Nicky Campbell

Diary - 21 August 2010

Nicky Campbell opens his diary

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I am organising a memorial service at All Souls Church next to Broadcasting House for my oldest and greatest friend: Allan Robb, the BBC journalist and broadcaster, who died last month. He was 49 and, from the day we met as five-year-olds on our first morning at the Edinburgh Academy, we were like brothers. Allan worked for Radio 1’s Newsbeat and then Radio 5 Live for a number of years. You would have liked him. Like many of my colleagues, he didn’t fit the right-wing stereotype of a BBC journalist: he was not a bien-pensant leftie. Every morning he would march into the newsroom brandishing his Telegraph and railing against the decline of Western civilisation. On air, though, you would never have known his political preferences.

Allan was sparkling company. He told stories with great comic precision. One of his best was about how, when interviewing John Major during the 1992 general election campaign, his mind went blank. In a panic he remembered the Spitting Image portrayal of the PM as a grey man obsessed with eating peas. ‘And do you like peas?’ asked Allan. Major didn’t have the faintest notion what he was on about. ‘I like a variety of vegetables but peas I’m relatively neutral about,’ he answered after a bewildered pause.

Though some consider him merely an eminence grease, Lord Mandelson’s The Third Man is a cracking summer read. Published excerpts do no justice to the pleasures contained within the book, and I say so knowing I risk further lining Mandy’s pockets. The memoir is a joy for new Labour lovers and loathers alike. It joins the growing canon of reassessments of the Blair-Brown years: Peter Watts and Andrew Rawnsley’s books are already out and the juiciest parts of Alastair Campbell’s diaries are yet to come. But there’s still a gap in the market. We are in dire need of a New Labour New Testament: a tome that depicts a loving Gord; a piece of counterintuitive revisionism that portrays Brown as decent, honourable, courageous, unselfish, sympathetic, noble and frankly normal. Over to you, Tony.

Earlier this summer, we visited the delightful walled tourist trap of Lucca in Tuscany. As my children devoured ice cream, I struck up a conversation with a young man selling a regional communist rag. With youthful brio, he extolled the greatness of Lenin and Trotsky in the way an American TV evangelist might proclaim the glory of ‘sweeeet Jeeeesus’. My Pavlovian response kicked in. What about the Kronsadt rebellion? I asked. Why did the noble Leon turn mass murderer and execute a couple of thousand starving soldiers? ‘They were counter-revolutionaries,’ replied the comrade with a snort. ‘You must have learned your history at a bourgeois university.’ Ouch! Ain’t that the truth. I asked if he supported a free press. He said he did. ‘In that case,’ I wondered, ‘would people be free to criticise the revolution after the revolution?’ ‘That would be counter- revolution,’ he replied icily. I felt the chill of the gulag. Or was it my gelato tiramisu?

I do wonder how much of this poppycock — or weltanschauung if you like — has rubbed off on the Milibands from their Marxist father Ralph. Wouldn’t it be entertaining if deep within the Milibands lurk a couple of dialectical materialists aching to burst forth like showgirls from a giant birthday cake? I suspect not, however. I bet when they were growing up and dad was quoting passages from Engel’s The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, the boys buried their heads in their soccer-sticker books. David Miliband once told me his real boyhood ambition was to be a football commentator.

Last weekend I was in Bermuda for a couple of days filming for ITV. Davina McCall and I are fronting a programme called Long Lost Family, produced by Wall to Wall, makers of the Who Do You Think You Are? series. In a break in filming, who do you think I saw? He was gliding through a harbour at the wheel of the sleekest, swishest, swellest motor launch I’ve ever seen. The hull just went on forever. It was none other than Ross Perot, in captain’s cap, retinue all aboard and looking like Osgood Fielding III, the billionaire who falls in love with Tony Curtis in Some Like It Hot. Later in the afternoon, I spoke to a desalination tycoon as he moored one of his boats in the gently lapping water. ‘Paying no tax is great but the cost of living is horrendous.’ He took a long time to say that last word. ‘We have to pay my maid £25 an hour and she can hardly get by on it.’

The day I was adopted as a tiny infant by my mum and dad was the greatest day of my life. As patron of the British Association of Adoption and Fostering, I am training for a charity cycle ride from London to Paris in September, and the experience has prompted my own personal revolution. I now realise that bike is king. It is the way forward, unless there is a bloody bus in front. Jump the lights. Mount the pavement. Banish that lackey of neocon-liberal petrochemical imperialism, White Van Man, to the fetid midden of history. We have nothing to lose except our chains.

Nicky Campbell is a radio and television presenter and journalist.