The king of spin has been a tabloid hack, got Blair into power and took us to war. Listen and learn…
Find out who the real boss is
Ascertain who has influence. Then be seen to be doing the job well.
Face your responsibilities
I’ve had to get rid of people, which is never easy. Try and explain to them why it’s ended the way it has, but don’t shatter their self-esteem.
Never be late
I’m obsessively punctual: turning up late is like spitting at somebody. George Bush is an absolute stickler for time-keeping – he really rips into people who are late for meetings.
Solidarity is king
My worst boss was newspaper owner Robert Maxwell. He sacked me on more than one occasion, but tended to forget about it. I think the lesson is that if you have a larger-than-life boss, it’s important to have solidarity amongst your colleagues.
Your team is important
I’m proud I’ve been able to command loyalty, friendship and support. Towards the end of my time in Downing Street there was Iraq so my team were incredibly important to me.
Hindsight isn’t your friend
You know, if you said on this day you did this and then you said that, I can justify it all at the time. But at the same time you look back at the period surrounding the Hutton Inquiry and you go, “Well, it was a bit of a disaster all round.” It did all lead to a situation where somebody felt they had to kill themself and therefore surely all of us could have handled things differently. When you’ve a job like that in the spotlight, you’re not doing it in hindsight.
Find out who can help you
When I was a young journalist, there were two Daily Mirror reporters I looked up to. I don’t know if they were mentors as such, but they were people who I felt had successfully gone through all the ropes I was trying to climb and if I had a worry or had a question I would ask them.
I think the key is to know what it is you want to do and really enjoy it – I can’t see any point in doing a job if you don’t enjoy it. If you’d have said to me in 1979, “You’re going to doss around for a year then have quite an interesting journalistic career and then end up being Tony Blair’s right-hand man,” I’d have said, “Oh yeah?” But these things happen – you need to find your niche.
Learn from your setbacks…
I had a nervous breakdown in 1986 when I was working at Today newspaper. I was flying high, a bright young thing, and suddenly it all came crashing to a halt. It was all very public within Fleet Street so I learned how to get through a bad time and I learned about myself as a person. I sorted out in my mind what mattered and what didn’t.
…And from your mistakes
My worst mistake was leaving the Mirror to go and work at Today which led to the breakdown, but I now look back at it as the best thing that happened to me. I wasn’t mature enough for the job and I got flattered into taking it. You have to question whether you should run before you can walk, but at the same time I don’t think you should rule out taking risks.
Keighley, Yorkshire, May 25, 1957
City of Leicester Boys School;Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge: Masters degree in French and German
1980-82 Trainee Reporter, Tavistock Times
“If you spelled someone’s name wrong they’d come and tell you in person.”
1982-83 Freelance Reporter, London
“I drank far too much.”
1983-85 Reporter, Daily Mirror
“I had some supporters who took me under their wing – I’d made the right decision to join the paper.”
1985-86 News Editor, Sunday Today
“Shouldn’t have gone. And I paid a heavy price.”
1986-87 Reporter, Daily Mirror
“After my breakdown I apologised to the Mirror’s editor and he took me back.”
1987-89 Political Editor, Sunday Mirror
“I realised I was hooked on politics.”
1989-93 Political Editor, Daily Mirror
1993-94 Assistant Editor and Columnist, Today
“The paper folded.”
1994-97 Press Secretary to the Leader of the Opposition
1997-2000 Chief Press Secretary to the Prime Minister
“Once went four days without sleep.”
2001-03 PM’s Director of Communications
“The media hated me.”
“Wrote my book, The Blair Years, which was actually quite therapeutic.”