Good old Boris! What a guy! I write to ask him to sponsor my charity run in the London Marathon, and back comes the offer of 44Hp a word for a Spectator diary. So here it is (those last few words work out at more than 20p a letter – brilliant). And Boris being so personally loaded with his multimedia earnings, like columns, books, quiz shows, supermarket openings and appearances in Parliament, there’s no doubt a big personal cheque to follow. Top man.
Boris is not the only press magnate to respond to my appeal. Mark Seddon, editor of cash-strapped Tribune, has offered a great item for auction – George Orwell’s stapler. Given Tribune’s continuing financial problems, that really is an act of generosity. Bids for the said item, ladies and gentlemen, are now open. Our biggest fundraiser so far has been a Manchester United shirt signed by the Champions League-winning squad, which raised a £15,000 reserve from the Daily Mirror. Higher bids welcome. And, thanks to my old friend and BBC Breakfast colleague Bob Wilson, I’ve also got an Arsenal shirt signed by the entire squad (bids for all these items to Cathy Gilman on 0207 269 9004). Meanwhile, I’m trying to get my hands on the boot that cut David Beckham.
I’ve done more than 1,400 miles since I got a mileage-clocking pedometer for my birthday last May. But the key at this stage is the long runs to build up stamina, and expectation of the agony to come. The Iraq workload is not making it easy, so once we got back from the Prime Minister’s speech in Glasgow, I took advantage of the big march to ‘go long’ as we call it, safe in the knowledge that the media would be fully occupied with the peace rally. I did nine miles out along the Grand Union Canal towpath, and nine miles back. At mile 16, I bumped into some marchers returning home with their placards. One of them spotted me and yelled, ‘You murderer’. There are not many things that stop me in my tracks when I’m on a run, but this did. Calmly I went over to him and pointed out that I had never murdered anyone. This stood in marked contrast to Saddam, whose victims far outnumber those on the march – a line stolen from the Prime Minister’s excellent speech.
He proudly told me he’d never been on a march before but he was determined that Tony Blair should hear his voice and stop his murderous ways, too. I pointed out that the Prime Minister, also, had murdered nobody, and I asked him why he’d never been on a march for the four million Iraqi exiles, or the hundreds of thousands executed, tortured, disappeared and deliberately starved. But he wasn’t in a mood to listen, so I carried on my way.
This is not the first time I’ve run into trouble of this sort. Last winter I was running in the dark round the track on Hampstead Heath. Nearby a group of youths set about an innocent passer-by and beat him up badly. Call me stupid, but I had no idea that you could ring 999 on a mobile, so I decided, rashly, to intervene. I raced across, shouting out loudly in different accents. To my amazement and relief, the youths scarpered, leaving a bleeding, groaning, badly injured man. I offered to take him to the hospital or the police station, but he asked instead that I walked with him to a nearby church where he was meeting friends. Once there, I said that if he decided to call the police, he could call me as a witness, and I scribbled down my name and number. He looked at the piece of paper, then looked at me and said, ‘Are you Alastair Campbell? I ****ing hate you.’ It turned out that he was a Liberal Democrat activist – never the most grateful of sorts.
What TV coverage of the march I saw, as with the fire brigades’ union rallies a few weeks ago, seemed more akin to a pop concert or a sports event than a political gathering. Big crowd scenes have a strange impact on the critical faculties of usually tough-minded journalists. Interviewees were able to articulate whatever conspiracy theories they wished, usually unchallenged. Their moral authority went unquestioned. Yet, as the Prime Minister said earlier in the day, there is a moral dimension to inaction, too. In exhorting its readers to join the march, my former paper, the Mirror, carried a front-page picture of a starving Iraqi child, and urged people to march to save its life. It didn’t appear to have crossed Piers Morgan’s mind that the child is starving now; the humanitarian crisis in Iraq is now, without a bullet being fired, and it is Saddam’s creation.
Training for the marathon is a great way to see London. I’ve lived here for years, but in recent months I’ve got to see bits I’ve never seen before. I’ve also become an expert on which areas have the most dangerous paving stones. What becomes very clear the longer you go is that Labour councils look after the paving stones better than the Tory councils. So, to all marathon runners I say, vote Labour. (I say the same to everyone else, by the way.)
I bumped into Paula Ratcliffe’s coach, Alex Spanton, at a cross-country event that my son was taking part in. I’d met him once before, when the Prime Minister presented the London Marathon prizes, and Paula won the women’s race a couple of years ago. Last week I told Alex that I was going through a bad patch in training. He gave me his recipe for recovery: ‘Lots of water, lots of red meat and no stress.’ He acknowledged that I was likely to find one and two easier than three at the moment.
As well as doing this column and a weekly Marathon diary for the Times, I’ve also raised a few bob (well, a few thousand quid, in fact) by doing an interview for Trevor McDonald’s Tonight programme, which included visiting a Coventry v. Burnley match. I’d like to thank the Burnley fans who, every time I was asked a difficult question, sang ‘Burner-lee, Burner-lee, Burner-lee’ so loudly that either I couldn’t hear the question or the TV people couldn’t hear the answer.
I am running the marathon to raise funds for research into leukaemia, which killed my best friend, the journalist John Merritt, and his nine-year-old daughter Ellie. If you want to sponsor me, send a cheque to Leukaemia Research Fund, 43 Great Ormond Street, London WC1N 3JJ or you can make a donation online at www.just.giving.com/alastaircampbell.