Strategist, Author, Mental Health Campaigner
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 particular his work for the People’s Vote campaign, he now splits his time between writing, speaking, charitable fundraising, politics and campaigns.
He was born in Yorkshire in 1957, the son of a vet. His family moved to Leicester in 1968, and he went to 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 Mr Blair became leader of the Labour Party. He did this for three years, and played a key role helping to create New Labour and return the Party to power.
After the 1997 election he became the Prime Minister’s Chief Press Secretary and Official Spokesman, which entailed the co-ordination of Government communications and twice daily briefings of the press. He did this job for Labour’s first term but after helping Mr 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 enormous privilege but he wanted more of a life with his partner Fiona, an education writer and campaigner, and their three children, now aged 30, 29 and 25.
His main hobbies are running, cycling, bagpipes and following Burnley FC. He took up running in his 40s at the instigation of his sons and he has since run the London Marathon, the Great North Run, and the Great Ethiopian Run, and completed several full triathlons, all for Bloodwise, his best friend having been killed by 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 TV debates.
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. His charity projects have involved him playing football with both Diego Maradona and Pele, and appearing in a one off version of the popular TV programme, The Apprentice.
In his time in Downing Street he was involved in all the major policy issues and international crises. He 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 is a sought after speaker at events around the world, specialising in strategic communications.
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 Number 1 bestseller. He has since published seven volumes of his diaries, and a volume focused entirely on the peace process in Northern Ireland. His 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, My Name Is, was a profile of a teenage alcoholic, since when he became an ambassador for Alcohol Concern, and his fourth novel, Saturday Bloody Saturday, was a story of football and IRA terrorism in the 1970s, co-authored with former Burnley striker Paul Fletcher. He has also written a memoir on depression, The Happy Depressive, and a Number 1 best-seller on winning, called Winners and How They Succeed, in which he analyses winners in politics, business and sport, and seeks to draw universal lessons.
In recent years he has shifted much of his campaign work to two passions – fighting Brexit, and improving services and attitudes in mental health. In October 2008 Alastair broadcast an award-winning one hour documentary on BBC2 about his own breakdown in 1986. Both the film, 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. He has since become an ambassador for Time to Change, Mind, Rethink, and a Patron of the Maytree, Britain’s only Sanctuary for the Suicidal. In the summer of 2019, he was made a Global Ambassador for Australians for Mental Health, a new advocacy group in Australia. He is currently working on a book about depression.
He was expelled from the Labour Party for voting tactically for the Liberal Democrats in the June 2019 European elections. He launched an appeal, but despite being advised he would win in court, dropped it in late July, saying in an open letter to Jeremy Corbyn that it was no longer the Party to which he had devoted his life, and he no longer wished to be a member.
BBC News & Radio Presenter
Broadcaster & Journalist
President of Murray Edwards College
Founder, Kitchen Table Partners
Vice-Principal of King's College London and Trustee of the V & A Museum
Professor of Cognitive NeuroImaging, Aston University