Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, McKinstry was educated at Portora Royal School, Enniskillen, and Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, where he graduated with a degree in History in 1985. He writes regularly for several newspapers in the United Kingdom, including the Daily Mail, Daily Express, and The Sunday Telegraph. He often writes about issues relating to immigration and the European Union, being a strong supporter of Brexit. His books include a biography of the Victorian Prime Minister, Lord Rosebery.
In the early 1990s McKinstry was a Labour councillor in Islington and worked as a parliamentary aide to Labour politician Harriet Harman. Losing his seat on Islington council in 1994, he was working for Labour front bencher Doug Henderson when he announced the following year, via an article in The Spectator, that he no longer supported the party. Subsequently, he was a regular columnist in both the Daily Mail and the Daily Express.
Awards and honours
- 2003 British Sports Book Awards (Best Biography), Jack & Bobby
- 2007 British Sports Book Awards (Best Football Book), Sir Alf
- Fit to Govern: A Former Labour Activist Asks: Can Tony Blair's Party be Trusted to Run Britain? (1996), Bantam Press, ISBN 0593039807
- Boycs: The True Story (2000), Partridge Press, ISBN 1852252790
- Jack and Bobby: A story of brothers in conflict (2002), HarperCollins UK, ISBN 0007118767
- Rosebery: Statesman in Turmoil (2005), John Murray Publishers, ISBN 0719558794
- Sir Alf: A Major Reappraisal of the Life and Times of England's Greatest Football Manager (2006), HarperCollins UK, ISBN 0007193785
- Spitfire: Portrait of a Legend (2007), Hodder & Stoughton, ISBN 0719568757
- Lancaster: The Second World War's Greatest Bomber (2009), Hodder & Stoughton, ISBN 0719523532
- Hurricane: Victor of the Battle of Britain (2010), Hodder & Stoughton, ISBN 1848543395
- Jack Hobbs: England's Greatest Cricketer (2011), Yellow Jersey Press, ISBN 0224083295
- "Saving the plane that won Battle of Britain" – via www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk.
- "Leo McKinstry Biography". Harper Collins Publishers. Archived from the original on 25 September 2013. Retrieved 14 October 2012.
- "Middle of the road protest | Columnists". www.theguardian.com.
- "Is PM 'in retreat' or preparing a 'cunning plan'?". BBC News. 9 September 2019 – via www.bbc.co.uk.
- "In defence of the white working class". The Daily Telegraph. London. 15 November 2006. Retrieved 20 October 2011.
- "Vilified Labour defector vents his spleen in print – 17 years on – Leo McKinstry reveals all to Spectator magazine". Islington Tribune. 3 February 2012.
- "Leo McKinstry". Amheath.com. Retrieved 7 January 2019.
- "Previous winners". British Sports Book Awards. Retrieved 29 March 2020.