Support 100 years of independent journalism.

How Craig Oliver wants you to stop worrying

David Cameron’s former spin doctor has a new podcast bursting with tips for fulfilment. But surely we’ve read this all before on a fridge magnet?

By Rachel Cunliffe

Five and half years ago, Craig Oliver was David Cameron’s chief spinner and was running the Remain campaign. A Brexit vote, two elections and a pandemic later, he’s launched a podcast “for people who want to change their lives, but aren’t sure how”. The introduction feels like a riff on Hugh Grant’s monologue from Love Actually, right down to the uplifting backing music. “I felt I’d done all the things I was supposed to do to create a happy life, but it hadn’t worked,” Oliver tells us, his tone poignant. But life isn’t something to be slogged through with gritted teeth, so now he’s on a mission to absorb as much wisdom as he can from people who have “managed to change or had change thrust upon them”.

First up is the BBC journalist George Alagiah, who was diagnosed with advanced bowel cancer in 2014, aged 58. Having survived an extra seven years and 17 rounds of chemotherapy, Alagiah has come to a place of acceptance – and with it, enlightenment. He recounts how during treatment he informed his doctor: “I’m not going to worry. You’re going to have to do all the worrying for me.” He had decided his job as both a patient and a human was simply to be happy.

It sounds clichéd: two middle-aged men sharing their tips for fulfilment and decrying the relentless frenzy – of journalism, politics and modern life – that leaves so little time for taking stock. Surely we’ve read this before on a fridge magnet? And yet, when I listened to episode one in between Covid press conferences, with updates about Omicron clogging up my Twitter feed, part of me wondered how it would feel to be like Alagiah and just shrug off anxiety, angst and existential dread.

It’s hard to predict where the series will go from here (future guests include the Scottish Conservative superstar Ruth Davidson and – fittingly – the film-maker Richard Curtis). I hope it’s not all about terminal illness. Still, it is stirring to hear someone talk so frankly about the freedom that comes from facing up to death. In any case, I’m happy to join Oliver and to try to learn something.

Desperately Seeking Wisdom

[see also: BBC Radio 4’s Howl’s Moving Castle is pure escapist wizardry]

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

Content from our partners
Transport is the core of levelling up
The forgotten crisis: How businesses can boost biodiversity
Small businesses can be the backbone of our national recovery

This article appears in the 05 Jan 2022 issue of the New Statesman, Johnson's Last Chance