Alastair Campbell

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This article is about the British journalist, broadcaster, political aide, and author. For others, see Alistair Campbell.
Alastair Campbell
Alastair Campbell - Chatham House 2012 crop.jpg
Campbell speaking at Chatham House in 2012
Director of Communications and Strategy
In office
15 July 2000 – 29 August 2003
Prime Minister Tony Blair
Downing Street Press Secretary
In office
2 May 1997 – 15 July 2000
Prime Minister Tony Blair
Personal details
Born Alastair John Campbell
(1957-05-25) 25 May 1957 (age 61)
Keighley, West Riding of Yorkshire, England
Political party Labour
Domestic partner Fiona Millar[1]
Children 3[1]
Alma mater Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge
Occupation Journalist, author, broadcaster
Signature Alastair Campbell's signature

Alastair John Campbell (born 25 May 1957) is a British journalist, broadcaster, political aide and author, best known for his work as Director of Communications and Strategy for prime minister Tony Blair between 1997 and 2003. Campbell describes himself as a "communicator, writer and strategist" on his website.

Early and personal life

Campbell was born on 25 May 1957 in Keighley, West Riding of Yorkshire, son of a Scottish veterinary surgeon, Donald Campbell, and his wife Elizabeth.[2] Campbell's parents had moved to Keighley when his father became a partner in a local veterinary practice.[3] Donald was a Gaelic-speaker from the island of Tiree; his wife was from Ayrshire.[4] Campbell has two elder brothers, Donald and Graeme, and a younger sister, Elizabeth. Even though Alastair was born in Yorkshire, he would go over the county border to Lancashire to watch Burnley F.C. with his father.[5]

He attended Bradford Grammar School for a short period of time, followed by City of Leicester Boys' Grammar School and Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge,[2] where he studied modern languages, French and German, for which he received an upper second (2:1). He later claimed he wrote essays based solely on works of literary criticism, often rather than having read the works themselves. He spent a year in the south of France as part of his academic degree course.

Campbell became interested in journalism. His first published work was Inter-City Ditties, his winning entry to a readers' competition in Penthouse Forum, the journalistic counterpart to the Penthouse pornographic magazine. This led to a lengthy stint writing pieces for the magazine with such titles as "Busking with Bagpipes" and "The Riviera Gigolo", written in a style calculated to lead readers at the time to believe they were descriptions of his own sexual exploits.[6]

Campbell became a sports reporter on the Tavistock Times. His first significant contribution to the news pages was coverage of the Penlee lifeboat disaster in December 1981. As a trainee on the Plymouth-based Sunday Independent, then owned by Mirror Group Newspapers, he met his partner Fiona Millar, with whom he has three children; two sons (born November 1987 and July 1989) and a daughter (born May 1993). Campbell is an atheist.[7]

National newspapers

In 1982 Campbell moved to the London office of the Daily Mirror, Fleet Street's sole remaining big-circulation supporter of the Labour Party. He became a political correspondent before in 1986 moving to Today, a full-colour tabloid newspaper which was at the time trying to turn leftward, where he worked as a news editor. His rapid rise and its accompanying stress led to alcohol abuse.[8]

Alcoholism and depression

Campbell was admitted to hospital in 1986 when he travelled to Scotland to cover Neil Kinnock's visit to Glasgow. He was detained by the police for his own safety after being observed behaving oddly. Police contacted his partner and following her calls to friends in Scotland the police let a family friend take Campbell to Ross Hall Hospital, a private BMI hospital in Glasgow where she and her father visited him. Over the next five days as an in-patient he was given medication to calm him, and he realised that he had an alcohol problem after seeing a psychiatrist. Campbell said that from that day onwards he counted each day that he did not drink alcohol, and did not stop counting until he had reached thousands.[8]

Campbell returned to England, preferring to stay with friends near Cheltenham, rather than return to London (and his partner) where he did not feel safe. His condition continued with a phase of depression, and he was reluctant to seek further medical help. He eventually cooperated with treatment from his family doctor.[8]

He has been a prominent supporter and advocate for the mental health anti-stigma campaign, Time to Change.[9][10]

Return to work

Campbell's first son was born in 1987. He returned to the Daily Mirror, where he had to restart at a low grade and work night shifts, but he rebuilt his career and became political editor.[8]

He was a close adviser of Neil Kinnock, going on holiday with the Kinnocks, and worked closely with Robert Maxwell. Shortly after Maxwell drowned in November 1991, Campbell punched The Guardian journalist Michael White after White joked about "Captain Bob, Bob, Bob...bobbing" in the Atlantic Ocean from where the tycoon's body had been recovered.[11] Campbell later put this down to stress over uncertainty as to whether he and his colleagues would lose their jobs.[12][13]

After leaving the Mirror in 1993, Campbell became political editor of Today. He was working there when Labour leader John Smith died in 1994. He was a well-known face and helped to interview the three candidates for the new Labour Party leader; it later became known he had already formed links with Tony Blair.

Politics and government

Campbell lecturing at the LSE series 'From Kennedy to Blair,' 7 July 2003

Shortly after Blair won the leadership of the Labour Party in 1994, Campbell left Today to become his spokesman. Having recovered and become teetotal, he told Blair about his alcoholism, which Blair did not see as a problem.[14] He played an important role in the run-up to the 1997 general election, working with Peter Mandelson to co-ordinate Labour's campaign. He also worked hard to win support from the national media for the Labour Party, particularly from the newspapers that for many years had been anti-Labour. By March 1997, many of the leading newspapers – including the Sun, once a staunch Thatcherite paper – had declared their support for Labour.[15]

He moved into government when Labour won the general election in May 1997 and was the Prime Minister's chief press secretary until 2000. He then moved to the post of Prime Minister's Director of Communications which gave him a strategic role in overseeing government communications. He was sponsored by the US President George W. Bush to complete the London marathon in aid of a cancer charity, Leukaemia Research.

Iraq War

In the run-up to the Iraq War Campbell was involved in the preparation and release of the "September Dossier" in September 2002 and the "Iraq Dossier" (or "Dodgy Dossier") in February 2003. These documents argued the case for concern over possible weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in Iraq. Both have been criticised as overstating or distorting the actual intelligence findings. Subsequent investigation revealed that the September Dossier had been altered, on Campbell's orders, to be consistent with a speech given by George W. Bush and statements by other United States officials. On 9 September 2002, Campbell sent a memo to John Scarlett, the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, in which Campbell directed that the British dossier be "one that complements rather than conflicts with" the US claims.[16]

Later in 2003, commenting on WMDs in Iraq he said, "Come on, you don't seriously think we won't find anything?".[17] He resigned in August 2003 during the Hutton Inquiry into the death of David Kelly. Kelly's view that the government exaggerated the Iraqi threat in the Iraq Dossier, told to BBC journalists Andrew Gilligan and Susan Watts, had led to Campbell battling with the BBC. When Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon revealed to Campbell that Dr Kelly had talked to the BBC, Campbell had then decided, in his own words, to use this fact to "fuck Gilligan".[18] The counsel for the Kelly family said to Lord Hutton: 'The family invite the inquiry to find that the government made a deliberate decision to use Dr Kelly as a pawn as part of its strategy in its battle with the BBC.'[19] He claimed in June 2013 that Tony Blair had "greater commitment to wartime truth" than Winston Churchill.[20]

Campbell gave evidence to the Iraq Inquiry on 12 January 2011.[21]

Later career

Campbell with cricketers Ian Botham, Bob Willis and David Gower, and politician James Erskine.

Campbell worked again for the Labour Party in the run-up to the May 2005 general election. Sir Clive Woodward recruited Campbell to manage relations with the press for the British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand in 2005. Campbell wrote a column for The Times during the tour.

Throughout his time in Downing Street, Campbell kept a diary which reportedly totalled some two million words. Selected extracts, titled The Blair Years, were published on 9 July 2007. Subsequent press coverage of the book's release included coverage of what Campbell had chosen to leave out, particularly in respect of the relationship between Blair and his Chancellor and successor, Gordon Brown. Campbell expressed an intention to one day publish the diaries in fuller form, and indicated in the introduction to the book that he did not wish to make matters harder for Brown in his new role as prime minister, or to damage the Labour Party.

Campbell has his own website and blog, as well as several pages on social networking websites.[22] He uses these platforms to discuss British politics and other topics close to his heart. So far, Campbell's commentaries and views have garnered media attention and generated interest among various online communities. In October 2008, he broadcast the personal story of his mental illness in a television documentary partly to reduce the stigma of that illness.[8] He has written a novel on the subject entitled All in the Mind.

Campbell appeared as a mentor in the BBC Two series The Speaker in April 2009 offering his advice on persuasive speaking.[23]

He is a lifelong supporter of Burnley Football Club and writes about their exploits in a column called "Turf Moor Diaries" for the FanHouse UK football blog .[24] He is regularly involved in events with the club.[25]

Campbell made his first appearance on the BBC One political discussion programme Question Time on 27 May 2010. At the opening of the edition, presenter David Dimbleby said that the new Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition would not allow a front bench member of the government to appear on the show unless Campbell was dropped. The BBC refused to do this. The government later accused the BBC of behaving improperly for allowing Campbell to appear as a more in-depth version of his diaries was due to be published the following week, and a Downing Street spokesman told The Guardian, "Campbell seemed to be on because he's flogging a book next week, so the BBC haven't behaved entirely properly here."[26] Campbell said that he had waited until Labour were in opposition before appearing on the show and that the date was a coincidence as it was the only time he was free. He suggested the discord was part of a Conservative anti-BBC agenda.[26] The minister who had been scheduled to appear was the then Chief Secretary to the Treasury David Laws who Campbell produced a picture of during the programme. Three days later Laws resigned his post following revelations about possible irregularities in his expenses claims in The Telegraph the day before.

Campbell appeared on BBC's Top Gear in July 2010 where he was booed by the audience but set a time of 1:47 around the Top Gear test track in the Star in a Reasonably-Priced Car segment. He was second-fastest at that time.[27]

He also took part in the 2011 Channel Four television series Jamie's Dream School.[28]

In June 2012 he was guest presenter of Have I Got News For You where he surprised the audience by playing the bagpipes. The episode was also featured feuding between Campbell and the show's regular participant Ian Hislop.[29]

In 2011, Campbell contacted the Metropolitan Police with suspicions that his phone was hacked by the News of the World in 2003.[30]

Campbell presented and narrated the 20 February 2012 edition of BBC current affairs programme Panorama, which was entitled "Britain's Hidden Alcoholics". Campbell stated that he is an alcoholic, although he has not drunk alcohol since 1986.

In 2012, Campbell made his first appearance in an acting role with a small part in an episode of the BBC drama Accused.[31]

In May 2012, Campbell took a job at PR agency Portland Communications, at the invitation of Tim Allan, a former adviser to Tony Blair.[32][33] Along with Tony Blair, Campbell has also provided consultancy services to the government of Kazakhstan on "questions of social economic modernisation."[34][35][36]

In an interview with Chat Politics, Campbell declared his regret at not standing in the 1997 general election, and admitted he finds it "depressing" that younger people with far more experience of YouTube and Twitter were not ready to carry out his former role.[37]

Stage and screen portrayals

A regular feature of comedy programme Bremner, Bird and Fortune was a satirical version of Campbell's discussions with Tony Blair, in which Rory Bremner played Blair and Andrew Dunn played Campbell. In 2005, Campbell was played by Jonathan Cake in the Channel 4 television film The Government Inspector, based on the David Kelly Case. The following year, he was portrayed by Mark Bazeley in the Stephen Frears film The Queen – a role reprised by Bazeley in 2010 follow-up The Special Relationship, also written by Peter Morgan but this time directed by Richard Loncraine. Alex Jennings, who portrayed Prince Charles in The Queen, portrayed Campbell in the television drama A Very Social Secretary.[38] In an episode of Dead Ringers his close relationship with Tony Blair is satirised in an imaginary scenario where Blair is divorcing his wife. He is asked if it will be difficult to sack the person he most loves and cherishes replying "I'm not sacking Alastair Campbell".

It is also widely believed that the character of Malcolm Tucker from the BBC political satire comedy The Thick of It is loosely based on Campbell. Tucker is famous for his short fuse and use of very strong language. In an interview with Mark Kermode on BBC2's The Culture Show, Campbell denied that the two are similar in any relevant way, but admitted to his liberal use of profanities in the workplace.[39]

Published books


  1. 1.0 1.1 "About Alistair Campbell". Retrieved 11 July 2012. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Debrett's People of Today 2005 (18th ed.). Debrett's. p. 263. ISBN 1-870520-10-6. 
  3. "History of Aireworth Veterinary Surgery". Retrieved 11 July 2012. 
  4. Seon C. Caimbeul (28 July 2007). "Beachdan 'ceannard nan car' mu ar cànain". The Scotsman. Archived from the original on 18 February 2009. Retrieved 30 July 2007. 
  5. "Videos". Trusupporter. Archived from the original on 17 July 2011. Retrieved 8 September 2011. 
  6. Oborne, Peter and Simon Walters (2004). Alastair Campbell. Aurum. pp. 25–32. ISBN 1-84513-001-4. 
  7. 10 O'Clock Live, 8 February 2012
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 "Cracking Up". BBC Two television documentary written and presented by Alastair Campbell. Broadcast Sunday, 12 October 2008.
  9. Alastair Campbell (7 June 2013). "Alistair Campbell: I feel for Stephen Fry. Nobody would wish depression on their worst enemy". The Independent. London. Archived from the original on 15 June 2013. Retrieved 17 November 2013. 
  10. Darren Devine (28 October 2010). "Alastair Campbell on his battle with depression". Western Mail. Retrieved 17 November 2013. 
  11. Michael White (5 November 2001). "White vs Campbell". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on 15 April 2008. Retrieved 19 July 2007. 
  12. Simon Hoggart (26 July 2003). "Sooner or later, Campbell was going to lose it". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on 18 February 2009. Retrieved 19 July 2007. 
  13. Nick Assinder (29 August 2003). "The life and times of Alastair Campbell". BBC News. Archived from the original on 1 August 2003. Retrieved 19 July 2007. 
  14. Alastair Campbell (2007). The Blair Years. Random House. entry for 6 April 2002. ISBN 0-09-951475-3. 
  15. "The rise and fall of New Labour". BBC News. 3 August 2010. Archived from the original on 5 August 2010. 
  16. Ames, Chris; Norton-Taylor, Richard (10 January 2010). "Alastair Campbell had Iraq dossier changed to fit US claims". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on 12 January 2010. Retrieved 12 January 2010. 
  17. 'Did I say that', Observer magazine 29 March 2009
  18. "Campbell wanted source revealed". BBC News. London: BBC. 22 September 2003. Archived from the original on 12 January 2010. Retrieved 22 September 2013. 
  19. Sengupta, Kim (23 October 2010). "Forget conspiracies: the official version is scandalous enough". The Independent. London: Independent Newspapers Ltd. p. 11. Archived from the original on 24 October 2010. Retrieved 24 October 2010. 
  20. Rowena Mason (30 June 2013). "Tony Blair more truthful about war than liar Winston Churchill, says Alastair Campbell". London: Archived from the original on 12 January 2010. Retrieved 1 July 2013. 
  21. "Alastair Campbell defends 'every word' of Iraq dossier". BBC. 12 January 2011. Archived from the original on 12 January 2010. Retrieved 29 January 2010. 
  22. "Hear the latest from Alastair's Blog: Sign up for RSS feed". Archived from the original on 23 April 2009. Retrieved 11 May 2009. [dead link]
  23. "Alastair Campbell, Speaker Mentor – "Define your key message"". The Speaker, BBC. April 2009. Archived from the original on 11 April 2009. Retrieved 10 May 2009. 
  24. "Alastair's Turf Moor Diaries". 
  25. "Alastair Campbell". Trusupporter. Archived from the original on 17 July 2011. Retrieved 8 September 2011. 
  26. 26.0 26.1 Robinson, James (28 May 2010). "Alastair Campbell Question Time row: Government hits out at BBC". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on 31 May 2010. Retrieved 28 May 2010. 
  27. Boden, Nicola (6 July 2010). "Alastair Campbell finally meets his match as he is roundly booed by Top Gear audience". Mail Online. London: Daily Mail. Archived from the original on 7 July 2010. Retrieved 11 July 2012. 
  28. "Jamies Dream School". Archived from the original on 30 September 2011. Retrieved 11 July 2012. 
  29. "HIGNFY Series 43 Episode 8". Radio Times. Archived from the original on 5 June 2012. Retrieved 11 July 2012. 
  30. Watt, Nicholas (25 January 2011). "Phone-hacking: Alastair Campbell contacts Met over NoW suspicions". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on 27 July 2013. Retrieved 30 January 2011. 
  31. "Accused: Stephen's Story". BBC One. 6 October 2012. Archived from the original on 31 August 2012. 
  32. Alastair Campbell (23 May 2012). "Joining Portland". Portland Communications. Archived from the original on 27 May 2012. Retrieved 5 July 2013. 
  33. Josh Halliday (23 May 2012). "Alastair Campbell gets job at PR agency Portland". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on 23 May 2012. Retrieved 5 July 2013. 
  34. "Kazakhstan". Freedom House. Archived from the original on 11 June 2012. Retrieved 5 July 2013. 
  35. Jason Lewis (29 October 2011). "Oil rich dictator of Kazakhstan recruits Tony Blair to help win Nobel peace prize". The Daily Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on 30 October 2011. Retrieved 5 July 2013. 
  36. Jerome Taylor (31 October 2011). "The two faces of Tony Blair". The Independent. London. Archived from the original on 3 November 2011. Retrieved 5 July 2013. 
  37. Shaun O'Mahoney. "Alistair Campbell On spin, Cherie Blair, Iraq, The Thick of It, and Scottish Independence". Archived from the original on 4 April 2014. Retrieved 31 March 2014. 
  38. International Movie Database, Alex Jennings (I).
  39. "Alastair Campbell views In the Loop". YouTube. 4 August 2009. 
  40. "Political Awards: and the winner is...". Channel 4 News. Channel 4. 23 January 2008. Archived from the original on 14 January 2009. 
  41. "Campbell diaries to be published". BBC News. 16 October 2008. 
  42. "The Blair Years". The Random House Group. Archived from the original on 13 March 2007. 
  43. Phillips, Adam (25 October 2008). "Feel the fear". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on 26 October 2008. Retrieved 31 October 2008. 
  44. Horowitz, Anthony (31 January 2010). "Review: Alastair Campbell's novel Maya". The Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on 3 February 2010. Retrieved 24 February 2010. 
  45. East, Ben (14 September 2013). "My Name Is… by Alastair Campbell – review". The Observer. Retrieved 15 February 2014. 

Further reading

External links

Government offices
Preceded by
Christopher Meyer
10 Downing Street Press Secretary to Tony Blair
Succeeded by
Tom Kelly
Preceded by
Office created
Downing Street Director of Communications
Succeeded by
David Hill