Goodbye A.A. Gill (1954 – 2016)

The Man with the Golden Willie Wonka Ticket

David Bowie, Prince, Sir Terry Wogan, Mohammed Ali, Victoria Wood, Alan Rickman, Andrew Sachs, Leonard Cohen, Gene Wilder, Caroline Aherne, Ronnie Corbett are just some of the greats who have left us for the big blue yonder in 2016. The ranks of talent have been seriously decimated this year. And now the inimitable A.A. Gill has strapped on his angel wings, or quite possibly his devil horns, and gone to join them.

A.A. Gill
A.A. Gill

I’m not big on the keening and public ululating that seem go hand in hand with the death of people in the public eye whom we don’t personally know, the great outpouring of emotion for complete strangers, the Twitter gasps and the tearful emoji’d Facebook RIPs, even if their personalities have touched our lives in some sort of way. I symbolically nodded to Bowie, Rickman, Wood and Wogan, all of whose talents I particularly admired, but then I left the grieving to those that were close to them and moved on. Life is for the Living. But A.A. Gill, now that’s a different matter. He was my hero and his death has made me genuinely sad.

Of course, I didn’t know him personally, but I would have liked to. Apparently he was a kind hearted man, I certainly concurred with most of his opinions, I loved his sparkling intelligence, his acerbic commentary, his clever witticism, his unparalleled journalistic skill, the way he always wrote what I thought but may not have had the guts to say, his political incorrectness, his decency, his laugh out loud, often scathing, food and TV criticisms, which invariably so aptly hit the nail on the head.

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This is the man who inspired me to write a food blog, even though I am well aware, that despite journalistic training, I could never achieve his dizzying heights of clever wordsmithing. I soaked up his writing, trying to learn from it and absorb some of his finely tuned articulateness, some of that sharp tongued but big hearted prose that was never boring or trite. Like so many of his readers, I will miss all this profoundly. There’s just nobody quite like him and I doubt whether there ever will be.

Dyslexic, an educational failure and a reformed alcoholic, A.A. Gill initially harboured ambitions to become an artist, later he worked in a restaurant and taught cooking, only to finally find his metier in journalism, first with Tatler and later mainly with The Sunday Times and Vanity Fair. He was suave but often controversial, from a privileged middle class background, twice married and, since 1995, in a long-term relationship with ‘The Blonde’, former model Nicola Formby, Editor at Large with Tatler, with whom he had two children.

A.A.Gill and Nicola Formby
A.A.Gill and Nicola Formby

He was always known by his initials ‘A.A.’, preferring them to his given names of Adrian Anthony. Not surprising really, since Adrian Anthony Gill sounds like a childrens’ book character and invites silly rhyming ditties: “Adrian Anthony Gill fell ill and took a pill. Then he left and we’re bereft.”

He was diagnosed with lung cancer just a few weeks ago and so very typically and unsentimentally wrote:

“I’ve got an embarrassment of cancer, the full English. There is barely a morsel of offal that is not included. I have a trucker’s gut-buster, gimpy, malevolent, meaty malignancy.”

As I tip my hat to him and wave him good-bye with a heavy heart, his recent words of farewell console me but still, I wish he’d had time to visit Timbuktu. RIP A.A.Gill.

“I realise I don’t have a bucket list; I don’t feel I’ve been cheated of anything. I’d like to have gone to Timbuktu, and there are places I will be sorry not to see again.

“But actually, because of the nature of my life and the nature of what happened to me in my early life – my addiction – I know I have been very lucky. I gave up (alcohol) when I was still quite young, so it was like being offered the next life.

“It was the real Willy Wonka golden ticket, I got a really good deal. And at the last minute I found something I could do. Somebody said: why don’t you watch television, eat good food and travel and then write about it? And, as lives go, that’s pretty good.”

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A.A. Gill’s Restaurant Reviews

Food critic A.A. Gill
Food critic A.A. Gill

Here are some A.A.Gill’s ‘best and worst’ review snippets collated by restaurant guide site www.hot-dinners.com

The worst reviews

The Ten Room at the Cafe Royal, London – 2013: “The most depressing and uncongenial meal, in an anaemic, echoey building, made even more wrist-slashingly ghastly by the sad and silent ghosts of a century of culture and élan and bibulous brilliance.” 

L’Ami Louis, Paris – 2011 : “The cramped tables are set with labially pink cloths, which give it a colonic appeal and the awkward sense that you might be a suppository.”

San Lorenzo, London – 1998:  “It’s laughably overpriced, but doesn’t take credit cards. But all that is just by the by compared with its unique horror. To get in, you have to be kissed by a woman called Mara, who must surely have been around to do tongues with Garibaldi.”

Bouillabaisse, London – 2015: “This soup was acidly metallic, with a plate of flabby face-cloth fish that was as cold as a proctologist’s finger…If Lidl did tinned French fish soup, this is what it would taste like. It had the worst ingredients of any dish, the memory of what it should and could taste of.”

Shuang Shuang, London – 2016: ” In front of you is your own heated soup bowl, behind you is a solicitous waiter, and, for the first time in living memory, you have to ask: “Please, could you explain your concept?”

Fucina, London – 2016: “What you get is a dining room that serves all the fashionable etiquette and falderal manners of a metropolitan night out, but without appetite, hospitality, pleasure or warmth. It’s a sterile, dead-eyed grin of a restaurant.”

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And some of the best:

Anglo, London – 2016: “Nothing here was a twist, a take, a reimagining or a deconstruction. It was the most accomplished thing a kitchen can achieve: classic flavours made harmonious, but also beguiling and ingénue fresh.”

The Magpie Cafe, Whitby – 2016: “This is, all things considered, without pretension but with utter self-confidence, still the best fish and chips in the world.”

Dabbous, London – 2012: “It was as close to perfect as I’ve eaten for a long time, with more than a touch of the Nordic night about it, a crackling warmth out of the storm, an understated craft.”

Portland – 2015:“When I’m asked if there are any good restaurants, I say, this one is OK, that one is nice if you’re in the vicinity. But this is the first one for a long time that I can genuinely recommend as the brilliant borzoi’s bollocks.”

And, the restaurant he ate out most at, Riva, London

“The place I go to most often is Riva, an Italian restaurant in Barnes. I’ve been eating there twice a week for 15 years and I haven’t seen a menu for 12 years — the food just arrives.”

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