Alastair Campbell is a writer, communicator and strategist best known for his role as former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s spokesman, press secretary and director of communications and strategy. Still active in politics in Britain and overseas, he now splits his time between writing, speaking, charitable fundraising, consultancy and campaigns.
He has written eleven books in the past eight years, including six volumes of diaries, three novels and a personal memoir on depression and the pursuit of happiness. His latest book, Winners, is about winners in sport, business and politics and what lessons mere mortals can learn from them. It is due to be published in 2015.
A former “Mind Champion of the Year,” he is an ambassador for the Time to Change campaign to raise awareness about mental illness, and chairman of fundraising for Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research. He continues to advise the Labour Party, and other left-of-center parties, most recently acting as strategic director for the Albanian Socialist Party, who won a landslide victory in June 2013. He is a Humanitas Visiting Professor on media at Cambridge University, and was also recently honored by University College Dublin for his contribution to the Northern Ireland peace process. He is on the advisory board of Portland PR, and independently acts as an advisor to governments, businesses, charities, sports organizations and high-profile individuals.
He was born in Yorkshire in 1957, the son of a vet. His family moved to Leicester in 1968, and he attended school there until going to Cambridge University in 1975. He graduated four years later with a degree in modern languages. His university education included a year in France when he had his first “journalism” published, articles on sex in Forum magazine. He also busked around the world with his bagpipes. Finally, he decided to become a journalist and trained with the Mirror Group on local papers in the West Country before joining the Mirror itself in 1982.
He left in the mid-80s to work for Eddy Shah’s Today newspaper as news editor, but had a nervous breakdown and left to return to the Mirror after convalescence. He rose to become political editor and the paper’s chief political columnist. He then worked briefly for Today under new ownership in 1994 before being asked by Tony Blair to be his press secretary when Blair became leader of the Labour Party. He did this for three years. Blair, in his own autobiography, credited Campbell with coining the phrase ‘New Labour’ as the label for the party’s strategy, and described him as a ‘genius’ for the role he played in helping to create New Labour, return the party to power, and win three general elections. After the 1997 election, he became the Prime Minister’s chief press secretary and official spokesman, which entailed the coordination of government communications and twice daily briefings of the press. He was seconded to NATO in 1999 to oversee communications during the Kosovo conflict. After helping Blair win a second landslide election victory, he became director of communications and strategy. He did this until he resigned in September 2003, saying it had been an enormous privilege but he wanted more of a life with his partner Fiona and their three children.
Campbell’s main hobbies are running, cycling, bagpipes and following Burnley FC. He took up running in 2003 at the instigation of his sons and has since run the London Marathon, the Great North Run and the Great Ethiopian Run, and completed several full triathlons, all for Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, (Campbell lost his best friend to leukaemia). He returned to the Labour Party for six months prior to the 2005 general election and continued to advise the party informally under Gordon Brown, including during the 2010 campaign, in which he “played” David Cameron in rehearsals for the historic first TV debates between leaders. He is one of the party’s most in-demand speakers at fundraising and motivational events. Together with former sports minister Richard Caborn, he pulled together two of the most successful fundraising dinners in Labour’s history, both on the theme of sport at Wembley Stadium.
Passionate about sport, he was written about different sports for The Times, The Irish Times and Esquire magazine. He was communications adviser to the British and Irish Lions rugby tour of New Zealand in 2005. He has raised funds for Burnley FC, a team he has supported since the age of four. His charity projects have involved playing football with both Diego Maradona and Pele, and appearing in a one-off version of the popular TV program, The Apprentice.
In July 2007, he published his first book on his time with Tony Blair, The Blair Years, extracts from his diaries from 1994 to 2003, which was an instant Sunday Times #1 best seller. He has since published four volumes of the full diaries, and a special edition of the diaries focused on the Northern Ireland peace process, The Irish Diaries. He has continued to keep a diary and is expected to publish his post Downing Street diaries in the future. Campbell’s first novel, All In the Mind, appeared in November 2008, to enthusiastic reviews for its frank examination of mental illness. His second novel, Maya, a gripping analysis of fame and the obsession it attracts, was published in February 2010. His third novel, published in September 2013, is called My Name Is… and tells the story of a young girl’s descent into alcoholism. He has since become an ambassador for Alcohol Concern.
In October 2008, Campbell broadcast an award-winning one-hour documentary on BBC2 about his own breakdown in 1986. Both the films, Cracking Up and All In the Mind, won considerable praise from mental health charities and campaign groups for helping to break down the taboo surrounding mental health. He received the Mind Champion of the Year award in May 2009 in recognition of his work to break down the stigma around mental illness, and continues to campaign on the issue both in Britain and overseas. He has also made a BBC documentary about alcoholism.
In his time in Downing Street, he was involved in all the major policy issues and international crises. Campbell has said that in ten years in the media, and a decade in politics, he saw his respect for the media fall and his respect for politics rise. He was called to the Leveson Inquiry into press standards twice, first for his insights into modern journalism, and second to give his views on the changed relationship between politics and media. He is a sought-after speaker at events around the world, specializing in strategic communications, leadership, team building and crisis management.
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