“Are you wearing riding boots? You sound like you’re wearing riding boots; you’re being very bossy.” This was just one of the conversational openers I received from our late colleague, the brilliant, naughty, controversial and ferociously talented AA Gill. His death last week shocked all of us, coming so soon after the news of his illness and too soon for such a beloved friend. I heard when I was having a late lunch with friends, in a setting of which I am sure Adrian would have approved.
I have had Adrian’s voice in my head for nearly two years now. Unlike most journalists, Adrian filed copy in an unusual way: dictating it over the phone, rather than written pieces by email. It was so like Adrian not to resort to filtering his prose through anything as plebeian and unromantic as a computer. As features assistant at Sunday Times Style, it became part of my role to receive his copy. He would announce to me when he was ready – usually a text, with the concise announcement "NOW" – and I would call him, settle into my chair and listen.
Anyone who knew him would recognise his voice. It was deep, honeyed and seemed to come from a different era entirely. It was the Queen’s English, mangled through years of misadventure – as playful and dangerous as his writing. I had met him in person a handful of times over the years of my career, at Tatler and then at The Sunday Times, but nothing to me felt as personal or memorable as these phonecalls.
Listening to his voice, I imagined him pacing around an old study, with a leather desk chair and ancient annals on the shelves. He appeared to be reading from scrambled notes – he was forever pausing and complaining that he could not read his own scrawl – but I never really believed it. It always sounded to me as if he was writing his piece live, to me, over the phone.
I will miss his sense of humour and how quick he was to laugh. He once told me I had too many names, before I suggested perhaps he drop one of his ‘A’s
Words I had never even heard before would tumble out of his mouth. Often, this was because he had made them up entirely. He drew from history and ancient texts, from Latin and his own imagination. He was saucy and irreverent, sensual, playful and blisteringly smart with words. I would listen in awe.
He was understandably unedited – in life and in his writing. I would type out his articles with the knowledge that nothing would be changed, even while our sub-editors scrambled to define phrases he had simply lopped together from his own delectable lexicon.
I will miss his sense of humour and how quick he was to laugh. He once told me I had too many names, before I suggested perhaps he drop one of his "A"s. “Touché,” he replied. The last time we spoke, he was uncharacteristically apologetic about the lateness of his copy, but he was otherwise unchanged, making rude jokes amidst his lofty syntax.
I would read his copy back to him, once I had typed it up. I was always slightly nervous, careful not to butcher his work or accidentally mispronounce any words. Yet, no matter how towering his success and his reputation, he was always humble.
“Well, that’s good isn’t it?” he once said, after hearing his own words read back to him.
Yes, Adrian. It was.