Gregory Campbell celebrates 60th birthday

The family had been planning Gregory Campbell’s surprise birthday party for two months, and somehow managed to keep it a secret and he was completely taken aback. For once, the East Londonderry MP was speechless.

Wednesday, 20th February 2013, 4:21 pm

He’d been told he was going to a family meal at the White Horse Hotel, where the Campbells usually celebrate family birthdays. The invitations were sent out and everyone was under strict instructions not to breathe a word. The politicians were so good at this that they never realised which of their colleagues were going to be there until the night itself.

The guests congregated in the function room at the hotel and at 8 o’clock Gregory, Frances and their granddaughter walked into a darkened room and as the lights went up and the crowd yelled ‘Surprise!’, two pipers from the Lislaird Pipe Band, Bill and Edwin Robb, began piping ‘Happy Birthday’.

They then segued into “Penny Arcade”, a tune Gregory can often be heard singing when Rangers FC are playing. As Gregory finally recovered from the shock he made his way around the room meeting guests and good-naturedly scolding colleagues and family for keeping him in the dark for so long.

The guests then enjoyed their meal and were entertained by the Churchill Flute band who played beautifully and included some rousing marching tunes which the crowd thoroughly enjoyed, receiving a standing ovation at the end.

After the band Robert Ramsey, a comedian from Coleraine entertained the guests with some local Norn Iron humour.

Finally Gregory’s eldest daughter, Suzanne gave a speech on behalf of herself and her siblings, Elaine, Karen and Richard; this finished with a thoroughly ‘embarrassing’ slideshow chronicling highlights from Gregory’s life.

Suzanne told guests: “If you’re hoping for a detailed account of the highs and lows of Daddy’s political career, I’m afraid you will be slightly disappointed. Our forte is a sketchy history accompanied by embarrassing stories and photos. So let’s cast our minds back to 1953….

“On the 15th February 1953, a little ginger haired boy was born in Londonderry. And so began Joy’s 50 year obsession of a mother with her only son. Greeeeeegory, as she lovingly referred to him, was the apple of her eye and could do no wrong. Joy was a doting mother and she kept so many newspaper cuttings and certificates that her son accumulated over the years.

“We tried to imagine what she would say tonight but she was the emotional one in the family and no words we could come up with could express how she felt about her son.

“But we know that she felt great love, pride and pleasure from watching his success over the years. We definitely miss her tonight and know that she would be loving the craic, the pictures from years ago and would be revelling in her Gregory’s big night.

“On 24th August 1979, his mum finally had to cut the apron strings, allowing Frances to step in and take over! Many people were surprised that he had managed to find such a young, naïve… I mean good looking girl to marry him, and especially in spite of his overt gingerness, ridiculous sideburns and dodgy fashion sense!

“The saying goes ‘Behind every good man, is a good woman’ and this is definitely true in the case of Gregory and Frances. Mum and Dad became a team and it’s fair to say that they really do complement each other: Where Daddy is the breadwinner, Mum is the homemaker, where daddy is loud, mum is quiet, when daddy is confrontational, Mum is the peacemaker in the family. Where daddy can rarely admit to even the slightest possibility that he may be wrong about something, mum will never rub it in his face when he inevitably makes a mistake.

“At the ripe old age of 27, Gregory became a father for the first time. His firstborn was a beautiful, well-behaved, respectful, shy little girl. Unfortunately that didn’t last very long, what does one expect when a five year old’s TV viewing is her father on the news handcuffing himself to the railings of the Guildhall, getting himself arrested for not paying his TV licence, and calling the Shinners slow learners! I’m surprised his children turned out as well-balanced as we did. But on a serious note, my dad’s dedication to bettering the lives of the people of his community inspired me to do the same, through teaching.”

Suzanne recalled the birth of all the couple’s children, adding: “In 2001, on his wedding anniversary, Gregory became a Granda to Lauren, in fact he became Grandy. This was his excuse to revisit his youth, as this picture of him and Lauren on the zipline at St. Columb’s Park shows.”

She told of his love for football, and, as well as supporting his home team, Institute, how he can often be seen “singing and chanting along at the stands of Windsor Park and Ibrox. In fact he has even been known to ‘do the bouncy’ with the crowd.”

She continued: “The birthday boy grew up and entered the big bad world of politics....As you can probably tell Gregory’s children stay out of politics, I think one Campbell in the political arena is quite enough. And we don’t want the slow learners and slow readers on the opposition getting confused…

“So yes, we know very little about politics but suffice to say that we are extremely proud of everything our father has achieved. We know that he represents the people of his community and is not afraid to stand up and go toe to toe with people who have terrorised his community and the people of Northern Ireland for half his lifetime. We may not always agree with everything he says but we will always be grateful for what we have learned from daddy.

“We will always stand up for ourselves and we will always speak out when our conscience tells us something is wrong. We realise that at times our father must have been afraid to stand up for his beliefs, especially having a wife and young family at home during times when he faced great persecutions because he was in the public eye. But being afraid and doing the right thing anyway is the very definition of brave. And I know that the Protestant community of the city of Londonderry, and of the constituency of East Londonderry are very thankful for that that little ginger-haired boy that was born 60 years ago.

“The one question that we always get asked when we meet people for the first time is: ‘Is Gregory Campbell really your father?’ Depending on the situation, it can sometimes make us a little uneasy. Who is asking? Why do they want to know? How fast are we going to have to run? But every time we are asked, not one of us can deny that we have a real sense of pride in replying ‘Yes, he’s my Dad.’ Our father has been called many things in his time, DUP loud-mouth, trouble-maker, mouthpiece, rabble-rouser, etc but no matter what people call him, to us he’s always been and always will be, just Daddy.”