Dame Helen Frances Ghosh, DCB (/ɡəʊst/; GOST; born 21 February 1956) is a British civil servant who has been Master of Balliol College, Oxford since 2018. She was formerly Director-General of the National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty, following her career as British civil servant, where until November 2012 was Permanent Secretary at the Home Office and was previously at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) until the end of 2010. On appointment at DEFRA, she was the only female permanent secretary to head a major department of the British Government.
Ghosh was born in Farnborough, Hampshire, in 1956, to a civil service scientist and a librarian. She was educated at Farnborough Hill, an all-girls independent Catholic school. She studied modern history at St Hugh's College, Oxford, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree in 1976. She then undertook postgraduate study at Hertford College, Oxford, graduating with a Master of Letters (MLitt) in 1980; her thesis concerned the history of Italy in the 6th century.
She is married with one daughter and one son; her husband Peter Ghosh is a tutor in modern history at St Anne's College, Oxford.
She was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the Bath (DCB) in the Queen's Birthday Honours list in June 2008. In 2010, The Tablet named her as one of Britain’s most influential Roman Catholics.
Ghosh joined the Department of the Environment in 1979 as an Administration Trainee and held a series of policy roles. She was appointed Private Secretary to the Minister for Environment and Housing in 1986–88 and Head of the Housing Policy and Home Ownership Team in 1992. In July 1995, she joined the Cabinet Office on loan as Deputy Director of the Efficiency Unit then moved to a more operationally focused role in 1997 in the Government Office for London, where she worked as Director for London East and European Programmes, which brought her into contact with a variety of EU bodies, in particular those administering regeneration funds.
Between May 1999 and November 1999, she was Head of the New Deal for Communities Programme at the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, working on cross-cutting and delivery issues. She then joined the Department for Work and Pensions as Director of the Children's Group, which had responsibility for child benefit, child support, child poverty issues and the Tax Credit Programme.
She rejoined the Cabinet Office on 22 October 2001, as Head of Central Secretariat and, in 2003, became Director General for Corporate Services at HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC), where she played an important part in the transformation programme merging the Inland Revenue and Customs & Excise to form the new department. She was appointed Permanent Secretary at Defra on 7 November 2005. She replaced Sir David Normington as Permanent Secretary at the Home Office in January 2011.
In November 2012, she stepped down from her role at the Home Office to become Director General at the National Trust. In April 2018 Ghosh became Master of Balliol College, Oxford in succession to Professor Sir Drummond Bone.
Ghosh was a board member of the National School for Government, and a committee member and former chair of the Blackfriars Overseas Aid Trust, based in Oxford. She was elected a Rhodes Trustee in 2011.