Alastair Campbell? I hated his message, but I was always fond of the messenger

For an ex-drinker like me, Campbell makes a particularly interesting role model

Simon Kelner
Thursday 12 September 2013 11:14 BST
Alastair Campbell photographed at his north London home
Alastair Campbell photographed at his north London home (© Justin Sutcliffe)

Over the years, I've had my share of run-ins with Alastair Campbell. We were very much on opposite sides of the debate in the run-up to the Iraq War - he was the spin doctor responsible for selling the government's position to a reluctant public, and I was the editor of a newspaper implacably opposed to military action.

It is safe to say that our relationship was fraught, but our differences were never personal. He'd send me the odd letter - rarely an email, presumably on the grounds that a letterhead with 10, Downing Street on it demanded to be taken seriously - complaining about our front page, or what was said in a leader column. He'd be furious to the point of apoplexy, and then I'd see him shortly afterwards at a party, and he would be warm and friendly (albeit in a combative way). The truth is that I have always liked him: I hated the message but I found myself quite fond of a messenger gifted with remarkable articulacy and always ready with a humorous put-down.

My affinity with him had more than a little to do with Campbell's back story, that of a recovering alcoholic who suffered from depression. He gave up drinking at 27 - almost 30 years ago - and has written powerfully and evocatively about the effects of depression. He also runs marathons and makes speeches to raise money for his various charities, and while he's not exactly Stephen Fry, he is somewhere on the polymath spectrum.

He's a published writer of fiction - and I'm not including his diaries of the Blair years - and this week his third novel, My Name Is, the story of a teenage girl's descent into alcoholism, comes out. He's been doing the round of interviews, and inevitably the subject of drink looms large in the conversation.

I was particularly interested in what he had to say, because I gave up booze at the beginning of this year, an open-ended commitment which, in my case at least, doesn't get any easier as you tick off the days. Campbell has been one of my role models in this respect, but something he said struck me as odd.

"In 1999 - I can't remember where or why - I had a drink," he said. "And now I do have the odd glass of wine, although I wish I didn't." Hold on! The odd glass? Surely, that's verboten. Campbell obviously has tungsten resolve - he gave up all those years ago simply by going cold turkey - so the occasional glass does not necessarily come from a bottle of Chateau Slippery Slope, but I don't think this would work for me.

It's not the first glass in itself, but once I've broken the spell, I might as well have the second glass. And that's where the trouble starts. By the time the second glass is finished, that warm, fuzzy glow takes over and we all know where the third glass ends up. Karaoke with some very new best friends at 3am. Campbell says he feels guilty about the occasional drink "because I feel it sends out the wrong message". Too right, Alastair. And I'm the one getting the message!

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