Nicky Campbell
Nicky Campbell

Nicky Campbell: I have trouble sleeping, especially if I’m interviewing the Chancellor the next day

The radio and TV presenter talks about how he tackles sleep problems, a kidney scare and looking after his mental health.

Hannah Stephenson
Thursday 06 May 2021 08:00

TV and radio presenter Nicky Campbell is more than familiar with getting up with the lark, thanks to his early starts on his breakfast show on 5 Live.

Sleep is a problem, he admits, although it’s just one of a number of issues he raises in his memoir, One Of The Family, in which he also details a breakdown and subsequent bipolar diagnosis, the negative emotions he felt about being adopted, and how his faithful Labrador Maxwell has helped him through good times and bad.

“Maxwell is like the epicentre of love,” says Campbell, who co-presents Long Lost Family with Davina McCall “During the week, because I have to get up very early in the morning, so Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and even Thursday night, I’m in the spare room and Maxwell’s up in the bed with me. It’s very unsanitary!”

You’ve just turned 60 – how does that feel?

“My doctor said to me the other day during my twice-yearly check, ‘You’re out of the sniper zone now, you’re going into open territory’.

“In your 50s, you’re in the sniper zone, when something can come at you with complete surprise. Now in your 60s, you’re going into open battle zone, where you can see everything coming at you.”

Have you ever had any illnesses which have required a hospital visit?

“Kidney stones about five years ago, and again about four years ago. They blast them. I don’t think I p***ed them out, because they say that’s the worst pain known to anyone. My wife disputes that.

“I went to the Salford Royal in Manchester, which was amazing. When I went into A&E, I was literally crawling on my knees. When they give you the morphine pain relief, it’s amazing.”

Given your early breakfast shows, what’s your sleep pattern like?

“Not great. Sometimes I’ll get to sleep about 9.30pm and then I’ll wake up about 2am, stay awake for an hour, then back to sleep and I’m up at 4.45am.

“Sometimes in the middle of the night, I’ll listen to something to relax me. I listen to this painter called Bob Ross or to [Autonomous Sensory] Meridian Response.

“But things go through your head and I do toss and turn, especially if I’m interviewing the Chancellor of the Exchequer the next morning.

“I feel tired a lot of the time. When I wake up on Saturday morning after a decent sleep, it’s the best feeling in the world. I lie in till 6.20am!”

How do you look after your mental health?

“Exercise. Plus musical instruments, family, dogs, love and feeling secure. Music is a big therapy for me. I write music for my podcast and may spend a ridiculous amount of time writing a 40 second bit of music – I really enjoy it. I like reading non-fiction and just put my feet up with a nice drink, a bowl of nuts and Maxwell’s head on my lap.”

How much exercise do you do?

“I try to exercise every day. I’ve got my cycle machine – I cycle about 20km a day. I like to push the heart and feel it. I wasn’t a bad runner when I was at school.

“I did a marathon when I was 40 and smoking 10 a day in three hours 20 minutes. I used to enjoy running, but I can’t run so well now, because the knees have gone a bit. I also like to walk the dog.”

Do you meditate?“Walking the dog, writing music and concentrating hard and focusing on something is my meditation. The dogs [he also has two Westies] help me relax. Just touching the dogs, them lying on you, brings you an amazing feeling of inner calm.”

Are you careful about what you eat?

“Fairly careful. But when I have a gin and tonic or a bourbon, I do like a couple of packets of crisps, which isn’t great.

“I’m a vegetarian, but I occasionally eat some fish. First of all, I stopped eating mammals. Then I stopped eating birds. I occasionally eat fish, but it must be sustainable, and I will wean myself off it. Now when I pass a butcher’s shop, I just see murder.”

Guilty pleasures?“A nice expensive bourbon, and sometimes I can’t resist chocolate as well.”

Any health or fitness aims?

“To stay as fit as I can. I have to be fit because I do so much stuff. Also, everyone else has had Covid in the house but me, so another aim is to stay Covid-free.”

One of the Family: Why A Dog Called Maxwell Changed My Life by Nicky Campbell is published by Hodder & Stoughton, £20. Available now.