Nicky Campbell: 'My dog is the perfect lockdown companion - he understands nothing but is there for us all'

Nicky Campbell
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Television and radio presenter Nicky Campbell has launched his new podcast, One of the Family, after his beloved dog, Maxwell, helped him and his family throughout lockdown.

So where are we now with all this? Who knows. What I do know is the last few months have been the most extraordinary of my nearly 40 years in radio.

Being on the air every day has been tough but – and this is the constant caveat – nowhere near as tough as it has been for the people with no job.

They have told us how all their hopes and dreams suddenly vanished when they phoned in, barely able to process the insanity that’s visited the world. Who could? I still can’t.

In normal times, (remember that lifetime ago?) it’s an intense experience talking to people on the radio or to put it better, ‘listening’ to people.

These are the people who trust us. The most powerful phone-ins are always those that truly touch everyday experience. Fighting the system for your autistic child, facing cancer, working in struggling schools.

Brexit was at a slight remove from that – it was the ‘biggest story of our careers’ so we thought, (yea right!) but it was all about who shouted loudest.

It’s when we address the here and now realities of human beings just trying to do the best they can for those they love – that’s what really makes my job worthwhile. But its like being a lightning conductor – everything goes through you and you only feel normal again hours later.

Frankly, if you came off the air after that and go ‘ho hum that’s my work done’ you don’t deserve the privilege of doing what we do.

For the last few months we’ve heard people for hours each morning expressing, often in eloquent, desperate silence, their agony and confusion, their disbelief at the nightmare. We woke up each day but still the nightmare carried on.

Day after day, call after call, I heard lives falling apart, everything they had worked for crumbling beneath their feet.

Everything they’d worked towards turned to dust. They were separated from loved ones, they’d lost loved ones. And every day we realised how lucky we were.

In nearly four decades on the radio I have wept perhaps a dozen times on the air, half of those since March 2020.

These were the times when I could hold back the tide no more; when the searing emotional honesty coming from our listeners has made any pretence at professionalism superfluous and irrelevant.

Mostly in my job you manage to keep your eyes on the road but not always. Not with such soul destroying sadness from a listener who has turned to you in their desperation.

The half hour journey home to South London was a long shoulder slumped haul with a feeling of gratitude and guilt. God I’m lucky. Why am I so lucky?

That poor woman in the care home who has months to live isn’t and all she wants to do is hold her daughter one last time. I really feel this now thinking about my mum, my adopted mum, and my real mum who died in late December.

We arranged the funeral for early January and it was a beautiful send off on a crisp blue skied Edinburgh day. She’d served this country in war as a radar operator on D Day, and in peace as a social worker helping others. Her funeral was unforgettable.

There were 150 people from over the country there in joyful celebration of her love, life and humanity and I will have the memory of her funeral all my life. We were able to laugh and cry with others and celebrate a wonderful life.

We were able go to bed at two in the morning that night, several sheets to the wind after telling story after story and then we could wake up with a stinking hangover but cherishing the day it had been with so many friends and family – a day we will never forget for a woman no one will ever forget.

Everyone deserves to see their loved ones off like that. I am thankful I did but so so sorry that wasn’t the case for far too many.

In lockdown, funerals have been a handful of souls, cold and lonely goodbyes for people whose lives were rich as royalty. And then, in Wilfred Owen’s words, ‘each slow dusk, a drawing down of blinds’. God we were so, so lucky.

Isn’t it strange though and paradoxical that when out walking, being further apart kind of brought people closer together? We clung on to those things because we needed to so badly.

And of course family has been wonderful – being with my four daughters from 16 to 21 and my wife, Tina. But there were others who helped us more than they will ever know. There were others, at the heart of our home, who understood everything but actually knew nothing.

They were oblivious to the momentous events but sensitive to all our feelings. These were our dogs. And in particular my beautiful 12-year-old Labrador retriever Maxwell.

I knew this magical canine quality of course – I have always adored dogs but being with him everyday after those long intense heartbreaking mornings was special beyond words. I was reminded of this everyday.

I had no long trips to Salford for Five Live or Sydney for Long Lost Family. No weekly treks round the UK for the Sunday morning debate programme The Big Questions. It was just life with my family – and right at the heart of that Maxwell, helping us all.

In his younger, fitter, leaner days he brought back balls from wherever we threw them but now – geriatric and measured – he brings back ourselves. The ice breaker. The heart warmer. And the rest of the world seemed to say – dogs are incredible. People experienced such intense relationships with their dogs in these times.

(Article source: The Mirror)

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