My Life In Travel: Alastair Campbell

'There is a spirit in the people of Ethiopia I find inspiring'


First holiday memory?

As a child, every summer holiday was a trip from our home in Yorkshire to the Hebridean island of Tiree, which is where my father came from, usually via other relatives en route. Once we reached Tiree, we stayed either at his parents' croft, or up the road at his sister's, my auntie Netta. My first holiday-related memory is of being awakened by my mother because we were leaving very early for the long drive to Oban to get the boat. I thought it was great getting up so early to go on holiday. I can also remember stopping for lunch at Shap, and being told it was the highest fish and chip shop in England. My first memory of Tiree itself was of the boat nearing the dockside and my father pointing out the various relatives waiting to meet us.

Best holiday?

1999, when we discovered the house near Vaison-la-Romaine in France that we have now been going to every year since. Fiona and I have had our main holiday in France every one of the 28 years since we met. Not very adventurous, but it seems to work most years, and the children still want to go with us.

Favourite place in the British Isles?

I did a charity run and bike ride round Loch Ness for Leukaemia Research earlier this year, and you would be hard pressed to find anywhere more beautiful in the whole world. There was one bit where I was running through a little forest and as I emerged from it I looked down on the loch over scenery that literally took my breath away. Most of my favourite landscapes are in Scotland. My favourite places in England are Hampstead Heath, Regent's Park Canal, the Yorkshire Moors and Turf Moor, home of Burnley FC.

What have you learnt from your travels?

To leave plenty of time and understand that there is no point getting too stressed at airports, ferries, toll queues and the like. By and large, everyone gets there in the end. However, whilst recognising in theory that there is no point getting too stressed, I am still capable of stressing out big time if in a queue that doesn't move at a pace I think it should. I was probably spoilt working so long for a prime minister, when details like passport control, tickets and bags get handled by someone else.

Ideal travelling companion?

Outside my own family, it would be Philip Gould and his family. Philip can drive you potty with his endless blathering and boundless enthusiasm, not to mention his inability to go five minutes without talking about politics, but we have had many holidays together and they've almost all been good, partly because our children have always got on so well. I also love travelling to big sporting events – like last Saturday's tragedy at Hampden Park – with my sons.

Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?

Definitely not the first, very occasionally the second, usually the third once I have had a few days to chill out.

Greatest travel luxury?

I haven't told Fiona yet, but I intend to take my own bike on holiday in future. I cycled up Mont Ventoux in Provence last year and I am putting the fact I did it an hour slower than my son, and an hour-and-a-half slower than Lance Armstrong, down to the fact I was on a hired bike.

Better to travel or arrive?

Arrive, because I find the logistics of travel stressful. The only exception I would make are long train journeys. I can get through stacks of work on trains and I love the Eurostar, even more so since St Pancras opened.

Worst travel experience?

One year, to save money, we rented a house near Malaucene that was a lot cheaper than the one we were used to. It was a disaster. Fiona got ill, the kids hated it and we were sharing the garden with the owners of a really horrible dog. I also had a few dreadful experiences coming back from Burnley matches, including one after a game at Carlisle where I ended up sleeping in a boat in someone's garden.

Worst hotel?

Before we had kids, Fiona and I were on holiday with our friends John Merritt and his wife Lindsay Nicholson, in the Camargue region of France. We spent a night in a dive that we later learnt was a National Front base. It was the full-on cockroaches, bedbugs, no water, no complaints allowed situation. None of us slept and we discovered in the morning that we had only stayed because we thought it would be too rude to leave John and Lindsay, and they had only stayed because they thought it would be bad to leave us.

Best hotel?

The next night we stayed at a place called the Mas d'Aigret in Les Baux. Purely by comparison with the above, it was heaven. We have been back a few times since. In the UK, I have always liked the Caledonian in Edinburgh and the Lowry in Manchester. My cousin Susan will also kill me if I don't plug her excellent hotel, The Mallard, in Gullane, East Lothian.

Where has seduced you?

Ethiopia. I have never been for a holiday there but I have been for work on several occasions, and also for the Great Ethiopian Run in 2003 for Leukaemia Research. The challenges facing the country are enormous, but there is a spirit and beauty in the people that I always find inspiring.

Favourite walk/swim/ride/ drive?

My favourite swim is in Hampstead Heath lido when it's not too busy. My favourite walk is at Conaglen, Argyll, in pouring rain. My favourite drive is through the Pennines and up into Scotland.

Best meal abroad?

It was probably the 20 or so courses served at a dinner for Tony Blair hosted by the Sultan of Oman. When we held the EU Presidency we ate in every capital in a matter of days. Denmark was runner-up for the best meal of the tour. Predictably, France won. I can still remember my first real fish soup, in a restaurant in the old town in Nice 30 years ago, as one of the best meals I ever had.

Dream trip?

I would like to take our children on a tour of all the countries in the world I have visited where I have said, "I would love to come here with Fiona and the kids." These would include Australia, South Africa and Brazil as first choice, and then, in no particular order, China, India, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Israel and the occupied territories.

Favourite city?

It's a toss-up between New York and Dublin, with Sydney as runner-up. In mainland Europe it's Marseilles and in the UK, Edinburgh or Glasgow.

Where next?

Scotland for Easter, France for summer, and I hope to get to the Olympics in China for a few days – though, sadly, not competing.

Alastair Campbell is chairman of fundraising for Leukaemia Research and is hosting "An Audience with Michael Palin" on Wednesday 28 November at 8pm in London's Criterion Theatre. The last remaining £50 tickets are available at a 25 per cent discount, costing £37.50, with all proceeds going to the charity. To book, call 020-7405 0101 or visit www.lrf.org.uk

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