And as if BridLit20 couldn’t get more exciting, in comes Alastair Campbell at the eleventh hour, talking about his new book, Living Better, on Thursday 5 November.
It’s yet another feather in the cap for BridLit director Tanya Bruce-Lockhart, at the helm of one of the only live literary festivals in the country in a year dominated by Covid-19.
Over the past four decades, I’ve followed Campbell’s career with interest. He was in the year below me when I did my journalism training with Mirror Group Newspapers in Plymouth, as was his partner, Fiona Millar. It’s where they met.
When he joined the training scheme in 1980, I remember being in awe of his knowledge and bravado on the occasional days when we had classes together in the Portakabin at the back of the Sunday Independent offices and press in Burrington Way.
As well as learning 100 words a minute shorthand (it took me forever, but I still use it), public administration and newspaper law, we also had some very memorable speakers, the highlight for me being John Pilger.
Our year intakes were small – around six graduates nationwide and six school leavers from the south west. We were let loose on the Mirror Group’s weekly newspapers in Devon and Cornwall to gain practical experience and returned to the Portakabin for the theory, with the National Council for the Training of Journalists’ Proficiency Certificate the prize for three years of training.
Campbell was a man who oozed confidence, with already colourful life stories and firmly-held opinions before he arrived in Plymouth and on to the Tavistock Times. He went on through journalism to become Tony Blair’s chief spokesman and strategist.
It’s hard to believe that this is the same man who battles with depression.
A former ‘Mind Champion of the Year’, Campbell is an ambassador for several mental health charities. In November 2017 he was awarded an honorary fellowship of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in recognition of his role in breaking down the stigma surrounding mental illness.
He’s now just brought out Living Better, described as an ‘honest, moving and life affirming account of his lifelong struggle with depression’.
The book explores his childhood, family and other relationships, and examines the impact of his professional and political life on himself and those around him.
Fiona Millar, the woman Campbell met forty years ago down in Plymouth, writes a moving afterword on how she too has learned to live with his depression.