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Bill Campbell: Meet Dundee’s new lord provost – once headhunted by Dundee United legend Jim McLean

Lord Provost Bill Campbell.
Lord Provost Bill Campbell.

He will become a household name for many Dundonians in the years ahead.

However, Bill Campbell has led a fairly quiet political life so far.

The new lord provost of Dundee has taken the chain following the retirement of Ian Borthwick, who served in the role for five years.

He now has the task of representing the city at big events and being the face of civic life in Dundee.

But who is Bill Campbell how did he come to assume one of the most senior roles in local politics?

We find out more about the man who was once headhunted by the legendary Jim McLean.

Paisley roots and roles in football

Bill was born in Glasgow and grew up in Paisley – and says he was “very political” by the age of 14.

“I used to buy political magazines and things like that,” he told The Courier.

“There were cartoons that I used to cut out.

“I became SNP and I’ve never deviated from it. I’m never going to deviate from it.”

While he was successful academically, Bill decided to leave university during his first year.

Mr Campbell left university and began working at St Mirren.

Instead, the football fanatic began working at St Mirren – his hometown club.

He said: “My mum and dad weren’t a sporting family, my dad wasn’t particularly football-orientated, but my mum had a brother who took me to the football when I was young.

“A Scotland game in 1963 against Poland is my earliest memory, in which I’d be six.

“When I went to high school I became a St Mirren supporter.”

Initially helping with the matchday programme, Bill started selling advertising for the club off his own back.

He eventually got a job in the Buddies’ commercial department, and while the side toiled on the pitch, his skills off it did not go unnoticed.

Phone call ‘out the blue’ from Jim McLean

He said: “In 1996, I got a phone call from Jim McLean right out of the blue.

“I ended up coming up [to United]. We had no family in Dundee – my son was three, my daughter was one. We had no connection with the city.

“We came up and it was the best we ever did. Dundee’s been great for the family, it’s fantastic.”

Jim McLean pictured in his office in 1988.
Jim McLean.

The Terrors had just returned to the top flight of Scottish football.

Bill lauded them at the time as “one of Scotland’s top clubs”.

Following Eddie Thompson‘s takeover of the club in 2002, Bill was moved into the role of general manager.

He said: “I loved working with Jim. I was very lucky.

“Forget wages and everything, I was very lucky to work for two people I loved working for: Jim McLean and Eddie Thompson.

Eddie Thompson.

“They were fantastic people and I was very fortunate to have that experience.

“Both were different people, but wonderful to work for.”

Bill stayed with the club until 2009, departing in the same year that first-team manager Craig Levein left for the Scotland job.

Private political views became public

But he did not sit still for long after leaving United.

He soon became commercially involved in Dundee High Rugby Club – now just Dundee Rugby Club – a role that has continued to this day.

He also embraced his passion for politics further, becoming an active member of the SNP in Dundee and working at his first national conference in 2010.

That signalled a change of tact for the nationalist, who had kept his views to himself while at Tannadice.

Bill following his election in 2012.

The 64-year-old said: “At the time I came to United I wasn’t at all proactive – I was just a voter.

“I was in Edinburgh and I got got a phone call from Jim Barry, who was an SNP councillor in the West End.

“Jim asked me if I would like to stand as a councillor.

“I had never considered any sort of political involvement at all, so this came out of the blue and I took two months to consider that.

“I wasn’t any less SNP, it was just a big change in my life.”

Decade of election success with SNP

In 2012 he was elected with 21.4% of the vote, coming second behind Fraser MacPherson.

He was made deputy city development convener under the new SNP administration.

It was a role that included focusing on the £1 billion Waterfront development – then still in its early stages.

In 2017 he was elected to a second term as West End councillor – when he was also made deputy lord provost.

Bill in 2012 with fellow councillors Vari McDonald, Kevin Cordell and John Alexander.

He helped the SNP to form a minority administration, which became a majority with the backing of the independent Mr Borthwick.

His third term as a councillor was confirmed in May this year, when he was joined in the ward by SNP incumbent Nadia El-Nakla.

The party has now formed Scotland’s only majority SNP administration.

As lord provost, Bill will earn £29,361 per year, plus expenses, along with an additional civic allowance of £3,000 for other duties.

Bill says he never expected to be come lord provost.

He said: “The experience of being a councillor in this administration has been great.

“It’s been a new direction in my life in my mid-50s; unexpected, but a totally different and refreshing change.

“I certainly would not want to do anything I didn’t enjoy. If I hadn’t enjoyed being a councillor I wouldn’t have put myself forward again.

“I could never have envisaged being the lord provost of the city of Dundee, and the honour and the privilege it is to be so.”

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