Neil Tennant was born in North Shields, near Newcastle upon Tyne to William and Sheila Tennant. As a child, Tennant attended St. Cuthbert's Grammar School, an all-boys' Roman Catholic school in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne.
Tennant's songs "This Must Be the Place I Waited Years to Leave" and "It's a Sin" refer to his early life in Catholic school and the strict Catholic upbringing there. "It's a Sin" caused controversy with its implicit criticism of Catholic education.
Whilst at school Tennant played guitar and cello. At the age of 16, he played in a group called Dust, whose most popular song was called "Can You Hear the Dawn Break?". They were heavily influenced by The Incredible String Band.
In 1975, having completed a degree in history at North London Polytechnic (now London Metropolitan University), Neil Tennant worked for two years as London Editor for Marvel UK, the UK branch of Marvel Comics. He was responsible for anglicising the dialogue of Marvel's catalogue to suit British readers, and for indicating where women needed to be redrawn more decently for the British editions.
He also wrote occasional features for the comics, including interviews with pop stars Marc Bolan and Alex Harvey. In 1977, he moved to Macdonald Educational Publishing where he edited "The Dairy Book Of Home Management" and various illustrated books about cookery, playing the guitar and other home interests. Then he moved to ITV Books where he edited TV tie-in books.
After having commissioned Steve Bush, then the designer of "Smash Hits" and "The Face", to design a book about the group Madness, he was offered a job at Smash Hits as news editor of the British teen pop magazine in 1982. The following year he became Assistant Editor. He also edited the 1982, 1983 and 1984 editions of "The Smash Hits Yearbook".
At Smash Hits, an opportunity arose for him to go to New York to interview The Police. Whilst there, Tennant arranged to meet Bobby Orlando, a producer who both he and Lowe admired. Tennant mentioned that he was writing songs in his spare time and Orlando agreed to record some tracks with him and Lowe at a later date. Orlando subsequently produced the Pet Shop Boys' first single "West End Girls".
Although Tennant avoided the issue of homosexuality in the 1980s, preferring his lyrics to be androgynous, shortly after the release of 1993's Very he publicly "came out" in Attitude, a UK gay lifestyle magazine. According to the musician Tom Stephan, aka Superchumbo, they had a two-year romantic relationship.
He is part of the "Pet Shop Boys" together with Chris Lowe.