They say nothing beats the feeling of seeing your book in print. But for me, the proudest moment was presenting the first copy to my Mum. She’s been ill recently and I read her most of the chapters in draft while she was convalescing, albeit leaving out the nasty bits. I sat with her that evening, reading her more of the book and feeling quite pleased with it. But the nervous feeling kicked in the next day when I saw the first extracts in the Daily Mail, and heard some of the reactions from the media and Labour folk. It strikes me as bizarre that people would reach conclusions and issue condemnations after reading 2 per cent of the book, but it didn’t stop them piling in. I’d joked a few weeks ago about needing to locate my tin hat before publication; now I was really looking for it.
Alastair Campbell is saving Biteback Publishing a fortune in advertising. He was on the front of the papers calling for me to be prosecuted for leaking information. Over the course of the week, he sent me tweets about my book. I thought about replying that he hadn’t lost any of his old hounding skills, but decided it would be in bad taste.What I find strange about Alastair’s obsession is that we never worked in government at the same time, and don’t know each other at all. I met him at a quiz night last year: he was the answer to several of his own questions, played the music round on his bagpipes and gave out copies of his book as prizes. Before then, our only encounter was when I politely asked if he could use the back door of Downing Street to attend a No. 10 strategy meeting with Gordon Brown, so as to avoid drawing the media’s attention. Of course, he refused.
Personally, my advice would have been for every Labour spokesperson to issue the blanket line: ‘It’s ancient history from a known fabulist; we couldn’t care less.’ But thanks to the hysterical reactions of Alastair and Tessa Jowell, and public denunciations from the likes of Ed Balls, I arrived in Brighton to publicise the book with the media in a frenzy. There was a Sky camera waiting at the station, and within minutes of my arriving at the Travelodge, every exit was covered by paparazzi. My planned day of exclusive filming with Newsnight was twice interrupted by gleeful ITN crews, once at a water park and once in a chip shop. The worst of it was being bundled away by the Newsnight crew before I got my chips.
The Newsnight film was designed to precede my first television interview, live with Jeremy Paxman. As if that wasn’t daunting enough, we were in the distracting setting of a giant greenhouse attached to Stanmer Park: dark and cold with a dripping roof. As we prepared to go live, Suzanne from Biteback whispered that my suit trousers had split at the crotch, exposing the white lining. To the amusement of Paxman and the audience, I tried various poses to cover my dignity, and decided to sit with my hand covering the split. The audience must have thought I was really worried about Paxman. It was an enjoyable experience overall. The only sad note was that my fellow guest, Labour shadow minister Rachel Reeves, made a point of ignoring me, especially as her husband and I are old university friends.
By coincidence, Chris Spink, another old friend from Peterhouse, came to watch the show being filmed, and we headed back to his house to avoid the mob at the hotel. I reminded Chris that it was he who persuaded me to apply for the civil service fast stream with him back in 1996, and drove us to the exam centre. ‘So the Labour party should be blaming you.’
Chris, his wife and daughter were up to say goodbye as I headed off for the morning interviews back in Brighton. First up was Daybreak on the promenade. Not only was their camera waiting but so were 20 other snappers, reporters and cameramen. Plus one anti-nuclear protester and his dog. He decided to wave his placards behind me as the interview began, and Iain Dale decided to stop him. As Lorraine Kelly asked her first question, I become aware of a fight breaking out to my left, with the dog as a snarling referee. It was dreamland for the cameras, with me blithely carrying on despite the wrestling match on the pavement. In the car afterwards, Iain said the fatal words: ‘Well, no one’s texted me, so it might not be that big.’ Within hours, the footage was being aired on every news channel, and there were calls for Iain to be charged with assault. At this rate, we’ll both end the week behind bars.
After a series of interviews back in London, I could finally relax for the night. I felt relieved but a bit shell-shocked by the level of interest and hostility the book generated. Someone asked whether I thought it was a mistake to write the book. I could only reply: ‘Ask me in a year.’