OBITUARIES of the journalist A. A. Gill, who died at the weekend, praised him for his highly entertaining prose, his reporting skills, and his flamboyant personality. They also noted, in passing, that he was an observant Anglican.
This is a phrase not used much these days. It could suggest someone whose Christian commitment is a matter of duty rather than personal conviction. Certainly Adrian Gill
did not trumpet his faith. He was never a “scalp” to be claimed by the Church; never a Christian celebrity. He simply said his prayers and attended church; although, in a recent interview, he said that he did this less than he used to, because vicars annoyed him.
Vicars apart, his life reveals a Christian “shape” that comes through clearly, not least because of his remarkable honesty about the contradictions of his character and the problems of his personal history. He was a profoundly dyslexic child who became a great communicator. His prose could be heard as much as read — he had to dictate his copy — and there was a great deal of it: restaurant criticism, reviews, features.
As a young man, he could have died of alcohol addiction, but he managed to give up the booze at the age of 30, and always regarded his subsequent life as a second chance, a redemption. He was married and divorced twice, and proposed to his long-term partner shortly before he died. He was much more worried about the effect of his illness on her and their two children than he was for himself.
He faced a brutal, fast-growing cancer without bitterness, and even managed to make a joke about it, recalling his always explicit food reviews. His cancer, he said, was “the full English . . . a . . . malevolent, meaty malignancy”. He laughed at it, tempering its sting in a way that is thoroughly Christian, although unusual these days, when we are all encouraged to see ourselves as victims of life’s circumstances.
He had a deep compassion for the neglected, which came across in his recent writings on the refugee crisis. He also felt a kind of moral outrage against all forms of pomposity and pretence. This did not prevent his sometimes sounding pompous and pretentious, and he had many detractors, as well as admirers.
Most of the time, I found myself on the side of the admirers. I respect the full-blooded intensity with which he lived and died. He reminds me that Christ came not so much to make us good as to make us real; and that God can work with sin, but not with hypocrisy or pretence. I shall miss his prose — and light a candle for him.
The Revd Angela Tilby is a Canon Emeritus of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford.