Former Director of Communications and Strategy for U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair. An engaging speaker known for his straight talking and honest insights into dealing with the media, strategy planning and crisis management.
Alastair Campbell is a writer, communicator and strategist best known for his role as former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s spokesman, press secretary and director of communications and strategy. Still active in Labour politics, he now splits his time between writing, speaking, charitable fundraising, politics and campaigns.
He was born in Yorkshire in 1957, the son of a vet. His family moved to Leicester in 1968, and he went to school there until going to Cambridge University in 1975. He graduated four years later with a degree in modern languages. His university education included a year in France when he had his first “journalism” published, articles on sex in Forum magazine. He also busked around the world with his bagpipes. Finally he decided to become a journalist and trained with the Mirror Group on local papers in the West Country before joining the Mirror itself in 1982. He left in the mid 80s to work for Eddy Shah’s Today newspaper as news editor but had a nervous breakdown and left to return to the Mirror after convalescence. He rose to become political editor and the paper’s chief political columnist. He then worked briefly for Today under new ownership in 1994 before being asked by Tony Blair to be his press secretary when Mr. Blair became leader of the Labour Party. He did this for three years, and played a key role helping to create New Labour and return the Party to power. After the 1997 election he became the Prime Minister’s Chief Press Secretary and Official Spokesman, which entailed the co-ordination of Government communications and twice daily briefings of the press. He did this job for Labour’s first term but after helping Mr. Blair win a second landslide election victory, he became Director of Communications and Strategy. He did this until he resigned in September 2003, saying it had been enormous privilege but he wanted more of a life with his partner Fiona and their three children, now aged 23, 21 and 17.
His main hobbies are running, cycling, bagpipes and following Burnley FC. He took up running nine years ago at the instigation of his sons and he has since run the London Marathon, the Great North Run, and the Great Ethiopian Run, and completed several full triathlons, all for Leukaemia Research Fund, his best friend having been killed by the disease. He is the charity’s chairman of fundraising, currently focused on seeking fifty donations of 50,000 pounds for the charity’s fiftieth anniversary. He returned to the Labour Party for six months prior to the 2005 general election and again to help the Party in the 2010 campaign. He ‘played’ David Cameron in Gordon Brown’s rehearsals for the historic televised leaders’ debates. He is one of the party’s most in-demand speakers at fundraising and motivational events, and was a founder of the GoFourth campaign aimed at focusing Party activists and the public on the need to understand the real choices facing Britain. Together with former sports minister Richard Caborn, he pulled together two of the most successful fundraising dinners in Labour’s history, both on the theme of sport at Wembley stadium.
Passionate about sport, he was written about different sports for The Times, the Irish Times and Esquire magazine. He was communications adviser to the British and Irish Lions rugby tour of New Zealand in 2005. He has raised funds for Burnley FC, a team he has supported since the age of four. His charity projects have involved him playing football with both Diego Maradona and Pele, and appearing in a one off version of the popular TV programme, The Apprentice.
In his time in Downing St he was involved in all the major policy issues and international crises. He has said that in ten years in the media, and a decade in politics, he saw his respect for the media fall and his respect for politics rise. He is a sought after speaker at events around the world, specialising in strategic communications. On July 9 2007, he published his first book on his time with Tony Blair, The Blair Years, extracts from his diaries from 1994 to 2003, which was an instant Sunday Times Number 1 bestseller. He published his first novel, All In The Mind, in November 2008, his second, Maya, on the theme of fame and friendship, in February 2010. In 2009 he broadcast a one-hour documentary on BBC2 about his own breakdown in 1986. Both the film, Cracking Up, and All In The Mind, won considerable praise from mental health charities and campaign groups for helping to break down the taboo surrounding mental health. Together with Stephen Fry and Ruby Wax, he fronted a multi-million pound mental health campaign aimed further at breaking down stigma. He was voted Mind (mental health charity) ‘Champion of the Year’ for 2009. Cracking Up won the Mind award for best mental health documentary. He is now in the process of publishing the unexpurgated diaries of his time in frontline politics. Volume One of his diaries, Prelude to Power, was published last June. Volume Two, covering the first two years of Labour in power, and called Power and the People, was published in January 2011 and volume Three, Power and Responsibility, will be published in July.
He is still occasionally involved in journalism, and created a mix of rave reviews, increased sales and left-wing anger when he guest edited an issue of the New Statesman magazine in March 2009. He is one of the most followed bloggers and twitterers in UK politics. He recently won a Royal Television Society Award for a BBC North West documentary he made, ‘Burnley are back’, which featured the impact of Burnley FC’s promotion to the Premier League on the town. He appeared recently on a successful Channel Four series, Jamie’s Dream School, in which he taught politics to disaffected youngsters, including taking them on a visit to meet David Cameron.
“One of the biggest challenges in any long-established conference is to find speakers who attract & engage their audience. Alastair’s presence at our 2008 event in Dublin generated over 50 registrations within 48 hours of being announced, and ensured that delegates stayed to the very end of the event. The content of his speech integrated very will into our theme of Evolution and his answers to questions from the audience were typically direct and straightforward. A pleasure to work with.”
Mark Harris , Head of Marketing , Institute of Travel Management.
“Alastair Campbell, the “man behind Blair” is one of the true titans of his profession. His book will remain the important commentary on Blair in power. At the podium he knits together stories that offer penetrating insights into how politics and politicians really work.”
Greg Sorbara, Member of Provincial Parliament, Province of Ontario
2003 and 2007 Ontario Liberal Party Campaign Chair
“controversial, thought-provoking and highly entertaining, Alastair gave a refreshingly candid insight into past and present political leaders and events that captivated our guests.”
Philip Hilling, Ernst and Young
I had the pleasure of producing the PRIA National Conference in Perth, Australia at which Alastair was the Keynote International Speaker. He is an insightful and compelling speaker. His approachable manner was refreshing and his flexibility and willingness to assist in the crafting of a positive experience for the delegates was tremendous. Alastair is a superb communicator, an exceptional individual and an unrivalled addition to any event.
Alastair Campbell was the keynote speaker at our first ever Corporate Communication Conference in Athens, on April 7th 2006. His striking personality, powerful content, and inimitable way of handling media questions, was without doubt the highlight of our event. Alastair demonstrated to the Greek audience how brilliant communicators look, act and speak…”
Sophia Sourtzi, Conference Producer, Boussias Communications
Alastair was one of the highlight speakers at our major London event in 2008. He is a highly engaging and charismatic presenter who could not fail to win over an audience with his genuine warmth and wit. He also knows a lot of stuff about a lot of things and is a top bloke to work with.
Anita Cox, Conference Producer, Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development
‘Alastair delivered a keynote lecture on leadership in the media age. He captivated the audience – believers and sceptics – with a brilliant and engaging presentation.
June Sebley, Henley Management College.
“Involving Alastair as the key focus of a discussion forum for the medical profession, was described by our clients as a stroke of genius. Not only was he delightful and charming to work with, but ensured the evening event was the talk of the medical congress and indeed was a hot topic of discussion amongst attending and non-attending physicians for months afterwards.”
Marika Freris, Galliard Healthcare Communications
“Infamously once described as a ‘ruthless, political hatchet man’, Alastair Campbell is arguably the most famous Downing Street Press Secretary ever. This forthright journalist, broadcaster and author has provided my clients with fascinating, entertaining and memorable insights into the world of politics and journalism at the very highest level. He’s a motivational and inspirational speaker in a class of his own.”
Paul Smith, Managing Director Paul Smith Associates.
“Best after-dinner speaker I’ve ever heard”; “Down to earth, humorous and widely relevant”; “Challenging and thought-provoking”; “Expertly tailored to the audience”. These are just some of the comments that followed Alastair’s after-dinner speech at the 2008 sportKeighley Olympic Fund Dinner. It was tremendous to welcome such a generous, lively and personable guest and his presence and performance took the event to another level.
John Dennis, sportKeighley co-ordinator
Alastair Campbell was our guest speaker at the inaugural Great North Run Hall of Fame Dinner held at The Newcastle Gateshead Hilton Hotel in April 2007, and has proven to be a hard act to follow. He judged the mood absolutely right, gave the right mix of serious and funny. He has a very relaxed and informal approach to speaking with a great sense of humour. I had many comments from people saying how much they had enjoyed his speech.
Former athlete and BBC commentator Brendan Foster, chairman, Nova International
Alastair Campbell spoke at my Oxford University seminar on British government, on `Politics and the Media’. He is one of the few people who understands both politics and the media. His talk was both witty and penetrating, and he answered questions in a clear and informative way.
Vernon Bogdanor, Professor of Government, Oxford University
We asked Alastair to speak at the launch of a unique educational project involving businesses in a School Sport Partnership for Burnley Schools. He waived any fee or expenses because of his commitment to the area and the project. More importantly, he inspired people with his insight and the passion he showed for the scheme. He helped us to raise more than £100,000.
Julie Bradley, Head Teacher Padiham St Leonard’s and Glynis Frew HR Director Hunters Property Group
Alastair is a hugely entertaining speaker. His blunt and forthright challenges to our industry are still quoted four years after he gave his speech to our conference in Qatar.
Steven Freudmann, Chairman Institute of Travel & Tourism
Alastair Campbell’s presentation to our annual convention was exemplary – informative, enlightening, entertaining and challenging.”
Gordon Phaneuf, President, Ontario liberal party
“Alastair was a terrific speaker; thoughtful and focused with a unique perspective on the world of global politics; a delightful guest and speaker.”
Ramez Sousou, Tower Brook Capital
Love him or hate him, Alastair Campbell is a great conference speaker. It’s not just that he has a fund of wonderful real life stories of encounters with the great and good, but his ability to get across his message with humour, self-deprecation and conviction makes him a great asset to any forum. We will certainly be inviting him again to our annual top level conference.
Steve Norris, former Tory minister and Chairman of AMT-Sybex Group Ltd.
Alastair Campbell is undeniably a controversial figure. And equally undeniably a brilliant speaker. He is articulate and well-informed, authoritative yet light-hearted. He makes his points with conviction and brio but never adopts a superior attitude. And above all he doesn’t waffle. He says what he wants to say and then shuts up – an increasingly rare skill. The audience, a mix of predominantly Italian media experts, journalists, journalism students and members of the public, responded enthusiastically to his frankness and occasional self-depreciation. You don’t necessarily have to agree with him to admire the polish of his performance. Our expectations on the impact he would make were amply exceeded. Bravissimo!
He also caused quite a stir amongst the ladies – the self-assured, powerful yet surprisingly youthful-looking alpha male from London making his presence felt in the Renaissance hill town of Perugia. An all-too-heady cocktail.
Christopher Potter, Director Perugia International Journalism Festival 2008
Alastair was a sensation during his New Zealand visit. Senate Communications Counsel held his only public speaking engagements in the country. They were a sell-out, attended by hundreds of the country’s leaders in business, society and politics. Everyone who attended were talented and opinionated people in their own right – yet all were entertained and impressed by Alastair’s colourful and engagingly delivered anecdotes and views.
Mark Blackham, Partner, Senate Communication Counsel
Audiences behave in obvious ways. Like bored children, they can fidget, shift noisily in their seats, even start whispering to each other. At the Borders Book Festival at midsummer in Melrose, 400 people crammed into a marquee to listen to Alastair Campbell talk about his diaries of The Blair Years, and for almost an hour and half were spellbound. Heads were absolutely still, anxious not to miss a word. They laughed loud and long at the daftnesses and farce of high politics and leaned forward, rapt, as Campbell unpacked the atmosphere and intricacies of diplomacy and domestic policy. In a translation of a Gaelic phrase, they knew that they were listening to the music of the thing as it happened. It was unforgettable.
Alistair Moffat, director, Borders Book Festival
Alastair Campbell was the speaker at this year’s Hugh Cudlipp Annual Lecture in London. His name attracted our largest audience of newspaper journalists, politicians and media professors and students as well as numbers of the general public. All were fascinated by his excellent speech for its thought=provoking interest, humour and knowledge.
Jodi Cudlipp, widow of Lord Cudlipp
‘Alastair spoke at an event at our offices in Edinburgh to an audience of key Scottish business leaders in 2005. The event was widely viewed as one of the best we have done and Alastair was the consummate professional. Guests commented on his impressive ability to move around the room speaking with everyone and that his speech was interesting and thought provoking. A lively Q&A session completed an excellent event.‘
Sorcha O’Connor, Business Development and Marketing Manager for McGrigors LLP , Edinburgh Law Firm
Alastair was a keynote speaker at Promax, a conference that has hosted over the years impressive speakers from Bill Clinton to Sir George Martin. It’s fair to say that Alastair was one of the best we have heard from. He set out to carefully tailor his insights to a largely creative audience, and his anecdotes were told with the ease of a master storyteller. From first contact to the end of the question and answer session he was interested, engaged and hugely appreciated by the attendees.
Charlie Mawer, Exec Creative Director, Red Bee Media.
‘Alastair spoke at a lunch we organised for our major clients and partners, and even though we had high expectations, he exceeded them. He was open, frank, fascinating about some of the issues and events he was involved in, and dealt with a range of often tough questions with a mix of sharp insight and good humour. I believe everyone left having not only enjoyed themselves but learned something too.’
Keith Hollinrake, Hunters’ Property Group, Leeds.
“Alastair spoke at a charity event for us and was fantastic. The lecture theatre was full of people from all walks of life, and we received some very positive feedback from everyone who attended.”
Emma Dickens, Head of Fundraising, Sheffield Hospitals Charitable Trust
Alastair was insightful, funny and thought provoking. He provided a terrific insight into managing effectively in the all seeing eye of public opinion.
Ninian Wilson, Royal Mail
Alastair spoke at a couple of events for Yorkshire Forward, with two very distinct briefs. On both occasions he judged the audience perfectly, and had a rare blend of genuine humour and serious strategic advice. The q and a sessions at the end of his presentation were also hugely memorable.
Theresa Lindsay, Head of Marketing and Business Development, Yorkshire Forward
“Alastair spoke at our annual dinner in May. He amused us with witty anecdotes about Tony Blair and interested us with thought provoking comment on the future of the Labour Party. He was an excellent speaker who also took the right wing heckling in his stride!
Annabel Brodie-Smith, Communications Director, Association of Investment Companies, Hilling Ernst and Young