This summer, Alastair Campbell is all about winning.
Gleaning from his own experiences as a strategic political and professional adviser, Tony Blair’s former front man is in the thick of writing a book about winning.
Due from Random House in September, the tome will be anchored in a subject he knows well. “I have always been interested in it. Obviously in politics, that’s what I’ve always been about. I’ve always loved sport and I’ve always known a lot of people in sport. I really like those mind-sets that are kind of different,” Campbell said. “I had a really amazing conversation with Michael Phelps at the Athens Olympics. He was only 19 at the time, but I was so impressed by his kind of mind-set. I think someone like me who does what he does and is in my 50s can learn from someone like him, who is a swimmer.”
Campbell, who makes the rounds on the speakers’ circuit talking about winning, tapped many of his top-of-the-line friends in business and sports to help map out “the sort of things you need to do to win — strategy, teamwork, leadership, data, innovation, failure, crisis — all the different things you need, and school says you need.”
His old chum, former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, penned the forward for the book, which features entries about “Moneyball” writer Billy Bean, Anna Wintour, Richard Branson, Chelsea Football Club’s José Mourinho, Garry Kasparov and Jeff Blair, among others. Their how-to-finish-first entries vary from two or three lines to 10,000-word profiles, though Campbell wasn’t about to pinpoint any favorites in a recent interview.
“The one American I really, really want to get is the boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr., because he has never ever, ever lost — not many people can say that,” Campbell said.
While Campbell is closing in on an interview, he allowed, “I don’t think he needs anyone to put him in a book to know he’s a winner.”
Helping Tony Blair win three big majorities remains Campbell’s top professional win and “getting over a nervous breakdown in the Eighties and rebuilding from it” is his personal one, he said. (Time to Change, which aims to change attitudes about mental health, is his big charity.) Campbell said his own go-to quote about winning is, “‘Get a grip.’ I’ve got a lot of them actually, but that’s definitely one of them. That doesn’t mean, ‘Pull yourself together.’ When I say ‘Get a grip,’ it means grip the things you need to do to win.”
Interestingly, writing a monthly interview for British GQ has upsides beyond the magazine’s printed page. “Funny enough even though it has not been the purpose, some of them have been helping quite good in terms of providing insights for the book like [soccer star] Mario Balotelli. Most of them are British. I have done a lot of politicians. Someone I did the other day who is much better-known in America is [“Man vs. Wild” host Bear Grylls.] He is massive in America and China. He is well-known in Britain but apparently when he goes to China he can barely walk down the street.”
Through his own consulting business, he acts as a strategic adviser to a number of high-profile people, “quietly and privately helping them navigate the maelstrom of the modern British media in particular,” though he declined to identify them.
His work schedule includes a mix of politics, business and nonprofit. “I am working a lot in the Balkans at the moment, trying to help the Balkan countries get on better with each other and get on better with the rest of Europe. I do a lot with Albania in particular.”
In the past month or two, British tabloids took Campbell to task for allegedly advising the regime of Egypt’s ruler, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. “That was completely overwritten. I was basically there because I was there. And because of the time I was there, I got invited to meet all sorts of people and I did,” he said. “I do think Egypt is going to need a lot of help. So I don’t buy this idea that because bad things [happen] you shouldn’t try to help, reform if they want to reform. But it’s difficult when you’ve got this situation where these three [Al-Jazeera] journalists are in jail. Until that’s resolved, I think it’s very, very hard for them to get any kind of international hearing. [He noted that both President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron have spoken out about their sentencings.] It’s difficult.”