Friday saw Alastair Campbell visit the University for the second York Union event of the week. It was always going to be popular. In fact just before it started the Physics building was full of people hoping to get a spare seat to the sold out event.
Straight away Campbell made the audience feel engaged as he began a very frank journey through his life. Starting from his birth in Yorkshire he spoke of his Dad’s accident and how that spurred him to begin writing a diary, of moving to Leicester and hating life at Cambridge University and his days at the Daily Mirror and work for Tony Blair. It was here in politics that Campbell wanted to be and here where he found his most important work.
Through explaining all of these life experiences he was never shy about his battle with mental health describing it honestly as feeling like he was ‘cracking up’ with a ‘mind made of glass’. On top of this he suffered with alcoholism and both affected not only his personal life but his career. As Tony Blair did, Campbell encouraged the audience to relinquish any stigma they had against mental health. He described the mental health debate as ‘not where it should be’, ultimately expressing the view that as a nation we need to prioritise mental health up with physical health. Campbell explained that perhaps the younger generation were best to do this, not only because they are becoming more open but because they are experiencing more pressure than ever before. The conclusion was that people need to, ‘get wise’.
Actually during the whole talk it seemed the audience was left with much food for thought. Not only was Campbell keen to change people’s perception of mental health but of politics too. He explained how people were only going to be able to make a difference through being more active, saying that when members of the public complained about politicians they were actually complaining about themselves- the politicians are meant to act as the public’s voice and the public’s voice needs to be stronger. Campbell encouraged anyone with a real interest in politics to get involved in any way they could, whether that be through protests or as being a school governor.
The event ended with a Q&A session, drawing on many key aspects of the talk including education and aspiration. Campbell mentioned throughout that successful people know how to learn from failure. Schools in turn should aim to focus on people’s strengths and nurture ambitions rather than group everyone under one bracket. Overall it seemed Alastair Campbell wasn’t afraid to have an open discussion with the audience and I think the whole lecture hall left with a new perspective on a range of issues.