Helle Thorning-Schmidt is a Danish politician. She is the leader of the Danish Social Democrats from 2005 to 2015 and is the first female Prime Minister of Denmark from 2011 to 2015. She is the first woman to hold either post. Following defeat in 2015, she announced that she would step down as both Danish Prime Minister and Social Democratic party leader. Ending her political career in April 2016, she is the chief executive of the NGO, Save the Children.

Helle Thorning-Schmidt was born on 14 December 1966, in Rødovre. Thorning-Schmidt was the youngest of three children in a family split by divorce. She grew up with her businesswoman mother in Ishøj, a town near Copenhagen that had attracted many immigrants. Her father was an economics professor in Copenhagen. While in high school, Thorning-Schmidt was involved with peace movements and antiapartheid efforts. After studying political science at the University of Copenhagen, she earned a master’s degree in European studies in 1993 from the College of Europe in Brugge, Belgium, where she met Stephen Kinnock (the son of former British Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock), whom she would marry in 1996.

Having earned another master’s degree, in political science, from the University of Copenhagen (1994), Thorning-Schmidt became an administrator for the Danish Social Democratic Party’s delegation to the European Parliament (1994–97) and then worked as a consultant for the Danish Confederation of Trade Unions (1997–99). In 1999 she was elected as a member of the European Parliament (1999–2004). In 2005 she was elected to the Danish Folketing (parliament) and that same year was chosen as the leader of the Social Democratic Party. Although the party suffered considerable losses in the 2007 election to the ruling Liberal-Conservative coalition led by Prime Minister Anders Rasmussen, Thorning-Schmidt remained its leader.In the 2011 election the Social Democrats (44 seats) again finished behind the Liberals (47 seats) but were able to join the Social Liberal Party and the Socialist People’s Party in a centre-left minority coalition government with Thorning-Schmidt as prime minister. She came into office promising to raise taxes on Denmark’s banks and its wealthiest citizens, to increase social spending, and to roll back the stringent restraints on immigration initiated by the previous government.

She was criticized for the 2013 “selfie” photo that she took with American President Barack Obama and English Prime Minister David Cameron at the funeral of Nelson Mandela.