THE BLOG

Charles Kennedy - A Special Man Who Played a Huge Part in My Life

04/06/2015 16:57 BST | Updated 04/06/2016 10:59 BST

Charles Kennedy was a special man who played a huge part in my life. From the moment I started work in the House of Commons, aged 19, we were friends. When I worked on The House Magazine he was Deputy Editor.

By the time I was 23 I was Managing Editor and we'd sit in weekly editorial meetings with the other deputy - the eccentric and lovable MP Austin Mitchell snapping away at us on his camera - listening to our esteemed Editor Patrick Cormack, giggling like schoolchildren.

We enjoyed working together and thoroughly enjoyed playing together. One evening at the Edinburgh Festival springs to mind - everywhere we went we'd be greeted by calls of "Charlie, Charlie" - total affection from every quarter. We ended up talking very late into the night at Ming and Elspeth Campbell's house.

The conversation was all around who'd make the best next party leader - each one urging the other to take over from Paddy."No, no Ming, I'm too young,"

"No, no Charles, I'm too old." It was hilarious.

Then, in 1999, he called.

"Daisy, now that I am party leader, I'm told I need a Spin Doctor. I want you," he said.

I laughed, pompously telling him I was now a Lobby Journalist, and had no desire to be a Press Secretary. Why did he want me? "Because you're my buddy," were his exact words.

I called my friend Mark. "Don't think about whether you want to do it, think about whether you'll regret not doing it." The next morning I said yes.

And so began two of the hardest, most pivotal and most important years of my life. I said I'd get him through the 2001 election and I did, just.

It was clear that, as much as I thought I knew Charles, I didn't know about the "demons", as everyone's calling his alcoholism.

His inner circle was small and things were on a need-to-know basis.

When I look back on those days I am struck by how that gang has disappeared. Anna Werrin, his Chief of Staff, had been by Charles' side in the House of Commons from the moment he was elected at 23. He relied on her absolutely. She died suddenly of a stroke in 2010. His wife Sarah, mother to their 10 year old, and he divorced five years ago.

His best friend Murdo Macdonald - one of the nicest men I've ever met, who gave up work for the entire 2001 election campaign to support Charles on the battle bus - died of cancer in 2007. It was Murdo's widow Carole who found Charles's body.

But to truly understand Charles you had to know his parents. The wonderful Ian and Mary - crofters and folk singers who lived next door. He loved telling the story of how, when he moved out of home, he moved straight into his grandfather's croft bang next door, where he died yesterday. "I'm not one for change," he twinkled.

The family is staunchly Roman Catholic (Mary and Ian were awarded a medal from the Pope for services to the Catholic Church in 2011) and Charles' Catholicism didn't always sit easily alongside his liberalism. I saw his agonising first hand when called on to vote, as Lib Dem Leader, on issues like abortion. His mother died a couple years ago and his father just in April.

There are many other misconceptions about CK. It was easy to assume that, because he had such a fine wit and natural turn of phrase, he was supremely confident. He wasn't, and in fact the booze was often a social crutch. Hand-shaking at big events equally wasn't always a sign of drink.

He also wasn't as worldly wise as you'd think - often shocked by other's behaviour. He didn't understand drug-taking at all and was equally bemused by sex-scandals.

One Saturday afternoon in 1999 I was driving round the countryside with close friends, setting a treasure hunt for a big party we were organising, when my pager bleeped with an urgent message. It was the News of the World - they had a salacious story about a Lib Dem peer who apparently, during S&M role-play, liked to be called Mr Toad.

I parked up on a country lane and called Charles, as Liz and Ian giggled in the back. I told him the crux of the story. Half-way through he interrupted, earnestly asking: "Um, Daisy, what exactly IS a dominatrix?"

"It's a woman you pay to humiliate you, Charles" I said.

"Aha," he said, "much like a press secretary then."

Charles Kennedy was a very funny, very dear man, with a big heart. I wonder if it was also a weak heart? I guess we'll know the cause of death soon.

He had other weaknesses which are well documented and made working for him incredibly hard. Not a day went by when I didn't want to smack him round the head - or give him a big hug. Usually both at the same time.

There is a particular kind of sadness that comes from a friendship - and a life - that doesn't end well. That's the sadness I've felt today.

This blog is an unedited version of a post on Daisy McAndrew's private Facebook page