Read was born 1 March 1947 in Heywood, Lancashire, the only child of a publican. The family moved from Manchester to Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, when he was an infant. He attended Woking Grammar School followed by a sixth-form college. He was an estate agent for a while, and recorded under various names including Mickey Manchester.
Read's professional broadcasting career began in March 1976 at Reading's Radio 210, where he co-hosted a show with Steve Wright - entitled Read and Wright – before joining Radio Luxembourg late in 1977.
He joined Radio 1 in November 1978 and was soon presenting the nighttime programme before John Peel's show, where he championed new groups and featured live sessions. He took over The Radio 1 Breakfast Show on Monday 5 January 1981. On 11 January 1984, he suddenly interrupted broadcasting the Frankie Goes to Hollywood song Relax halfway through playing the single, denounced the lyrics as "obscene" and refused to play it again, although in later years Read has played it.
Following on from his five-year stint on Radio 1's breakfast show, Read took over a Sunday morning show in 1986. In 1987, he moved to Saturday mornings, and also to a Sunday afternoon show, where he played classic tracks. In addition he hosted Round Table and later went back to it as the renamed Singled Out on Friday evenings, where musicians and disc jockeys would review the new single releases.
Read's Saturday morning show ended in September 1988 and his Sunday afternoon oldies shows finished in January 1989, when Alan Freeman rejoined the station to host an oldies version of Pick of the Pops. From January 1989 to September 1990, Read presented a weekly show called The Mike Read Collection, which was broadcast on Monday evenings, and still remained on the Friday panel show Singled Out (which had by then gone back to its original name of Round Table). He remained in this slot until 1991.
Read left Radio 1 in 1991 and moved to Capital Gold, (then a London-only station), presenting his Mike Read Collection, which went out on a Sunday night, before taking on the weekday Drivetime show in mid-1992, where he remained until he left the station in late 1995. Also in 1992, he was heard on BBC Radio 2 presenting special shows looking back at Cliff Richard's career and playing his music. In addition to a daily show on Capital Gold, he joined Classic FM, where he presented a weekend show and had a stint as weekday breakfast presenter starting in March 1996. Subsequently, he presented the networked Breakfast Show on Classic Gold stations around the UK.
From September 1999, he presented the Breakfast Show on Jazz FM in the north of England, then in 2001 joined Spirit FM in Chichester, initially presenting a Sunday show from 10am to 1pm before moving to a weekday afternoon show from 2pm to 3pm, playing music from various featured years.
Between 2003 and 2004, Read presented a Saturday morning show on the Magic network around the UK. In May 2005, he became the weekday morning presenter on Big L 1395, a station modelled on the 1960s pirate radio station. He has also done occasional stints on Talksport. In November 2008 he took time out from Big L to present the 3pm-7pm Drivetime show on Hull-based station KCFM for a week (10–14 November) as cover for Shaun Tilley.
Read became the third ex-Radio 1 DJ to broadcast on the station, along with Tony Blackburn and Paul Burnett. From 17 November 2008, he launched a 10am-2pm weekday programme slot on Star 107.5 covering Gloucestershire and the Malverns. Read also presented a weekday show between 5am and 7am (9 February – 9 September) on internet radio station Wight FM (this was voicetracked). He also presented a regular slot called "Dancing Through the Decades" on Saturday evenings between 6pm and 10pm on KCFM.
In October 2009, Read was reported to be part of a team of veteran DJs forming a new radio station One Gold to rival the BBC.
In November 2009, Read began hosting a mid-morning show on the TotalStar network in the West of England. From 1 November 2010, Read returned to Big L with a daily show from 8am-12pm Monday-Friday. From July 2011, he hosted the Golden Hour on More Radio (Swindon & Wiltshire), formerly Total Star Wiltshire. Read was heard on Magic 1548 in the north of England, where he presented their Weekend Breakfast show, on Saturdays & Sundays 7am-10am starting April 2012. He also presented the afternoon show Monday to Friday on BBC Radio Berkshire between 1.30pm and 4pm until March 2015 and continued to do certain programmes for the station including a Saturday afternoon show during the summer of 2015.
Read combined his radio work with a second career as a TV presenter, hosting the popular 1980s Saturday morning programme Saturday Superstore, as well as the Saturday Night music game show Pop Quiz, which regularly got audiences of 10 million and featured rock and pop stars answering music trivia questions. The show spawned board game and computer game spin-offs. The penultimate episode of Pop Quiz in 1984 featured a face-off between pop bands Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran, and in 1994 he returned to host a one-off special of the show for the anniversary of Top of the Pops. The format was revived twice, firstly in 1994 by the BBC with Chris Tarrant as the host, and then in June 2008 a revamped Pop Quiz, recorded without a studio audience and in a pub (rather than a television studio) in which the participants were members of the public, aired on Red TV. This was again hosted by Read.
Additionally, he presented UK Gold's TV genre quiz Goldmaster in 1997, having also presented Top of the Pops on many occasions between 1978 and 1989, and hosted Yorkshire Television's children's series Pop Quest from 1977 to 1979.
In 2004, Read was one of the contestants recruited for the jungle-based ITV reality show I'm a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here! though his stay in the Australian outback was short-lived – he was the first celebrity to be evicted by the viewing public. He is a regular newspaper reviewer for Sky News. In 2014, he appeared in The Life of Rock with Brian Pern as himself.
In 1979, Read wrote and performed the pop-punk song "High Rise" (upon which his Radio One intro jingle was subsequently based) under the guise of The Trainspotters, following this in 1980 with "My Town" by next studio group, The Ghosts. He then wrote lyrics to Simon May's TRIC Award-winning Trainer television theme. The resulting UK Top 30 single, "More to Life", was performed by Cliff Richard. Read also provided a guest rap on Slade's 1991 UK Top 30 hit, Radio Wall of Sound.
After I'm a Celebrity..., Read recorded a charity single when he lyrically re-worked Hank Mizell's "Jungle Rock" and as the Jungle Boys (with Neil 'Razor' Ruddock and Lord Brocket) had a UK Top 30 hit single. The follow-up, which made the Top 75, was a new version of Mungo Jerry's In the Summertime. In 2005, Read's song "Grief Never Grows Old" featured on a charity recording in aid of victims of the 2004 tsunami. Performed by an ensemble of artists named One World Project, the single reached Number 4 in the UK singles chart.
Read has written music to accompany many poems written by John Betjeman. Thirty of these songs were recorded by artists including Cliff Richard, David Essex, Gene Pitney and Marc Almond for the 2006 various artists' album Words/Music, and subsequently re-released in 2008 as a double CD titled Sound of Poetry.
Read has staged a number of musicals, including: Young Apollo (a musical about the life of Rupert Brooke); Oscar (a 2004 show about Oscar Wilde which was derided by critics and closed after one performance); Great Expectations; A Christmas Carol; Cliff - The Musical (which closed after three months) and Ricky Nelson...Teenage Idol. He took one of the lead roles in the Cliff musical, touring with it and appearing for the three-month run in the West End at the Prince of Wales Theatre. His Betjeman show (based on his musical settings of Sir John Betjeman poems) has occasionally been staged for charities, including the Royal Marsden Hospital and Children With Leukaemia. Actors appearing in his musicals and shows have included Nyree Dawn Porter, Brian Glover, Colin Baker, Anton Rogers, Jeremy Irons, Alvin Stardust and Bernard Cribbins.
He was one of the founder editors of the Guinness Book of British Hit Singles, the UK chart reference book, and also co-wrote many of the other Guinness music books.
In his own right he is the author of 35 books, including Forever England a biography of Rupert Brooke, Major to Minor: The Rise and Fall of the Songwriter (2000) and, with Richard Havers, Read's Musical Reciter (2004), a collection of trivia from the music business.
His poetry books include The Aldermoor Poems, Elizabethan Dragonflies, A Room With Books and the latest, New Poems for Old Paintings. Also on the poetry front he has edited and supplied biographies for the two best-selling poetry books 100 Favourite Poems and 100 Favourite Humorous Poems and contributed to many of the Poets' England series. He has also written two crime novels.
In October 2007, Read embarked on a career in the world of contemporary art, with a gallery of works in the medium of confectionery entitled Choc Art. The work includes recreations of album sleeves by the Beatles, his own take on the iconic map of the London Underground, and works based on the paintings of L.S. Lowry. By the beginning of 2008 he has created over 25 canvasses. Two galleries had exhibitions of his Choc Art at the latter end of 2007 in Surrey and Hampshire and another in Essex in January 2008.
Read had a stalker who had changed her name to Blue Tulip Rose Read and believed that she was married to him. Rose was from Welwyn Garden City and her original name was Carol Ballard.
Rose was featured in a film made by Jaine Green for Channel Four in 1996 entitled I'm Your Number One Fan. The film formed part of Channel Four's "Fame Factor" season, which examined the dark side of fame. Rose was one of the most candid interviewees in the film. She was filmed as she travelled to the offices of Classic FM, and as she wrote "love letters" to Read. The film stated that Rose had been writing obscene and threatening letters to Read for many years.
Having spoken three times at Conservative Party conferences, including in 2006 entertaining guests at a Tory conference dinner with a ten-minute political rap, Read said that he was asked to run for the Conservative Party nomination for the London Mayoral elections in 2008. He subsequently announced that he was instead putting his energies behind Boris Johnson's ultimately successful candidacy.
On 21 July 2012, Read spoke at the UK Independence Party's South East regional Conference in Frimley, where he was also announced as a member of the party. Read has since spoken at the UKIP 2012 Annual Conference at Birmingham Town Hall on 21 September.
Read wrote and recorded a song in support of the party, "UKIP Calypso", which was released in October 2014 as a single credited to The Independents. Party leader Nigel Farage endorsed it and called for the party's supporters to download the song. Read adopted a faux-Jamaican accent, but said that it was "not remotely racist" to do so, saying, "It's a satire and a bit of fun. It's not terribly serious. It wouldn't have sounded very good sung in a Surrey accent." Debate over the song featured on Newsnight, with UKIP spokesman Winston McKenzie, himself of Caribbean origin, praised the song and likening it to Elvis Presley and The Beatles' adaptation of predominantly black musical styles, although the BBC Asian Network's Nihal was critical of it. Read withdrew the song from sale on 22 October 2014 and apologised "unreservedly" that it had "unintentionally caused offence". On 26 October 2014 the song reached number 44 on the UK Singles Chart.
During the 2017 general election, Read is reported to be intending to work as a pirate radio DJ publicising the party candidate for Clacton on a former trawler moored in international waters off the Essex coast. Arron Banks, the UKIP donor, is intending to stand in the constituency and funding the venture, but is not yet confirmed as selected.
In 1999, Read founded the Rupert Brooke Society of which he was chairman for a few years as well as editing the society's twice-yearly magazine and creating a museum at the Orchard Grantchester with Robin Callan.
In 2009, Read was reported to have been forced to sell his £1million record collection after being declared bankrupt a second time.
In 2011, Read featured in Cash in the Celebrity Attic with Lorne Spicer and expert John Cameron where they searched for antiques and collectibles at his home in the Cotswolds. The items they found raised funds for a memorial to Britain's Bomber Command of the Second World War, and included Charlie Drake memorabilia and artwork made of chocolate and candy.
In 2013, Read, along with three friends, formed the British Plaque Trust, a charity established to commemorate deceased achievers in show business, sport and the general arts by unveiling blue plaques on buildings with which they were associated. The organisation aims to act alongside the work in London of English Heritage who have stated that they are "restructuring" their plaque scheme. In the same year, he was one of the event presenters at Concert At The Kings in All Cannings, Wiltshire.