Alan Johnson, Bewdley Festival - review
Senior politician, trade unionist and postman.
Alan Johnson has occupied many roles during a remarkable life in public service. At Bewdley Festival, he showed he had more strings to his bow: raconteur, showman and rock star... Well, almost.
The former health secretary, education secretary and home secretary offered a fascinating insight into politics at the highest level when he spoke at the event. Ostensibly an event to promote his latest and beautifully written book, In My Life, an homage to his greatest love – music – the event provided penetrating insights.
Brilliantly hosted by the wry and funny Andrew Wilson, Johnson worked his way through his new book, a sort-of memoir in song, in which he recounted the tracks of his years and reflected on key moments in his life.
So there was a devastatingly funny story about his work as a postman when he was unable to empty a pillar box because a throng of girls were packed outside a hotel waiting for the Bay City Rollers. There were remarkable stories of poverty and overcoming adversity during his youth.
And there were fascinating tales and amusing asides about Boris Johnson, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, MI5, Robin Cook and more.
But the most interesting part was how Johnson had made his way from a dirt-poor upbringing in which his feckless and abusive father had left home early and his beloved mother had passed away during his teens; leaving him and his sister to muddle through together.
That Johnson survived at all was remarkable. He made it to the highest offices in the land – and was one step away from becoming prime minister in a possible pact with the Liberal Democrats in 2010.
And yet it was his first love – music – that dominated in a show that articulated his obsession with The Beatles, rock’n’roll and the swinging sixties. Apparently, he came within an ace of making it himself.
During a remarkable life, the only role Johnson didn’t occupy was that of rock star.
At Bewdley Festival, he came pretty close to that too.