The nitrogen-vacancy (NV) colour centre in diamond is a model system for many quantum technologies including, metrology, information processing and communications. The NV centre is also highly suitable for employment in various nanotechnology applications, such as biological and sub-diffraction limit imaging, and in tests of fundamental physics, such as cavity quantum electrodynamics and the quantum entanglement of mesoscopic systems. The remarkable properties of the centre are however, not currently fully understood, with several unresolved issues limiting the performance of the centre in its many important applications. As the unresolved issues are interrelated and concern different aspects of the centre's properties, they may only be resolved by the development of a single self-consistent theory of the NV centre. The aim of this work has been to develop such a theory. The theory has been developed using a combination of the molecular model of deep level defects in semiconductors, group theoretical methods and ab initio calculations. The highly structured nature of the theory will enable its future use in the systematic identification of other colour centres that possess properties that exceed those of the NV centre.