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Thursday, June 25, 1998 Published at 10:25 GMT 11:25 UK

UK Politics

Blair's press man loves reputation

Alastair Campbell: few enemies among former colleagues

By BBC News online's Nick Assinder.

Tony Blair's press secretary Alastair Campbell revels in his reputation as a hard man.

He loves nothing more than slapping down political journalists at the daily lobby briefings in either Downing Street or the Commons.

[ image: Second most powerful man in the UK? (right)]
Second most powerful man in the UK? (right)
Most seasoned operators take his attacks with a liberal pinch of salt. After all, they were used to dealing with Mrs Thatcher's press secretary Bernard Ingham, whose blunt-speaking and occasional eruptions became legendary.

But others have felt personally bruised by encounters with him and there have been occasions when it was suspected his anger was being affected in a bid to head off difficult questions.

It's a good technique to try to keep the Westminster press pack on their toes but, because of his ready sense of humour, it has actually made him few enemies amongst his former colleagues.
[ image: Second most powerful man in the UK? (right)]
Second most powerful man in the UK? (right)

Varied career

Campbell had a long and varied career in journalism before moving to work for Tony Blair. During his youth he wrote soft porn for the sex advice magazine Forum under the name The Riviera Gigolo.

In his earlier days on Fleet Street he was a fierce drinker - something he claims nearly ruined his career. But he eventually gave up alcohol more than 10 years ago and now sticks to regular cups of tea instead.

"Looking back I think it was the single most important event - and to some extent achievement - in my life," he has said about kicking the habit.

"I'd gone from being a rising star, the youngest news editor in Fleet Street, right down to the bottom. When I gave up drink, it was a bloody difficult time and it took months to pick up the pieces."

He later hit the headlines at the time of Robert Maxwell's death after a half-hearted punch up with Guardian political editor Michael White.

Trading punches

The two traded punches in the Daily Mirror's office in the Commons after White cracked a joke at Maxwell's expense.

Campbell has always insisted he lashed out because he was trying to work at the time and White was interrupting him - not because he was offended at the jibe. The two have long since made up.

After a long stint as political editor at the Mirror, Alastair was removed and went on to work for the now-defunct Today newspaper. He also carved himself a successful parallel career as political commentator.

But his first passion was always the Labour Party. He and his journalist partner Fiona Millar were very close to Neil and Glenys Kinnock and it was always believed he would go to work for the Labour leader if he won the election.

Pay cut

When the time came in 1994, however, it was under Tony Blair - another close friend - and Campbell took a huge cut in pay to become his advisor.

He played a central role in transforming Labour into a hugely-successful election-winning machine and his relationship with Mr Blair became closer, to the point where Alastair Campbell is now regularly described as the second most powerful man in Britain.

He is a Scot, who has occasionally entertained MPs and journalists by playing the bagpipes at parties, and is an ardent fan of Burnley football club.

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