in cases concerning child custody where one of the parents was gay. It was then considered that a child was at risk when a parent was declared to be gay. He provided expert evidence in court that this was not the case, contributing to a change in attitudes.

He also worked with the Church of England Synod on equality in the church for people of all sexualities and was an outspoken critic of gay conversion therapy.

Never one to avoid deep questions, Michael explored the relationship between spirituality and health and publishing widely on philosophical, clinical and psychological aspects of belief.

He retired in April but continued completing publications and his PhD supervisions right up to his death.

Despite intermittent chest problems, Michael was an energetic walker, runner and swimmer. He was recently diagnosed with the very rare pleuroparenchymal fibroelastosis.

In 1984 he met Irwin Nazareth at the Gay Medical Association. They entered a civil partnership when it first became legal in 2006 and married in 2017.

He is survived by Irwin and by two nieces and a nephew.

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