Adrian Anthony Gill (A.A. Gill) was born on the 28th June, 1954, and died on the 10th December, 2016, aged 62. Gill was a controversial British journalist, who faced great adversities throughout his life, but overcame them to become “widely recognised as the best food critic in the world” (Veenhuyzen, 2016).
A.A. Gill pictured in 2011. Photo credit: Richard Young
Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, Gill suffered from dyslexia and stammer from a young age. He was sent to St Christopher’s, a boarding school in Letchworth, England. From the age of five, Gill wanted to be an artist, so after leaving school, aged 19, he studied at Central Saint Martins College of Art of Design and the Slade School of Art, both in London. After completing art school, Gill worked unsuccessfully as an artist for seven years, partly due to his addiction to alcohol, (Jeffries, 2016).
Gill decided to put down the paint brush and pick up the pen. He started writing about art for a small arts magazine called Artscene. While he was writing about art, he was also conducting cooking classes after learning to cook at home during his student years. Gill’s writing career picked up momentum and he began writing for numerous art magazines. His big break came when he was asked to write a piece for Tatler about what it was like to be an alcoholic and go through a detox clinic. Tatler liked the story so much they asked Gill to write for them. Gill suggested that he could write a recipe column, which while they were unsure at first, accepted on a trial basis. This column proved a massive hit and earned Gill Magazine Journalist of the Year, (Veenhuyzen, 2016).
It wasn’t long before national newspaper, The Sunday Times, hired Gill as the paper’s TV and restaurant critic and as a feature writer. He also worked as columnist for Esquire, wrote about fatherhood for GQ, and worked as a freelance writer for publications such as Vanity Fair and the Australian Gourmet Traveller, (Jeffries, 2016).
A.A. Gill in 2003. Photo credit: Jonathan Player
Gill died on the 10th December, 2016, just weeks after revealing in his Sunday Times column, that he had cancer. Testament to his character, Gill wrote:
“I’ve got 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.”
A.A. Gill, 2016
The food world was in shock, with many food writers and chefs taking to social media to express what Gill meant to them.
A tweet by Jay Rayner, restaurant critic of The Observer
A tweet by Tim Shipman, political editor of Sunday Times
A.A. Gill interests me because he achieved at the highest level something I aspire to in my career. That is, he wrote about food and restaurants as someone with great interest and knowledge of food but didn’t see himself as part of the food industry. He remained an outsider which meant he was impartial in his reviews. To achieve objectivity is greatly sought-after by many food writers around the world.
He was also someone who spoke his mind and his truth, without care for how others would perceive him.
For example, the first time I came across a piece written by Gill, was when I was around twelve years old. My cousin showed me a restaurant review in Vanity Fair on a bistro in Paris, called L’Ami Louis. The bistro is well-known and a place where celebrities such as, Bill Clinton and Woody Allen go when they are in Paris. Gill’s review absolutely tore it to pieces. It was beautifully written, savage, funny and irreverent, ending his piece with the following quote.
“[L’Ami Louis] has earned an epic accolade. It is, all things considered, entre nous, the worst restaurant in the world.”
A.A Gill, April 2011
A link to this review can be found here.
Before reading his review my interest in food was blossoming, transitioning from the atypical childhood love of nuggets, pizza and spaghetti Bolognese, to more complex dishes offered in well regarded bistros and restaurants. Having met the owner/chefs, I considered my career would be the same as theirs, cooking in and running my own restaurant. This review opened my eyes to a different world, viewed from the dining room instead of the kitchen and then beyond to the world of journalism. I began to read Gill’s pieces regularly, which has influenced me to try and find my voice over the years.
Using my own words to explain how much I enjoy reading Gill’s words will not do his work justice. Instead, I found the perfect quote from William Sitwell, restaurant critic and editor of Waitrose Food and editorial director (food) at John Brown Media.
“Adrian had a way with words, phrases and sentences that elevated his prose from mere language. His text danced across the page, there was sheer delight, music even, in the way he wrote.”
William Sitwell, 2016
Media convergence and globalization
Media convergence refers to technological, industrial and cultural changes brought on by digital technologies. The media industry has witnessed the merging of video, audio and text into a single platform, which has impacted the production and consumption of media content world-wide, (Kosut, 2012).
Media convergence, particularly technological convergence, had a large effect on Gill, who spoke of his reaction to when computers were first introduced into his work office. In an interview, Gill recalled how at first he strongly detested using a computer to write, preferring to use a quill. Then one lunchtime, when everyone in the office had left to go to lunch, Gill started fiddling with a computer, declaring it “a revelation” (Veenhuyzen, 2016).
Gill especially loved how he didn’t have to worry about spelling or punctuation any more. Something that had greatly impacted his writing, due to his dyslexia.
Media globalization, or transnational media, can be defined as media that is produced, distributed and consumed across national boundaries through the new forms of communication and information technologies that became available at the end of the 20th century, (Kosut, 2012).
Only late in Gill’s career did digital media have an impact on him. But once it did, it affected him immensely. His writing started to receive worldwide coverage. After one month of publication, the L’ami Louis review, was subject to 752,000 web references, (O’Malley, 2011).
Advancements in the way media is consumed, made Gill more well-known, but sometimes it wasn’t for the right reasons. This will be discussed further in Gill’s contribution to the fourth estate and public sphere.
Fourth Estate and Public Sphere
The fourth estate refers to the important role that journalists have. That is, to act as watchdogs for the public and monitor the actions of powerful institutions, and report abuses of power, defend rights of citizens and give citizens the information necessary to hold those responsible to account.
Gill didn’t contribute much to the fourth estate, because of the type of journalist he was. He was a restaurant critic and columnist, not an investigative journalist. He did, however, make a lot of strong statements in his columns, which have influenced the public sphere greatly.
The public sphere is the social space in which different opinions are expressed, problems of general concern are discussed and collective solutions are developed communicatively.
Gill’s strong statements about society were often controversial and caused major public-backlash. In fact, he was the subject of 62 press commission complaints in five years, (Saul, 2016). While his statements upset many, society needed to hear what Gill had to say. And because they were so controversial, society started discussing it amongst themselves.
Gill most controversially narrated how he shot a baboon during a Tanzanian Safari. He once critiqued Starbucks’ business model: “Asking Americans to make coffee is like asking them to draw a map of the world.” He denounced gastropubs: “Food and pubs go together like frogs and lawnmowers”. He once said, vegetarians are “people who get pleasure from not eating things” (Jeffries, 2016).
Another way in which Gill contributed to the public sphere, was through his openness about his alcoholism.
Gill began drinking when he was 15 and by his early 20s was consuming a bottle of scotch a day. At 30, Gill was told by doctors that he would be dead by Christmas if he didn’t stop drinking. This immediately prompted Gill to check into rehabilitation at the Clouds House addiction treatment centre in Wiltshire (Jeffries, 2016). From then on Gill never drank alcohol again and that was when he decided to rename himself ‘A.A. Gill’ (Hawksley, 2016).
Gill wrote articles and books about his battle with alcoholism. The most famous, his 2015 memoir called Pour Me.
Until the very end, Gill was a journalist who contributed to the public sphere. His coverage on his brief battle with cancer gave the world an insight into what it was like to know you only had a short few weeks to live.
While Gill had a late start to his career in journalism, he more than made up for it by becoming the “best-known food critic in the world” (O’Malley, 2011).
A.A Gill on the front cover of Sunday Times magazine 11/12/16, one day after his death. Photo credit: Sunday Times
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Hawksley, R. (2016, December 11). AA Gill has died aged 62 – ‘a giant among journalists’. Retrieved April 26, 2017, from The Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/books/authors/journalist-aa-gill-has-died-aged-62/
Jeffries, S. (2016, December 11). AA Gill obituary. Retrieved April 25, 2017, from The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/media/2016/dec/10/aa-gill-obituary
Kosut, M. (2012). Encyclopedia of Gender in Media. New York: SAGE Publications, Inc.
O’Malley, N. (2011, May 21). A.A. Gill: The critic with bite. Retrieved April 29, 2017, from The Sydney Morning Herald: http://www.smh.com.au/national/aa-gill-the-critic-with-bite-20161211-gt8pfi.html
Saul, H. (2016, December 10). AA Gill dead: Sunday Times columnist and ‘giant among journalists’ dies. Retrieved April 30, 2017, from Independant: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/aa-gill-dead-sunday-times-and-giant-among-journalists-dies-aged-62-a7467351.html
Veenhuyzen, M. (2016, December 11). Remembering AA Gill. Retrieved April 27, 2017, from Broadsheet: https://www.broadsheet.com.au/national/food-and-drink/article/remembering-aa-gill