Passed/Failed: An education in the life of Alastair Campbell, writer, strategist and former press se

Author: Interviewed by Jonathan Sale

I’m a bit obsessive about split infinitives and apostrophes. Perhaps that goes
back to the teaching of Miss Feather and Mrs Gill, or maybe it was Mrs
Feather and Miss Gill, at Utley Primary School near Keighley. The teaching
was good and I always liked going to school. I loved words from an early age.

I did the entrance exams for Bradford Grammar but I was only there for one
term because we moved to Leicester when I was 11. I remember having to leave
the school in the middle of the day. I didn’t really want to leave Keighley.

My brothers, Donald and Graeme, and I had to start at City of Leicester Boys’
in mid-term. We had a dark blazer but as an act of rebellion I never took
off my blue anorak and Burnley scarf, maybe as a way of saying, “I’m
not from here.” That said, I liked the school and the teaching was
good. I remember thinking I was a bit in love with a French assistante,
though nothing came of it.

I broke legs, arms, wrists ? not all of it playing sport. I was on top of a
tractor roof on my uncle’s farm, fell off and broke my leg.

I got 11 O-levels, with six at grade 1. I was always a workaholic and
determined to get As in my English, French and German A-levels. I was the
first or one of the first to get into Oxbridge ? Caius College, Cambridge,
to read French and German.

I certainly did not make the most of Cambridge. I was quite chippy and the
class thing was part of that. I was taken aback seeing really posh types, a
breed I didn’t take to. If you don’t want to join them, beat them!

I was quite a heavy drinker when I went to university. I had a good circle of
friends but I got into far too many scrapes. Well, scraps.

I was at a Burnley vs Birmingham match recently and a guy came up to me and
said: “You don’t remember me, do you? You thumped me at Cambridge
because I insulted your football team.” It turned out he was a really
nice guy, a Labour councillor, and he thanked me for all I’d done for the

(The last time I hit anyone was Michael White of The Guardian on the day Bob
Maxwell, my boss at the Mirror, drowned. It was a terrible punch, quite

For my third year, I went abroad, as an assistant at a school in Nice, down by
the port. My dad had taught me the bagpipes and I made a lot of money as a

I also started writing sex articles for Forum magazine. This started as a bet
with a friend about who could get into print first. I had a great year in
France and came back for my fourth year with a better attitude. I got a 2.1.

When I gave a talk at the Arts Theatre in Cambridge after I left No 10, the
only person from my past who came was Millie the barmaid from college. She
stood up and said, “I’ve loved watching your career and I’m proud to
have known you ? but I’m amazed you’re still alive.”

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