'I shall remember a man with a big personality and a famous crinkly-eyed smile'

Former ITV Political Correspondent Bob Constantine reflects on Paddy Ashdown's career Credit: ITV West Country

ITV West Country’s former political correspondent, Bob Constantine, who knew Paddy Ashdown for 30 years, reflects on his career and contribution to the region.

Paddy Ashdown was one the few - a select few - politicians known almost universally by their first name alone (actually a nickname in his case). If anyone tried to address him as “Lord Ashdown” he would quickly interject, “Paddy, please”, The name was spoken with respect and affection rare for a politician.

Even in his early days as MP for Yeovil - which he captured from the Conservatives at the height of their post-Falklands popularity - it was clear he was destined to become a senior figure, if not leader, of his party.

His greatest achievement was to turn the Lib Dems from a fringe group of activists into a serious political force - we used to talk about “the Paddy factor” radiating out from Yeovil as neighbouring seats like Taunton, Somerton and Frome, North Devon and later Wells, also fell to the yellow advance. At least one MP, Jackie Ballard, who won Taunton in 1997, said it was Paddy who gave her the inspiration to go into politics.

A policy of careful grassroots campaigning, combined with his energetic leadership, gave the Lib Dems a fresh identity as a viable third force. Ashdown’s successors were able build on this legacy, which eventually led to coalition government.

He was a liberal by conviction, as well as a passionate pro-European. A serious thinker, who loved debating and campaigning. But he was always friendly, approachable, outgoing - and nearly always in a rush. How he found time to write those recent books about wartime exploits, I shall never know, given his diary packed with political commitments.

I shall remember a man with a big personality and a famous crinkly-eyed smile. A great person to interview and listen to - even if some of his answers were rather long! A man with a sense of humour and experience of the “real world” ( just look at his amazingly varied CV). And one whose success meant that the West Country - indeed the south west as a whole - really mattered politically.

When I retired two years ago, he was kind enough to record a video tribute to me. I was flattered to be referred to as a friend. I was in good company - Paddy had plenty of those.