Alastair Campbell on his breakdown: 'I honestly thought my life was over'

Jayne Cherrington-Cook
·4-min read

Watch: Grace Campbell talks about how Tony Blair is a regular feature in therapy sessions

Alastair Campbell has always been very open about his own battle with depression, and now the former Labour Party spin doctor has opened up about how his family has also faced their own mental health challenges.

Speaking on Yahoo's White Wine Question Time podcast alongside his daughter, Grace, the former Labour Party spin doctor opened up his breakdown 25 years ago and the repercussions from it.

“It was really kind of difficult,” he revealed to podcast host Kate Thornton.

“I honestly thought my life was over. I thought Fiona [his partner of over 40 years] was bound to leave me, I'd lose my job. I'd never get back on the horse, you know, it was over.”

Listen: Campbell talks about why he started drinking after 13 years of abstinence

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In 1986, Campbell suffered a severe breakdown while following then-Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock on the campaign trail. After behaving erratically, he was eventually arrested by two Special Branch police officers, a moment Campbell has since credited with saving his life.

Speaking on BBC Breakfast last year he said: "I bet they have not given me a thought ever since, but I also do think they saved my life in a way.”

While the breakdown was difficult on himself and his partner, Campbell said it’s taught him how to be resilient and cope with pressure in later life. Recalling a conversation with the late MP, Tessa Jowell, Campbell said she couldn’t understand how he could deal with the media crucifying him.

Read more: What to do if the news cycle is taking a toll on your mental health

“I remember saying to her, ‘I'll tell you how I cope with it. I compare it with what I felt like when I was psychotic and going completely insane!” he tells Thornton.

“Once I have that in my head, it doesn't matter what the Daily Mail, what the Daily Telegraph, what The Sun say about it, it just doesn't matter. That builds resilience, and that builds strength.”

Alistair Campbell went onto become Tony Blair's press secretary a decade after his breakdown  (Photo by Ben Curtis - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images)
Alistair Campbell went onto become Tony Blair's press secretary a decade after his breakdown (Photo by Ben Curtis - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images)

The writer isn’t the only family member to struggle with their mental health. His eldest son, Calum, has experienced issues with alcoholism, while his daughter has also fought her own battles.

Grace, a stand-up comedian, told Thornton about suffering a breakdown while studying in Paris.

“My mental health was the worst that it’s ever been,” she stated. “I don't think I'll ever be in a place as bad as I was then. I really thought I was going to die.”

Read more: Male suicide rate highest for 20 years: How to help if someone is struggling

But she says having a father who has gone through something similar meant she got the support and understanding she needed.

“It's like when you had your breakdown, you did lose your job and you did have to sort of start again a bit,” she tells her dad on the podcast.

“I think you understood that in those moments you actually can't carry on — you need to just be back at home with your friends and family.”

Grace and Alastair Campbell have both spoken openly about their battles with their mental health (Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images)
Grace and Alastair Campbell have both spoken openly about their battles with their mental health (Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images)

Campbell said he always “felt quite confident” about Grace making a recovery as she was good at talking about her feelings. However, with son Calum, it was quite different.

“There were times, for example, when Calum was really bad with drink, that I just couldn't see a way out of it,” he admitted.

“I thought it was just going to end up with us getting a really horrible phone call in the middle of the night. Whereas I just felt with Grace that it would work out… I didn't feel that same sense of wretchedness.”

Campbell recently published Volume 8 of his memoirs. The 800-page book covers the years from 2010-2015 and talks about his own, as well as his family’s, mental health.

Hear Alastair and Grace Campbell talk about Tony Blair and the affect he had on his life. Listen now on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

Watch: Alastair Campbell talks about how the government have mishandled the COVID crisis