Adrian Anthony Gill was a provocateur-par-excelllence, and a hugely entertaining writer. His scathing style and waspish wit make me chuckle*. Colourful does not do justice to his rollicking life story. As a recovered alcoholic, he henceforth used the initials A.A. in honour of the detox program that eventually put him back on the rails.
After working as waiter, cook, shop assistant (notably in an adult sex shop in Soho), painter and decorator, nanny, warehouseman and occasional male model, and failing art studies, he worked in restaurants, taught cooking, and then ‘failed into journalism’, despite severe dyslexia. His scabrous journalistic apprenticeship at gossipy Tatler magazine in the 1990s was…’like being a stationmaster on a model railway. If you lay flat on the floor and closed one eye, the world we created almost looks real’. Later he was a notorious restaurant reviewer and TV critic.
My personal library has three A.A. Gill books. The Angry Island: Hunting the English (2005) suggests that England may start at the White Cliffs of Dover or Shakespeare’s Cliffs. Gill asks: “What could be more English than Shakespeare and chalk. This is the chalk that the Continent is cheese to. This is the bastion, the great white wall that separates the ‘them from the ‘us”. Scottish born but English bred, he goes on to explain and demolish the English and their culture in sixteen chapters. Brexit-prescient.
Gill already had ‘racist’ form in 1998, describing the Welsh as “loquacious dissemblers, immoral liars, stunted, bigoted, dark, ugly, pugnacious little trolls”. His comments were reported to the Commission for Racial Equality and decried as racism by the Welsh national assembly. He also downloaded on the Isle of Man, and upset the Manx parliament.
A.A. Gill is Further Away: helping with enquiries (2011), is a quirky collection of magazine opinion pieces and travel articles, about Morris Dancing, Dyslexia, The Space Race and much more in the section Near, and Bombay, Madagascar, Albania and other destinations in Far. It’s fun to dip into for an input of his signature morality and literary syntax.
The third book, and my recommendation, is his autobiography Pour Me: A Life (2015), which he said wasn’t funny, but definitely is. And dosed with pathos: ‘My dad died of Alzheimer’s. I watched him retreat like Napoleon as the frozen winter of his illness buried his memories. He retreated further and further, fighting dogged but ultimately unmemorable rear-guard actions over the remembrances of his life…”
Gill himself died in 2016 from lung cancer at the age of 62, on December 10, and his last magazine article describing his illness and treatment appeared the next day. He left behind three partners and four children.
A belated Vale A.A., brilliant wordsmith and iconoclast.
(*despite A.A.’s “the definition of wit is a joke that doesn’t make you laugh.”)