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A. A. Gill: an intense, real Anglican

16 December 2016

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.

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