Barry Douglas was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on April 23, 1960. In his youth he studied piano, organ, clarinet, and cello. He later enrolled at the Royal College of Music in London, studying piano with John Barstow. He also had studies with Maria Curcio in London and Yevgeny Malinin in Paris.
The road to Douglas' victory at the 1986 Tchaikovsky Competition contained a few minor bumps: he had won second prize at the 1980 Santander Piano Competition in Spain (no first prize awarded), second again at the Israel-based 1983 Rubinstein Competition, and third prize at the 1985 Van Cliburn Competition. Douglas' debut recordings appeared in 1987, the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto and a solo disc of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition and works of Liszt, both for RCA. Reviews were generally quite favorable, as they were for his ongoing concert appearances at the world's major concert venues, like Carnegie Hall (1988). Throughout the 1990s Douglas made a string of successful recordings, which included an acclaimed 1991 disc of the Seventh Sonata and other works by Prokofiev, for RCA. In 1998 Douglas founded Camerata Ireland. He still serves as music director of the ensemble, and sometimes leads them in concert from the keyboard. In 2002 Douglas was awarded an OOBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) and later on was given numerous citations and awards, including a 2009 honorary doctorate from the University of Wyoming. Douglas serves on the faculty at the Royal College of Music as Prince Consort Professor of Piano.