How We Met: Alastair Campbell & Dave Brailsford

'I'm a bit sloppy, but when Dave told me my bike was a disgrace I had to promise to clean it'
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The Independent Online

Alastair Campbell, 53, worked as a political journalist before becoming Tony Blair's spokesperson. Following the 1997 Labour victory, he became a high-profile figure within the Labour Party, known for his short temper and close relationship to Blair that led some to call him 'the real deputy prime minister'. Since his resignation in 2003, he has worked as a strategist and motivational speaker, publishing two volumes of his political diaries and two novels. He lives in north London with his wife and their three children

Quite late in life I developed a fairly big interest in cycling. I'm chairman of fundraising for Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research and around 2003 they got me to switch from marathon to triathlon. So that meant getting into the bike.

I was aware of Dave's reputation as a leader and strategist, both of which fascinate me and are close to my own line of work, and we met in person at an event a few years ago. We just hit it off.

We talk a lot about new techniques and ideas that he is trying out – he is obsessed with anything that might make people perform better as a team. A lot of my friends are in sport – not just because I like watching and taking part in it, but because I think you can learn so much from it about other areas of life.

We saw a lot of each other in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics, which is when he came into his own and his public profile grew. But even before then I would bore people and tell them that Dave Brailsford is up there with the Fergusons and the Wengers of the sporting world.

I think there are parallels between Dave and Sir Alex. Dave is a quiet operator, but like Alex he understands the importance of psychology and he knows when to cajole, when to criticise. Both have a never-ending interest in the whole process – I think it is a combination of instinct and science.

After the Olympics I got Dave and the canoeist Tim Brabants to come to the Labour Party conference. I think it was on the Leader's speech day, which is usually when nobody cares about anything else, but they got a standing ovation, which is a rare thing at a party conference.

Dave is supportive personally, too. When I was taking part in the Chilcot Inquiry, Dave was in the Middle East and I'd come out during my breaks and there'd be a text message from him, saying, "You're doing really well, just say what you believe."

He was at my house the other day and I showed him our bikes – my son keeps his really clean but I'm a bit sloppy. Dave just said, "That's a disgrace," and I had to promise to clean it. He also said my cycling shoes were crap, but I pointed out they were signed by Eddy Merckx. In that case, he suggested, I should mount them on a wall.

Dave Brailsford MBE, 46, is performance director for British Cycling. A former sports-science and MBA business graduate and competitive cyclist, he is credited with Britain's outstanding performance at the 2008 Olympics, when his riders brought home 14 medals. He won British Sports Personality Coach of the Year, and is now principal of Team Sky pro-cycling squad with a long-term target of victory in the Tour de France. He lives in Nottingham with his partner and their daughter

Alastair and I met some time before the Beijing Olympics, neither of us can remember where, but we got talking and kept in touch. I'm not a politically inclined animal, but you can't live in this country and not know who Alastair is. Whether you agree with the political outcomes or not, what Alastair did was ground-breaking in the world of communications and I was intrigued. As soon as we met I wanted to pick his brains and see whether we could learn anything from him.

In the run-up to the Olympics we kept in touch a lot. He came up to Manchester for a special training session at the Velodrome and we did a presentation about how we worked at British Cycling, and particularly the methodologies to the mental approach, the soft side of what we do, and Alastair was really engaged and engaging on that. He jumped on the track after – wearing his football socks, I remember – and he actually did really well.

I think a lot of people know Alastair only in his professional role, but very few of us are the same in real life as we are in our jobs. I think professionally he is full-on and can be very abrupt, but that's part of why he has been so good at what he's done. As friends we get on very well and I find him a likeable, witty guy. He has a dry sense of humour and never misses a chance to take the mick, so you do have to watch yourself.

Post-Beijing, Alastair and I spoke a lot. We had gone to the Olympics knowing we were a good team, but nobody else really did. We'd lived in a bubble there and when got off the plane home it was a world that we didn't know – there were media requests left, right and centre. It was bonkers, and very destabilising for some people. Alastair chatted through a lot of things with me. He grasps situations quickly and is so clear and concise in his thinking about the right thing to do, it was really useful and reassuring. Even now if I want advice across a whole host of things, I'll pick up the phone to call him.

'Diaries Volume One: Prelude to Power' by Alastair Campbell is published by Hutchinson, priced £25. For more on GB cycling, see british cycling.org.uk; for Team Sky, see teamsky.com

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