A lament for my lost piper

Alas­tair Campbell was at his brother’s side as he wres­tled for years with schizophre­nia. Don­ald died last week. Speak­ing for the first time about that bat­tle, the for­mer spin doc­tor tells of a mind and body rav­aged but a lov­ing, mu­si­cal soul undimmed

The Oban Times - - News - Alas­tair Campbell DON­ALD CAMPBELL BORN: MAY 3, 1954 DIED: AU­GUST 9, 2016

MY BIG brother died last Tues­day. It was a mas­sive, hor­ri­ble shock, even though we have al­ways known that peo­ple with his con­di­tion live on av­er­age 20 years less long than the rest of us. My dad lived to 82, my mum to 88. Don­ald was 62. His con­di­tion was schizophre­nia.

His ill­ness, not mine, is the real rea­son I cam­paign for bet­ter un­der­stand­ing and treat­ment of men­tal ill­ness, not least be­cause peo­ple who have schizophre­nia do have such short­ened life ex­pectancy.

I talk about my own prob­lems of de­pres­sion and ad­dic­tion partly be­cause I am asked to and be­cause I think open­ness is bet­ter all round if we are go­ing to break down the taboo and so win the fight for the ser­vices and treat­ments we need. I never talked about Don­ald’s ill­ness in pub­lic, mainly be­cause our mum didn’t want me to.

That was not out of the shame and stigma that many peo­ple sadly still feel at­taches to men­tal ill­ness. She was hugely proud of him for what he man­aged to achieve de­spite what he called “this shitty ill­ness”. It was more that, with one son in the me­dia spot­light, she wor­ried that if Don­ald’s head were in any way above the para­pet, it could have made him even more vul­ner­a­ble.

Don­ald, on the other hand, was to­tally up for it. Like a lot of men­tally ill peo­ple, when he was well he thought he ought to be fa­mous. And when he was ill he thought he al­ready was. In his prime he saw Sean Con­nery as a suit­able ac­tor to play him in the movie of his life. More re­cently he won­dered if Ge­orge Clooney could do a Scot­tish ac­cent.

He was com­pet­i­tive about his ill­ness. ‘Saw you on the telly again talk­ing about your psy­chotic break­down, Ali. You heard voices once and you’re like Mr Men­tal Bloody Health. Why don’t they come and talk to a real ex­pert?’ He was cer­tainly an ex­pert on liv­ing a good life with se­vere men­tal ill­ness.

Our mum hav­ing died two years ago, we were plan­ning to make a film to­gether – cen­tred on him – about liv­ing with schizophre­nia. He had caught the telly bug a bit when we ap­peared to­gether in a film about bag­pipes, one of our shared loves. My daugh­ter Grace, a film stu­dent, had be­gun to record in­ter­views with Don­ald about the ups and downs in his life since he was first di­ag­nosed while in the Scots Guards in his early twen­ties.

So he would sit and tell her about the time he was in a wait­ing room, and the elec­tri­cal plugs were talk­ing to the lights about him while he was sur­rounded by peo­ple who were all dis­cussing ter­ri­ble things they were about to do to him. Then he would laugh and say: ‘Ab­so­lutely mad, in­nit, Grace? And look at me sit­ting here now. Nor­mal or what?’

The prob­lem was that in re­cent months he had been on oxy­gen to as­sist his breath­ing, so the noisy buzz of his por­ta­ble oxy­gen ma­chine was a con­stant on the sound­track. We were hop­ing – alas, in vain – that he would get his breath­ing sorted and we would make the film free of the buzz and the nasal tube.

Here is the real bas­tard about his shitty ill­ness: the drugs. Don’t get me wrong. Treat­ment – in Don­ald’s case, med­i­ca­tion – can of­ten help re­store some­one to the per­son they are sup­posed to be, un­clouded by the ill­ness.

Med­i­ca­tion helped to give him long pe­ri­ods free of the voices in his head and the hal­lu­ci­na­tions be­fore his eyes that oth­er­wise re­duced him to a some­times ter­ri­fied and other times ag­gres­sive hu­man be­ing.

He had a mar­riage, though it didn’t last. He had bet­ter luck in work, hold­ing down a job he loved at Glas­gow Univer­sity for 27 years; at his farewell last year – due to phys­i­cal ill health – the turnout and the warmth were ev­i­dence of the huge con­tri­bu­tion he had made.

Don­ald had two main roles at the univer­sity: he was the prin­ci­pal’s of­fi­cial piper, who played at din­ners, cer­e­monies and grad­u­a­tions; and he was part of the security team, mainly work­ing at the con­trol point in the univer­sity li­brary. It meant he got to know hun­dreds of stu­dents; he loved the ban­ter, taught some of them the pipes and of­ten or­dered any­one with feet on a li­brary ta­ble to ‘kindly use the car­pets’.

Glas­gow Univer­sity was a model em­ployer for some­one with se­vere men­tal ill­ness, and his role as piper gave him a sense of pur­pose and sta­tus, which he loved. He piped out thou­sands and thou­sands of stu­dents from their grad­u­a­tions. One of the great­est sad­nesses in his life was that lat­terly, be­cause of his poor breath­ing, he was un­able to play other than on elec­tronic pipes – ‘Sec­ond best, Ali, but I’m still bet­ter than you.’

The very last time he played the ‘real’ pipes, we per­formed to­gether at a memo­rial ser­vice for the for­mer Lib­eral Demo­crat leader Charles Kennedy, who had been rec­tor of the univer­sity. ‘Good lad, that Char­lie Kennedy – al­ways stopped for a chat.’ He had to give up half­way through to get his breath, and I fin­ished alone.

It didn’t stop him adding this to his broth­erly boasts: ‘Did you see Ni­cola Stur­geon nod­ding along to my play­ing? Alex Sal­mond isn’t the only one who knows I’m a bet­ter player than you.’ (Sal­mond had once said in an in­ter­view that Don­ald was the bet­ter player of the two of us – on this, at least, he was right.) Our sib­ling ri­valry went back to the one com­pe­ti­tion in which I beat him, aged 10 – I got gold; he got bronze – and to his dy­ing day he swore the judges con­fused us. He was prob­a­bly right.

So the drugs worked. Kind of. But decades of pow­er­ful anti-psy­chotic med­i­ca­tion takes a toll. When it came to ‘nor­mal’ ill­nesses such as colds and flu and chest in­fec­tions, the gaps be­tween them be­came shorter and the quan­tity of ‘ nor­mal’ drugs re­quired to treat them grew larger.

Added to which, a re­cent change of his main med­i­ca­tion for the schizophre­nia – nec­es­sary to deal with the phys­i­cal ill­ness and weight in­crease – seemed to have sent him hay­wire men­tally. In the end some­thing had to give. His life. It is a source of great sad­ness that my last con­ver­sa­tions were with the psy­chotic Don­ald, not the lov­ing, giv­ing, funny Don­ald who brought so much to our lives by mak­ing so much of his own.

Don­ald Lach­lan Cameron Campbell, born May 3, 1954. You’d never guess our par­ents were Scots, would you, giv­ing their first­born those names? Don­ald, our dad’s name. Lach­lan, his dad. Cameron, his mother’s maiden name. I got off lightly with Alas­tair John. Like me and our brother, Graeme, and sis­ter, Liz, Don­ald was born and raised in Eng­land, but an adult life that started in the Scots Guards as a teenager and, once he had been dis­charged on med­i­cal grounds, was lived al­most en­tirely in and around Glas­gow – a lot of it in the pip­ing world – meant that he had a 100 per cent Scot­tish ac­cent (200 per cent when psy­chotic).

When we were in­ter­viewed to­gether for the pip­ing film, the in­ter­viewer doubted we were broth­ers, be­cause al­though I have tinges of a Scots ac­cent when with Scots, I have lived most of my life in Eng­land. We were broth­ers, all right. Liv­ing very dif­fer­ent lives. But very close. No death have I ever dreaded more than this one.

He had lit­tle in­ter­est in pol­i­tics; even less in sport. His pas­sion was the bag­pipes. He joined the army largely so he could be in one of the guards’ bands – he hoped to spend more time pip­ing than soldier­ing. He was serv­ing in North­ern Ire­land, how­ever, when his com­rades and su­pe­ri­ors started to no­tice that he was be­hav­ing strangely.

The next thing we knew, he was in a now- de­funct mil­i­tary psy­chi­atric hospi­tal in Net­ley, Hamp­shire. When we got the call, I trav­elled down with my dad. Don­ald was on his own in a room, be­wil­dered and scared, and had been draw­ing all sorts of weird things on the walls. In­so­far as he spoke, he talked ab­so­lute non­sense. My dad and I just stood there, shocked to the core. Those eyes were not the eyes we knew.

It was a tough place. That is no crit­i­cism of the doc­tors and nurses. They were op­er­at­ing at a time when ser­vice­men and women who wanted to leave early had to buy their way out, and so, among the re­ally se­ri­ous cases ev­i­dent to all, the medics were on the look­out for peo­ple feign­ing men­tal ill­ness so as to be dis­charged.

It was also a time when elec­tric shock ther­apy was a favoured form of psy­chi­atric treat­ment, and Don­ald had his fair share of that. My dad was a self- em­ployed vet and had to get back to work. I was in my late teens, on a long col­lege hol­i­day and de­cided I wanted to stay down there. I didn’t have a driv­ing li­cence at the time but went north to col­lect Don­ald’s car; I spent my days in the hospi­tal with him and my nights ei­ther find­ing some­one to put me up or sleep­ing in the car.

Don­ald re­cip­ro­cated af­ter my own – ‘not as psy­chotic as mine, Ali’ – break­down in the 1980s. We went on a road trip, vis­it­ing friends and rel­a­tives around Bri­tain. He was great com­pany: a strong glue in our close and ex­tended fam­ily, and a very lov­ing and sup­port­ive brother.

‘I want to kick that Michael Howard’s teeth down his throat,’ he said af­ter a par­tic­u­larly un­pleas­ant at­tack on me by the for­mer Tory leader. When I say “af­ter”, yes, I mean im­me­di­ately af­ter, but also one week af­ter, a month, a year, five years af­ter and last month. He re­ally didn’t like peo­ple who said bad things about his fam­ily. And he loved say­ing the same things again and again! He had a book full of mantras.

Don­ald was very clever but not very well ed­u­cated (the re­verse of a lot of peo­ple I know). I have no idea when his mind started to go wrong, but I do know that of all of us he was the one who found school­work hard­est. I’ve of­ten won­dered, too, whether those times when he just couldn’t seem to get him­self out of bed, which my par­ents saw as a sign of teenage re­bel­lion, were the first in­di­ca­tions of an ill­ness about which we knew ab­so­lutely noth­ing when that call from the mil­i­tary came, a call af­ter which, our mother said many times, her life was never the same again.

He had many doc­tors, nurses and psychiatrists, and to the end he re­ceived fan­tas­tic NHS care in sev­eral parts of the coun­try and var­i­ous mo­ments of cri­sis. One of them once said to me: “Don­ald is my great­est suc­cess story. Keeps his job. Owns his own flat. Drives him­self. Stays ac­tive. Has a pas­sion for his mu­sic. Has more friends than any of us. Has a pos­i­tive at­ti­tude al­most all the time.”

That last bit was cer­tainly true. I wrote a book about my de­pres­sion and called it The

Happy De­pres­sive. If we had ever made the film about Don­ald, we were go­ing to call it The Happy Schiz­o­phrenic.

“It is what it is, Ali. I got given a bit of a crap deal, but you’ve got to make the best of it. Know what I mean?” It helped that, un­like me, he did do God, and his faith was cer­tainly a com­fort.

He loved peo­ple and he loved life. If there were an ex­tended fam­ily vote – I have about 60 cousins – to elect its most pop­u­lar mem­ber, he would have walked it. He worked al­most all his life. He didn’t like hospi­tal for all the ob­vi­ous rea­sons but also be­cause he didn’t like to be a bur­den on the NHS, which he felt had al­ready given him more than most.

He adored his nieces and neph­ews and was ob­sessed with the idea that he should have some­thing to leave them, even though sev­eral of them al­ready earn more than he ever did. He was al­ways a giver.

The pip­ing was a gift from our fa­ther, who taught us when we were very young and grow­ing up in York­shire. In­deed, if ever I do Desert

Is­land Discs, the first song will be Don­ald Campbell by Don­ald Campbell, a tune writ­ten in hon­our of my dad and played by my brother on one of the CDs he recorded for the univer­sity.

For Don­ald Jr, pip­ing be­came a lifedefin­ing pas­sion. He com­peted at a high level. The judges were aware he could some­times be ‘out of form up top’, as once when my sons, Rory and Calum, and I went to see him in a pi­obaireachd com­pe­ti­tion – top-rank stuff. Don­ald’s mind was wan­der­ing, and the judges smiled as he stopped pre­ma­turely, said, ‘Bug­ger it – I was away with the fairies there’, saluted and left the stage.

But he was com­pet­ing, com­pos­ing, record­ing and teach­ing al­most to the end. And though in re­cent days in hospi­tal he be­came un­usu­ally vi­o­lent, he could be calmed a lit­tle when my sis­ter Liz, the last per­son to visit him be­fore his res­pi­ra­tory col­lapse, played to him his pip­ing CDs and he played along with his fin­gers on the bed­side rail.

He lost his mind from time to time. Now, all too young, he has lost his life. But right un­til the end of it, he never lost the mu­sic in his soul. And though the Don­ald who died was the sick Don­ald, the work­ings of his mind di­vorced from peo­ple and events around him – which is what schizophre­nia is, not the ‘split per­son­al­ity’ cliché that com­pounds the stigma – in there some­where was the real Don­ald.

The real Don­ald leaves be­hind so much grief pre­cisely be­cause he in­spired so much love, and gave so much love to so many – not least his lit­tle brother.

Don­ald worked at Glas­gow Univer­sity in a job he loved. He had two main roles at the univer­sity, one of which was the prin­ci­pal’s of­fi­cial piper. Don­ald and Alas­tair also played the pipes at a memo­rial for the for­mer MP Charles Kennedy.

Don­ald Campbell was three years older than his brother Alas­tair.

Don­ald was serv­ing in North­ern Ire­land when his be­hav­iour be­came strange and he was moved to a mil­i­tary psy­chi­atric hospi­tal.

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