Edna May Healey, née Edmunds, was born in Coleford, on the edge of the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire, England, the daughter of crane driver. She was educated at Bells Grammar School, where she was the first student to win a place at Oxford University. While there, she met Denis Healey, her future husband and a future Labour politician. She taught at a girls' grammar school in West Yorkshire and later lectured, often on Charles Dickens, for the Workers' Educational Association and the English-Speaking Union. The couple were able to marry in 1945 after his World War II military service, and had three children. She began her writing career relatively late in life but her first book, Lady Unknown: The Life of Angela Burdett-Coutts (1978) was a bestseller. Her subsequent books were also nonfiction, and many were also biographies of prominent women. They included Wives of Fame (1986), The Queen's House: A History of Buckingham Palace (1997) and Emma Darwin (2001). She also made two award-winning television documentaries, Mrs. Livingstone, I Presume (1982) and One More River, the Life of Mary Slessor in Nigeria (1984). She became Baroness Healey in 1992 when her husband received a life peerage.
She was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1993.