Belfast Telegraph

Award-winning AA Gill courted controversy with his frank views

AA Gill was an award-winning journalist and restaurant critic who was fearless in voicing his opinions on anything from the Welsh to TV chef Gordon Ramsay.

His repertoire spread far beyond the reviews of restaurants as he charmed and caused controversy in equal measure.

At various times during his writing career he offended large swathes of the population including the Manx, Clare Balding, historian Mary Beard, animal-lovers, and former politician and talkshow host Robert Kilroy-Silk who, Gill claimed, once punched and gave him a dead leg over comments in his TV column.

He was born Adrian Anthony Gill on June 28 1954 in Edinburgh to English parents, television producer Michael Gill and actress Yvonne Gilan.

Growing up under Winston Churchill's second premiership, Gill later has stated how the war "hung like the smell of damp, grim nostalgia over everything" in his childhood.

After his parents moved back south when he was still a toddler, Gill was educated at the independent St Christopher School in Letchworth, Hertfordshire before moving to London to study at Central Saint Martins.

As he tried his hand as an artist, Gill turned to alcohol and drugs during his 20s. He was warned aged 30 by a doctor that his damaged liver meant he probably would not see another Christmas.

During the tumultuous period, he had married his first wife - author Cressida Connolly - before cutting out the drink and drugs and launching his writing career with "art reviews for little magazines".

After splitting with Connolly, he was married to Amber Rudd - now the Home Secretary - for five years and had the first two of his of four children, Flora and Alasdair.

In 1991 he seized upon the first piece of advice any writer receives - write what you know - with his first big article for lifestyle magazine Tatler.

The piece, on alcoholism, was lauded by then-Tatler editor Jane Procter who called it "brutally honest".

Two years later he moved to the Sunday Times where he emerged as one of their finest talents despite giving his editor some hairy moments.

Gill left Rudd in 1995 for his partner of nearly a quarter of a century - Tatler editor-at-large Nicola Formby.

The pair welcomed twins in 2007 and, announcing his "full English" of cancers in his Sunday column last month, he revealed he had successfully proposed to her.

Since 1998 his younger brother, Nick, a Michelin-starred chef, has been missing. Gill issued repeated pleas for help in finding him and admitted that every time he visits a new city "I search the streets for him."

As a dyslexic, Gill would dictate his copy to Sunday Times editors, who, he said, were constantly advising him to tone things down.

In 2010 the newspaper revealed he had attracted 62 complaints from the Press Complaints Commission in five years and during the 1990s a dossier of his articles was presented to Swansea police by a coalition of citizens after he labelled the Welsh "ugly, pugnacious little trolls".

True to fashion, Gill hit back at his accusers saying "The Welsh don't need me to make them look fools when they have got people like this among their ranks. I shall sleep easy tonight."

He dismissed Gordon Ramsay - who had thrown him out of one of his restaurants - as "a wonderful chef, just a really second-rate human being".

And in 2009 he caused uproar with animal-lovers after recounting in a Sunday Times column, how he shot a baboon from 250 yards while hunting in "a truck full of guns and other blokes" in Tanzania.

Reflecting on turning 60 in 2014, Gill wrote that he was dictating articles to "clever overeducated colleagues who are much, much younger" and who "constantly and consistently don't get references to things that to me seemed to have happened only a couple of months ago."

In the same article he reflected on his fellow "baby-boomers", writing that they were the generation "relentlessly for civil rights, human rights, gay rights, disability rights, equality, fairness.

He added: "We were implacably against racism and censorship. We defended freedom of speech, religion and expression. We will leave the world better fed and better off than when we arrived in it.

"Britain is a far happier, richer and fairer place than it was 60 years ago. And if you think that's wishful self-promotion, you have no idea how grim and threadbare Britain in the Fifties was. You weren't there, you don't remember."

As he reached the end of his 62nd year, Gill revealed his illness to readers. He leaves long-term partner Formby and four children.

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