In December last year I wrote about the Greatest Experiences of My Life, which you can read HERE. It was a rather nice article to write. Anyway, life is all about ups and downs, so I thought it only right to write about things that haven’t been so great in my life. I suspect there are a few things here that most people will be able to relate to. So, in no particular order, here are some of the Worst Experiences of My Life…
I don’t think anyone gets over the death of a parent. My Mum died four years ago and life has never been the same. I so miss phoning her after I go on Sky News. She’d always tell me I’d been brilliant, even when I hadn’t, because she genuinely thought I was! She gave me everything and without her I would be nothing. I still tear up more or less every time I think of her. I know how proud of me she was, but I know I often let her down.
When I was at school it was always intended I would follow my Dad into farming. To do that I needed to go to agricultural college, and therefore needed to do some Science ‘O’ Levels. Big mistake. I got a D in Biology, but Physics proved to be my nemisis. I just couldn’t understand anything. And I mean anything. I even had extra lessons with my teacher Mr Fitton. I ended up with a U – ungraded. And that was being generous. Whenever I passed Mr Fitton in the corridor after that he’d just look at me, shake his head and walk on. Apparently I was his only failure in 20 years of teaching.
I think most people know what happened there. It was September 2013 and I was accompanying Damian McBride to a TV appointment. A protester kept getting in the TV shot. I intervened to pull him away. We fell over. His Jack Russell bit him. Later that day, while I was broadcasting, the Police came for me and I ended up with a Police caution for assault even though, unlike the protester I hadn’t thrown a punch or even kicked out. Nevertheless, I’m officially an idiot.
Losing North Norfolk
I was so proud to have been selected to fight the 2005 election in North Norfolk. I genuinely thought I could win it, even though I was warned what I was up against. I know I fought a textbook campaign and couldn’t have done more, but I knew in the February, three months before the election, I was going to lose. I spent an afternoon canvassing in the coastal village of Overstrand – a village which should have been strong Tory territory. Every house I knocked on said they really wanted to vote for me but that nice Norman Lamb was such a good MP. Game over. On the night I lost by 10,000 votes. I expected to lose, but the margin was a total shock.
Failing to be selected in Bracknell & East Surrey
After the disaster of losing in 2005 I decided to have one more go at trying to be an MP. I took two years out of selections when I started Total Politics as I didn’t feel I could do that and be a candidate. However, in mid 2009 I applied for a few seats. Bracknell was the one I felt ideally suited to and I really felt I could do it. I was up against 6 others in the final, which was an open primary. I made a good speech and answered questions well. But when it got down to three I felt I wouldn’t make it. The safe option was a local GP, Philip Lee, and the risky option was Rory Stewart. I was somewhere in the middle. I was gutted to miss out. I only had one more chance – East Surrey, which is very near where I live in Tunbridge Wells. I was expected to win, or come close. In the end I came last of 6 as I made a disastrous speech. And that was it. I made the decision there and then that I wouldn’t be trying again, and after the 2010 election came off the Tory candidates list. It’s a decision I thought I might come to regret. But I haven’t.
Being diagnosed with diabetes
During the 2005 general election campaign I joined Keith Simpson in Aylsham Marketplace one Saturday morning. They had a mobile diabetes diagnosis unit there, so Keith and I were tested. My blood sugars were very high. I didn’t think a lot about it as I had just eaten a burger. Two years later I diagnosed myself. I had numbness in my legs and I was constantly thirsty, and would have to get up every night to have a pee. My GP confirmed it. And I’ve struggled with it ever since.
Car crash on my 20th birthday
I was driving with my sisters to a local pub to celebrate my birthday in my orange Ford Cortina Mk III. I approached a bend and found a white transit van on my side of the road. It was in the days before compulsory seatbelts. I hit it head on at 50 mph. How we weren’t all killed I just don’t know. One of my sisters was screaming, mainly because her front teeth had been knocked out when the front of her head collided with the back of my other sister’s head. I had gripped the steering wheel so tight it was totally mangled. I ran to a local house to call 999. I was in total control until my father arrived on the scene, when I broke down completely. Once the ambulance had taken my sisters away he led me to his car and then made me drive. It was the best thing he could have done.
Being sacked from Waterfront
In 1990 I started a transport based lobbying company with a former boss. It went well, but in 1996 we had a big falling out. I won’t go into the details, except to say that he now admits I was in the right. I made up my mind to leave, but had to get my ducks in a row first. I did just that and then went on holiday to the US for two weeks. I had decided to resign the day after I got back, but he beat me to it. A letter effectively sacking me was already waiting for me. It led to six months of unemployment while I put together a business plan to start Politico’s.
Not being able to sell my Walthamstow flat
I bought a two bedroom flat in Walthamstow in 1988, mainly because I felt if I didn’t get on the housing ladder then it would be too late. I paid £58k for it, with a £54k mortgage. Those were the days! Unfortunately the mortgage company failed to pick up that it suffered from subsidence. I tried to repeatedly sell it, but at the survey stage all the buyers pulled out. I moved out after 6 years but it took another four to sell it – for, yes, you guessed it, £58k. I must be the only person never to have made money out of property in the 1980s/1990s. I looked on Zoopla the other day and they valued the same flat at £274,000.
Having my car stolen
This happened in Walthamstow. It was a company car – a Ford Orion Ghia something or other. It was incredibly fast and had a little computer. I walked out of my door one morning and it had gone. Disappeared. I had a lot of trouble with cars living there, with people smashing the windows or keying the car. It was one of the reasons I decided I had to move.
I woke up one morning and there was a lump, the size of half a tennis ball, just bellow my tummy button. And it hurt. I couldn’t put trousers on. I had to put trakkie bottoms on and wandered round to the doctors surgery in the next door road. They refused to let me see a doctor as i wasn’t registered there and hadn’t got an appointment. In the end I had to effectively flash at them. They sent me to A&E and it turned out to be an ingrowing hair which had gone septic. They stuck a syringe in it and drained it of gunk. Yuk. Very painful.
Pitchfork through my foot
I was seven years old and was helping my Dad spread hay around one of the cattleyards using a pitchfork. Somehow I contrived to stick it right through my big toe. Right through. I wasn’t sure whether I should pull it out. I suppose I must have done. I remember standing in the kitchen with my mother bathing it. I don’t remember crying or going to hospital, but I suppose I must have done.
When I had my blog I ended up being harrassed and stalked by someone who shall remain nameless for these purposes. One evening he phoned me 40 times. He threatened to come round to my house. He denies to this day he stalked or harrassed me, but I know how I felt at the time and to me it was stalking.
Having to sack people
Telling someone they no longer have a job is a terrible thing to have to do. I have had to do it five or six times in my life and it never gets easier. Once I actually even shed a tear while doing it. However much you tell yourself you’re doing the right thing, it’s always traumatic and you always question your decision.
In 1997 John and I got a lovely Jack Russell puppy called Gio from Battersea Dogs Home. He meant the world to us. But in 2008 his health took a turn for the worse. He wasn’t able to exercise much because he had broken two of his leg joints and wasn’t allowed to run, so he had bulked up. One night he had a stroke by the back door. I knew something was wrong when a friend of mine collected me from the station rather than John. “It’s Gio,” he said. When I got home he was still by the back door, eyes open, but expressionless. We comforted him as much as we could but when the vet came we both knew what had to be done. It’s one of the few times in my life when I have genuinely howled. The grief we both felt was unbearable.
Gio being run over
Talking of Gio, I remember the time I took him for a walk round the local park and as we emerged from the park I was day dreaming and I suddenly heard a car approaching. I looked round and Gio was quite a few steps behind me on his extendable lead. It happened in slow motion. I screamed his name but I heard a thump. Gio then emerged from the other side of the car and sat down holding his paw up, which was bloodied. I scooped him up and ran home. We took him to the vet and luckily he hadn’t been badly injured – just his foot. I was a wreck.
Seeing Eleanor for the last time
Eleanor was my Godmother. She wasn’t my mother’s blood sister, but she might as well have been. She was an integral part of our childhood and we loved her dearly. She suddenly got cancer and my sister told me I needed to visit her in hospital to say goodbye. We all spent two hours with her telling her how much we loved her and how wondeful she had been to us. She kept whispering to us not to get upset. She had come to terms with her imminent death. I remember kissing her goodbye, then turning back at the door to look at her one last time, and then going back to kiss her again. She was a very remarkable woman.
Coming out to my family
Anyone who’s been through this knows how hard it can be. For me it was even worse. I was 40. Everyone said that they would know and it wouldn’t come as a surprise. Suffice to say it did. I just wish I had had the courage to do it in my teens or twenties, but things were so different in those days. And that’s as much detail as you’re going to get!
Being on the Irish HIGNFY
What could possibly go wrong. It was around 2007 and I got invited to Dublin to appear on a rough equivalent of ‘Have I Got News For You’. An English Tory blogger against four Irish comedians with a live theatre audience. What could possibly go wrong? I found out I wasn’t as funny as I thought I was.
Presenting LBC’s Olympic Opening ceremony show
What should have been the highlight of my broadcasting career so far, became a nightmare. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong. Our vantage point was supposedly overlooking the Olympic Park. Well, if you walked along the end of the balcony and craned your neck you could just about see the Olympic Stadium. Just as I was about to go on air the line went down. The newsreader talked into packages which weren’t there. The opening bed music didn’t fire. But the show had to go on. It started to rain. We had a Gazebo but it leaked. Onto my head. Down my back. While I was live on air. Jo Phillips was my co-broadcaster. She and I got a cab home afterwards and sat in silence for most of the journey. Until I warned the cab driver (Addison Lee, since you ask) that he needed to slow down as there was a roundabout up ahead. He turned round and called me a “motherfucking cunt”. Nice. I got him fired the next day.
Going across the channel in a force 9 gale
It was April 1977 and we were heading to Germany on a school exchange trip. We got the ferry from Harwich to the Hook of Holland. As the voyage continued, the wind got worse and so did the waves. Virtually everyone was heaving. We didn’t have cabins, so I decided that it was probably best to lie down on the floor by a row of seats. Big mistake. After a few minutes I heard the sound of someone about to throw up. They did. And it landed within an inch of my head. Well that set me off. I’ve never been a good sailor since.
It was 2009 and Carol Thatcher had used the word ‘golliwog’ on the One Show. I went on the Today Programme and tried to explain that people of her generation might use that word without meaning to be racist. I thought I’d done quite well. Derek Draper, who had just started the Labour List blog then took me to task and said I must be racist too. Unbeknown to me this smear was dreamt up in Downing Street by Damian McBride and Draper. A few weeks later, after an FOI request, the truth came out and McBride resigned. There was a happy ending, though. Damian wrote me a letter of apology and I ended up publishing his book, POWER TRIP. It became the biggest selling book pubished by Biteback.
Being bullied at school
I was always taller than other boys and you’d have thought that would protect me from bullies. But I never liked physical confrontation and so would allow myself to be bullied. At primary school it was Robin Brice. At secondary school it was Michael Owen. No, not that one. It was pretty tame stuff, but it was horrible at the time.
Jane Grey was in my German class at secondary school. She was a bit of a loner and very academic. A lot of the kids enjoyed taking the mickey out of her. I remember one day someone posted up the details of a mixed doubles tennis tournament. I looked to see who I was paired with and it was Jane Grey. Ever one to play to the crowd I shrieked: “Oh, no look who I’ve got, Jane Grey!” Guess who was standing behind me. I was mortified.
In 1986 I was working for Conservative MP for Norwich North, Patrick Thompson. We had a business group who paid £35 a year to attend a lunch at the House of Commons with a government minister speaking. I had done amarketing leaflet to encourage other business to join the group. Unfortunately I used the phrase “with direct access to government ministers”. One Tuesday David Steel, leader of the Liberals, rang Patrick to tell him he would be raising this leaflet with Margaret Thatcher in PMQs that afternoon. He immediately went to see Mrs T. He told her what had happened. “I see,” she said. “Don’t worry about it Patrick. I’ll deal with that little twerp”. She meant Steel, not me. And indeed she did.
Shaking hands with the IRA
I was standing outside the Tv studios at 4 Millbank when I encountered a PR agent I knew called Wendy Bailey. We chatted for a moment, then said intriduced me to the man she was with. “Do you know Patrick?” she asked. “No I don’t,” I said and shook his hand. “Nice to meet you.” It was only a minute later after I had left them that I realised I had just shaken hands with the Brighton bomber, Patrick Magee. I felt as if I need a shower. I texted Wendy to tell her exactly what I thought of what had just happened.
Archbishop of Cunterbury
It was March 2013. It was my first day presenting LBC Drive. The Archbishop of Canterbury was my big name interview on my first programme but it had to be a prerecord. that day he had been reported as being highly critical of Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms. As I walked into the studio the first thing he said, without even saying ‘hello’, was “No questions on welfare reform”. I was rather taken aback. No politician had ever laid down any preconditions. When I came to introduce the item, I said… “Earlier today, I met the Archbishop of Camterbury…”. Well, that was what I was supposed to say. I actually said, live on air, “Earlier today, I met the Archbishop of Cunterbury…”. I genuinely thought no one had noticed. It made page 4 of the next day’s Daily Telegraph. Served him right though, for being a bit of a c…. naughty archbishop.