Barnes is a graduate in economics from the University of Wales. Having spent a number of years living in various Scandinavian countries he speaks Norwegian, Danish, Swedish and French and is currently learning British Sign Language. He is no longer fluent in some of the languages however.
After Boris Johnson's victory in the 2008 mayoral election, Barnes was appointed on 6 May 2008 as statutory Deputy Mayor of London, making him both the first male and the first LGBT Deputy Mayor of London.
Richard Barnes regularly chaired the Mayor of London's meetings of London LGBT organisations (now twice a year).
He lost his seat in the Assembly elections in May 2012.