Telling Admissions 4
So far in Telling Admissions we have recounted the stories of a poet, a pop star and an occupational therapist. This month we turn our attention to a political advisor - one of the highest-profile political advisers in living memory - and in particular to the account he has given of his psychiatric hospitalisation in 1986. According to Tony Blair's Head of Communications at 10 Downing Street, Alastair Campbell, “it was the worst day of my life - at the time - one during which, from waking with a hangover to rushing for a flight to Scotland, I felt a relentless march towards what, in my developing madness, I imagined was going to be my death.” Campbell adds wryly, “you will know by now that I didn't die, which may be a disappointment to some”.
“Instead I was arrested by two plain-clothes policemen, and taken into custody, where my madness saw me strip naked and draw messages on the walls of my barren Hamilton cell. A doctor arrived, and, on condition I sought help, I was taken to Ross Hall Hospital in Paisley. I was sedated, slept, and after several scary days of paranoia, shakes from alcohol withdrawal, and engagement with a kindly psychiatrist called Ernest Bennie, I began the slow road to recovery. It's a road I continue to tread.”1
Like Lydia Scotting, Campbell writes perceptively concerning the nature of his own recovery: “I'm the same person I was in 1986. I don't drink like I used to. But I still get depressed, can still be self-obsessed, obsessive, brooding and introspective, and can still be riddled with self-doubt at times about what I do and why I do it, not to mention what I don't do and why I don't do it.” And remarkably (though with the benefit of hindsight), he says: “I now look back on 7 March 1986, not as the worst day of my life, but as the best. I faced up to problems, like alcohol. I admitted to obsessions, like politics and a desire to see the back of the Tories. I came to understand what really mattered - beliefs, values, friendship…”2
It is as if his psychiatric admission was the first step on his road to recovery, as it seems to have been for others recently in the news. Is it too much to claim that it was the most formative experience of his life, as it appears to have been for the likes of Edward Oxford, Wilhelmina Geddes and Adam Ant?