Tim Allan lacks the hard-nosed characteristics often associated
with those who've been one of Prime Minister Tony Blair's special
In fact, when the former spin doctor - he was deputy to Alastair
Campbell for four years - arrives, hot off his Vespa scooter, he
couldn't look less like a political bully. And he is strikingly young
for someone who has held some of the UK's most high-profile PR jobs.
His skills are praised by acknowledged PR maestro Peter Mandelson. The
former cabinet minister says: 'In my view, he's close to being a
near-perfect PR practitioner, with brains, skill and a steady nerve.
'He was great to work with and he also knew loyalty, which is sometimes
a scarce commodity in politics,' Mandelson adds.
At 31, Allan's career includes deputy to Campbell, producer of flagship
political programme A Week In Politics, and director of communications
for BSkyB. Now, with an MBA under his belt, he is set to leave his
current role as strategic planning manager at BSkyB and launch his own
PR firm, which opens for business next month.
According to Allan, his big break came as a researcher for the then
shadow home secretary Blair, who is a close 'friend of the family' and
has used their house in Italy for holidays.
After a year-and-a-half - and before Blair was elected Labour leader -
Allan moved on, taking a producing role at A Week in Politics where he
worked with current Observer political columnist Andrew Rawnsley.
When the then Labour leader John Smith died of a heart attack in May
1994, Blair became the favoured candidate to succeed him and Allan was
drafted back in to deal with the hundreds of press calls. 'He (Blair)
went very quickly from being a well-known person in political circles to
being a national figure with all the associated media attention but
still with a skeleton staff,' recalls Allan.
Campbell joined Allan as press secretary after Blair secured the
leadership and the two 'became good friends' through the remaining three
years of opposition before Blair was elected Prime Minister in the poll
landslide of 1997. They were, he says, 'a great team'. 'We got on very
well and I learnt an awful lot. There was an incredible team spirit, as
we were all fighting for the same goal.'
Allan's rare blunders are remembered. He once left a laptop containing
policy information on a bus - luckily it was returned before any dire
consequences came about.
Later, with Campbell away on holiday, he briefed the press that Tory
leader William Hague had flown his wife Ffion to Hong Kong on taxpayers'
money. It distracted attention from Robin Cook's foreign jolly with his
then secretary (now wife) Gaynor Regan. But it could not be proven.
The Sun's deputy political editor George Pascoe-Watson says Allan was
'never rude or offensive' to the press, in the manner of some political
PROs. 'He doesn't use a sledgehammer all the time - he's more
This sentiment is echoed by many of the journalists who had dealings
with Allan while he was at Downing Street, including The Observer
political editor Kamal Ahmed, who says he would 'probably try and
schmooze you into submission rather than bully you. He wasn't a ranter
While Allan says his time in Tony Blair's press team was 'exhilarating',
he admits 'it was a job that you had to commit yourself to utterly. The
hours and pressure were unmatchable.' These days married - to former
Sunday Times deputy news editor Carey Scott - and with a baby daughter,
Allan has no intention of returning to Labour Party spin-doctoring.
He has instead set his sights on building up his as-yet-unnamed PR
It launches with one substantial account: the financial, corporate and
public affairs briefs for his current employer.
Having taken a sabbatical from BSkyB to complete an MBA, Allan feels he
has enough experience in PA, finance and communications to provide
comprehensive advice to clients. He's got a team of five in place to
service the firm's inaugural client and says he will be pitching for new
business and recruiting staff soon, with a view to taking on more senior
partners later in the year. Although he gives no hints as to who this
could be, he is sorry to confirm that Campbell will not be on his target
Throughout PR, there are many well-wishers for Allan's venture.
Surprisingly, they include Chime Communications chairman Lord Bell,
whose Bell Pottinger firm is the ten-year incumbent on the work handed
to Allan's start-up. If it upsets Bell, who will still advise BSkyB
managers, to lose such a major account, he hides it well: 'He's talented
and will be a great success.'
If Allan's first client is anything to go by, the agency will prove
itself a player in the City PR market.
1994 - Deputy to Number 10 press secretary Alastair Campbell
1998 - Director of comms, BSkyB
2000 - Graduates with MBA from INSEAD
2001 - Founds his own consultancy.