HE WAS once dubbed the second most powerful man in Britain, rebuking Cabinet Ministers and striking fear in the hearts of newspaper editors.
But Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s formidable spin doctor for seven years, has revealed that, far from being invincible in Downing Street, he suffered clinical depression. At one point he missed a media briefing because he was unable to “face doing it”.
In an interview to mark World Mental Health Day, he admitted: “When I worked for No 10 I had periods when I knew I was depressed, but you just have to keep going.”
He discussed his mental health issues with Mr Blair, whose support was one of the things that kept him going. Mr Campbell, a former alcoholic who suffered a mental breakdown when he was 28, spoke about his mental illness to help to remove the stigma from it.
“I was very depressed for a long time. You wake up and can’t open your eyes, you can’t find the energy to brush your teeth, the phone rings and you stare at it endlessly,” he told the Independent on Sunday.
He said that the lowest point was during the “nightmare” of the Hutton inquiry into the reasons why Britain went to war in Iraq. The worst day, he said, was when Dr David Kelly, the government adviser, committed suicide.
“The Hutton saga was one of those episodes where things were spiraling out of control. I felt completely confident in relation to the facts, but during the whole period it was a nightmare,” he said. “The day he [Dr Kelly] killed himself was without doubt the worst day. It was about the sadness that someone felt driven to do this.”
He added: “I did feel if the inquiry had gone against us that it would have been really bad. If it had gone against us, it was not just me who was out of a job, it was Tony.”
Mr Campbell had a nervous breakdown in 1986, when he was the news editor of a Sunday newspaper. He realized he was having the breakdown when he was driving repeatedly around a roundabout. He was arrested and ended up in hospital for several months. He had been drinking from “day to night”, and had a “work-induced, drink-induced, pressure-induced, depression-induced psychotic breakdown”. He said: “It was unbelievably scary. At one point, I thought I was going to die.” The now teetotal Mr Campbell said that having come through the mental breakdown made him far stronger, and memories of it helped him to cope in Downing Street. “At points of real pressure, I always say to myself this can’t be worse than 1986,” he said.
By Anthony Browne, Chief Political Correspondent