AA Gill has died and today I realized that I will genuinely miss him.
Of course, I only knew him through his writing.
I don’t usually feel anything when a famous person dies – nothing at all.
I tend towards pragmatism in that regard.
If I didn’t know the person that died – why would that upset me?
I may have enjoyed the music of David Bowie and Bob Dylan but, I felt nothing on hearing of their death and certainly didn’t feel compelled to turn to Facebook and join in the ‘outpouring’ of grief.
To be honest, my response to this piggy backing of celebrity death to gain popularity, likes, shares, or whatever, is usually a quick shrug and a scroll.
So why did reading of AA Gill’s death compel me to write this?
Well, here’s his announcement of his cancer diagnosis:
“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.”
Understatement is a tool that penetrates.
Reading that took me straight back to hearing my own mother’s cancer described by the surgeon. ‘There is cancer in, on, or around every stomach organ.’
You have to think for a moment to fully take in what this means.
In his last Sunday Times article this morning, AA Gill described listening through a plastic curtain as a man is held down by three policemen.
A & E is the great leveler.
We experienced the same thing when we brought my mother to that terrifying pit of despair and squalor.
I never imagined someone so rich and famous as AA Gill being forced to lie on a gurney in agony and listen to the howls of the drunks.
And yet he not only did, but he chose the NHS over private treatment.
Maybe the clues lie in his writing.
He was the most Marmitian of writers. He could be arrogant and scathing – you could love and hate him all in the space of one page.
I enjoyed his ‘Tristram’ baiting of the BBC, his outing of hypocrites and restaurant snobs, and, as a waitress in another life I much admired his defense of low paid staff restaurant staff.
I did hate his killing of the Baboon. But, and I’m sure he intended this, the reaction to it did reveal a certain hypocrisy in the animal-loving haters.
It is not really only vegetarians who can enjoy the view from the moral high ground here?
Animals regarded as food are treated appallingly, then killed every day.
I have learned that you can dislike, or even hate aspects of people, while still liking them a great deal.
When he defended the underdog he did so with passion. Reporting on the refugee crisis he wrote:
‘The boat revealed its last speechless, shocking gasp of despair. The body of a young African woman and her baby…still joined to her by its umbilical cord. In labour she drowned. Its first breath the great salt tears of the sea.”
His choice of the NHS represented his last chance to report on life for the underdog.
Sadly for AA Gill, this time the underdog was him.