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Famed food critic AA Gill on why cancer prompted him to propose to his partner


He’s known for his fearsomely withering writing style, whether he’s describing the food at Paris’s L’ami Louis (“It could be the result of an accident involving rat babies in a nuclear reactor… the worst restaurant in the world”) or the Isle of Man (“covered in suicidal motorists and folk who believe in fairies”).

And when he revealed to the world that he has cancer, the restaurant and TV critic A. A. Gill was characteristically expressive.

The 62-year-old writer and father of four told readers of his Sunday Times column that he had been diagnosed with “an embarrassment of cancer, the full English. There is barely a morsel of offal not included. I have a trucker's gut-buster, gimpy, malevolent, meaty malignancy.”

Gill also announced that his cancer diagnosis had prompted him to propose to his long-term partner, Nicola Formby, whom he often refers to as ‘The Blonde’ in his reviews for the Sunday Times and Vanity Fair. The couple have been together for 23 years and have two children.

aa gill

AA Gill with his fiancée, Nicola Formby, in 2004.

“Yes, we’re getting married!” Gill told the Sunday Times in a separate interview. “I was surprisingly excited. I’ve been married twice and I made such a bollocks of it. I’m such a bad husband and I thought: I can’t do that again, I’m just really bad at this. And Nicola used to say, ‘Who the f*** wants to be the third Mrs Gill anyway?”

Gill added that he feels he has had a “very lucky” life, and does not “feel cheated”.

The critic visited his doctor after friends and family noticed he had lost weight over the summer. It was discovered that he was suffering from a smoking-related cancer which had spread from his lungs, despite him quitting cigarettes 15 years ago.

Read more: First Dates viewers hail bravery of terminally ill woman

However, he said that he was not bitter about his diagnosis, adding that he already felt like he’d been given a “Willy Wonka golden ticket” to life. In 1984, Gill – then a 30-year-old alcoholic – was given six months to live. Instead, he gave up alcohol, a challenge he described in his memoir Pour Me.

“I realise I don't have a bucket list; I don't feel I've been cheated of anything,” said Gill. “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.”

Read more: Every woman needs to read this vital news about spotting breast cancer

People who openly discuss or write about their experience of cancer have been praised for helping to shatter the stigma surrounding the illness.

“Although over recent years attitudes have begun to change, cancer is still a subject that people find difficult to discuss,” says Martin Ledwick, Cancer Research UK’s head nurse.

“When people in the public eye are open about their cancer diagnosis it can be extremely helpful in demonstrating that it is OK to talk about it.”

For support and advice on dealing with cancer, visit Cancer Research UK.

Images: Rex Features


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