Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s most trusted Downing Street adviser, has disclosed publicly for the first time that he once planned to commit suicide by walking into the path of an oncoming truck.
Blair’s former director of communications and strategy previously admitted that he momentarily suffered suicidal thoughts at the height of allegations that the British government had “sexed-up” an intelligence report on weapons of mass destruction in order to help justify the invasion of Iraq.
On Wednesday, he described the depths of his depression, an illness which has affected him in bouts throughout decades at the center of British politics. “I've only ever once thought about it in what I would call an active, practical, logistical way,” he said. “If you read [my] first novel, there is a suicide in it, and that is how I would do it.”
Campbell, a former political journalist, was celebrated as one of the architects of the New Labour movement which helped to elect Blair as prime minister in 1997. Once Labour were in office, Campbell was installed as a key member of Downing Street’s inner circle which was said to wield more power than the Cabinet and the House of Commons.
His role as Blair’s master of spin came under intense scrutiny during the war in Iraq, when he was accused of helping to hype up intelligence reports about Saddam Hussein’s access to WMD, a claim he denies. In his published diaries, Campbell described “a passing thought” of committing suicide after the death of Dr David Kelly, a government scientist who had secretly briefed the BBC on what became known as the “dodgy dossier” on Iraq.
Campbell has been forthright in describing his struggles with mental illness and alcoholism, but until Wednesday, he had never divulged how close he came to taking his own life. The suicide he referred to, which takes place in his novel, All in the Mind, is described in vivid detail:
He waited until the first car had passed and then stepped into the bus lane itself, and began to inch towards the road. As the second car passed him, he picked up his pace a little. He timed it to perfection. The third car passed as he crossed from the bus lane to the road. The lorry driver slammed hard on his breaks as soon as he realised the smartly dressed grey-haired man carrying a brown leather briefcase was not going to stop. But it was too late. The lorry hit him so hard he was dead by the time the nearside front wheels rolled over his neck.
The political consultant and journalist, who retired from full-time politics in 2003, now campaigns to raise awareness of mental health issues. Speaking at the live recording of a podcast called the Political Party with Matt Forde in London, Campbell said there was a chronic lack of understanding of mental illness among both ordinary people and those who ought to know better.
He said he had been appalled to discover that even Britain’s Secretary of State for Health, Conservative MP Jeremy Hunt, appeared not understand that depression was an illness rather than a mood. “I'm gonna say something now, and my daughter will be really pleased because she's been telling me for ages, you've got to say this. I met Jeremy Hunt, and he said something to me, which I just thought: Talk about being out of touch! He said. ‘Do you know what: I saw you on the telly talking about depression and I thought: why's Alastair Campbell depressed?’”
“It's an illness,” Campbell said, in exasperation.
Describing himself as a “happy depressive,” Campbell said the illness had not affected his ability to work for so long at the heart of the British government. “I noticed when I was transcribing my diaries that the start of every holiday I was a fucking nightmare for a week, I couldn't relax I was snappy, I was argumentative, I was difficult, I was depressed. Why was I depressed? Because I was literally de-compressing,” he said.
Campbell still offers regular advice to the Labour Party, writes both fiction and non-fiction books, and conducts regular interviews for British GQ. He said: “The other thing I've learnt about myself: I'm an addict. Alcohol was one of my addictions, work is still an addiction. I look at my diary sometimes and think what the fuck are you doing this for?”