I was 47 when it happened, 13 years younger than Michael Heseltine, but I have the sense that he is driven in the same way I was. I worked in local government and was in charge of my own department. It was a hectic job, but I was always taking on extra work: I involved myself in training other staff, all sorts of special projects, and more paperwork than I had to do. It was all part of having people think I was wonderful. I wanted to prove that I was better than everyone else. So I ignored the utter exhaustion I felt a lot of the time, the occasional pains in the chest, the headaches, and the times when I was enormously tense. Of course there was also the satisfaction from doing a good job, and that was what drove me.
The heart attack happened so suddenly, and the pain was so dreadful, that I didn't really know what was happening. It wasn't until I was out of danger and calm that I began to look at it as a warning. My internal voice started saying, 'You arrogant bastard, you imagined you could do everything, cope better, be more successful than everyone else. And this is the price.'
After my attack I spent some time at home, but as it got close to time to return to work I began to feel very anxious. I'd worked out strategies for making the job less demanding, which worked for a short while, but I became aware of getting back into the competitive pattern, and this time I was very conscious of the stress building up. It frightened me because I knew I was putting my life on the line - I knew I could have another attack and I knew that wasn't worth it. I had also begun to question, in a way I never had before, where the quality of life lay.
My wife Diane and I discussed what would happen if I gave up my job. It was a difficult decision,as I think it would be for anyone whose adult life has been entirely focused on career success, but I could see it was the best thing for my health. I also realised it would be an opportunity to do the journalism and fiction writing which I have always wanted to do, but which has always been on the back burner because of time.
That was two years ago and I havehad to re-shape my life. I don't push myself in the way I did before. If I have a day when things aren't happening with the writing I shut the computer down, get on my bike and spend an hour around the lanes and through the woods. Or I go for a walk on the beach - I have learnt how wonderfully calming and therapeutic it is to go for a long walk.
I don't want Diane to support me, so if the writing doesn't pay I might tryto get a job. But I'd go for something quieter which would not make the demands that the other job did.
These days I have time to talk - and I mean talk properly - to my wife; we go for stolls in the evenings, we sit over a leisurely supper and when my sons are around I can be with them in a way I never could before. I do a lot of sport and my heart is doing fine - so I see clearly that it was stress that was the problem, not over-exertion. I have given up smoking, I don't get strange pains. When the attack happened I thought fate was being particularly cruel, but now I'm inclined to think it did me a favour. I know how different the quality of my life is now.
Michael Heseltine is a bit older than me. It was said on the news that he developed flu after the Toryparty conference. My advice to him is to think again about returning to politics. He might get more out of spending time at home in the country with his family - who clearly care for him very much - than going back to a job that could be the death of him.Reuse content