Alastair Campbell’s mobile phones are ‘hacked’ live on stage at the Times Cheltenham Literature Festival
A last minute addition to the Cheltenham Festival programme, Patrick Kielty presented an event with Alistair Campbell that served as a pilot for a potential future television project. After a few silly gimmicks, Kielty brought Campbell out on stage, who looked fairly relaxed and laid back for the ‘Phone Hacker’ session.
Kielty dove straight into Campbell’s ‘calling and texting’ phone. Despite being ex-Director of Communications and Strategy for Tony Blair, this particular phone ironically appeared to be a ten-year-old Nokia held together by an elastic band. Discovering plenty of messages from Piers Morgan – to “big boy” – Campbell explained they still have a love/hate relationship since their tabloid days, with Morgan constantly teasing him how about rich and successful he has become.
Adam Boulton was the first contact to catch Kielty’s eye. Referring back to “that incident” – a bust-up live on Sky News – Campbell said: “It’s the only time I’ve ever thought I would get headbutted.” To a few laughs from both Campbell and the audience, Kielty cheekily sent Boulton a text simply saying ‘dignity x’.
Other celebrity contacts included Sir Alex Ferguson, Andy Gray and Cheryl Cole (Campbell’s a fan – after all, she is Labour Party). Kielty remembers Ed Miliband once queuing up to get a photo with Cole; he thought she “might know who he is”. Tony Blair was also there ‘TBmobile’, and the two speak a few times a week. Campbell laughed remembering when Blair had texted him, after getting his first phone in 2007, saying: “This is amazing, you can send words on a phone.” Clever man our ex-prime minister.
As a victim of phone hacking, Campbell firmly said he is pursuing the case: “The large part of the press thinks this is going away and this shouldn’t happen.” Campbell believes Cameron and Andy Coulson (who “shouldn’t have been hired”) “showed bad judgement” if they honestly thought it could all be brushed under the carpet.
Campbell, explaining Rebekah Wade’s presence in his contact’s list, said many friendships in politics are actually “transactional”. He has a small number of close friends and very few are in the media. Campbell did, however, send Wade a text message after her sacking and her reply suggested that there was not “much love lost there”.
Concerning the Iraq war, Campbell said he “doesn’t agree with the war being wrong”. The President was there for “decisions, not opinions”. And despite the media giving no voice to supporters, there were (and are) supporters in the world. Campbell further went on to say that there is “very little focus on the other side of the argument” and that the media is to blame for this. Campbell said Blair’s “honeymoon period was over” by the time of Iraq, and this is partly the reason why Blair didn’t get away with it, whereas “David Cameron got away with Libya”.
In more recent times, the Labour Party’s booing of Tony Blair’s name in Ed Miliband’s party conference speech was also “very stupid”, as this helped the Conservative’s campaign.
Campbell then handed over his “twitter phone” (a Blackberry – a slight upgrade to the retro Nokia number). Surprisingly, Campbell follows over 4,000 people – including Boris Johnson (“I would worry about him being in a really big job”), Wayne Rooney’s vice girl, Helen Wood (had met her and liked her) and Chris Huhne (“a twat”).
To finish up, Campbell treated the audience to a short performance on the bagpipes.
…Let’s hope there’s no more bagpipe playing, if this television project does get the go ahead.
Power & Responsibility: The Alastair Campbell Diaries Volume Three is out now from Hutchinson.