From my earliest years, I was aware of eschewing celebrity. My first political stance was republicanism. I drank in all the phrases and arguments that backed this up. Kingsley Martin's Crown and the Establishment
was the textbook of my youth.
Over the years, I may have mellowed a little but not that much. It's just that life has crept up on me with a few 'celebrity' moments. My first was at primary school when we had a visit from King of the Cowboys, Roy Rogers, his horse Trigger and wife Dale Evans. Amongst my fellow pupils at secondary were Robin Cook, later Foreign Secretary, Ian Charleson of Chariots of Fire
fame and two of the Bay City Rollers. Then, at university, I mixed with fellow students Malcolm Rifkind and Gordon Brown. Strictly speaking they don't count as celebrity moments as their fame lay in the future.
When I was standing as Labour candidate in Ayr, I had visits of support from a wide range of Labour celebrities: John Smith, Gordon Brown, Robin Cook, Donald Dewar, Tony Blair and then leader, Neil Kinnock and his wife Glenys. There were photo opps with Robbie Coltrane and Eric Cullen (Wee Burney from Rab C Nisbett
) and a famous ex-East Fife footballer called Henry McLeish. These were, of course, to support 'the candidate', not me personally.
The years that followed my wife's election as an MP in 1997 saw me spend more and more time at Westminster and the big Labour names became just everyday encounters. Familiarity and celebrity don't mix. The younger Alastair would have been horrified to find me at a reception for new MPs and their partners at Buckingham Palace. The Queen was her usual composed self but Philip was getting very tetchy because he couldn't get used to so many women MPs and couldn't tell MPs from their spouses. When I was introduced, he asked if I was one of the new MPs. 'No, just a consort like yourself', I replied. The nearest I got to celebrity at the White House was passing VP Dick Cheney on his way out as I was going in.
One of my most exciting encounters was having to escape in a small boat from a waterside restaurant in Crete along with a group of European politicians and local Greek MPs. We were besieged by an angry mob protesting against the Greek Government's austerity measures, shouting and hurling bricks at us. We sailed round the coast to a spot where it was safe for a bus to pick us up. A brush with notoriety rather than celebrity perhaps.
The nearest I ever came to being really starstruck was having a drink with Barbara Castle in the Strangers Bar and visiting 10 Downing Street both when Tony Blair was PM and then again under Gordon Brown. It wasn't so much the people as the building and what it stood for. There was this sense of history in 1997 with the first Labour Government in 18 years. As we climbed the staircase past the portraits of former PMs, I said to George Foulkes: 'I'm quite overawed. This is my first time here'. 'I was elected in 1979 and this is my first time here too,' he replied.
That's all in the past now. If I ever allowed any of it to turn my head, I truly regret that but I've got over it. No gods and precious few heroes is a good motto to live by and nowadays the only people who really matter to me are my friends and loved ones.
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