‘Freedom of speech is what all other human rights and freedoms balance on’ – Letchworth’s St Christopher School pays tribute to old pupil and restaurant critic AA Gill

St Christopher School old boy and restaurant critic AA Gill, who died on Saturday. Photo: Myung Jung

St Christopher School old boy and restaurant critic AA Gill, who died on Saturday. Photo: Myung Jung Kim/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Letchworth’s St Christopher School has paid tribute to its former pupil AA Gill – a renowned restaurant critic and writer who died on Saturday, weeks after announcing he had cancer.

Mr Gill, who died aged 62, grew his hair to shoulder length while a boarding scholar at the famously non-orthodox independent school – and recalled his experiences at the school in his book The Angry Island.

St Christopher paid tribute to Mr Gill on Twitter, quoting his statement that ‘Freedom of speech is what all other human rights and freedoms balance on’.

Head Richard Palmer added that he was ‘very sorry to hear of old scholar AA Gill’s death’.

Mr Gill – who died from what he called an ‘embarrassment of cancer, the full English’, brought on by smoking – said he had been given six months to live when he was a 30-year-old alcoholic.

He gave up drink, and described his battle with alcoholism extensively in his 2015 memoir Pour Me, as well as in other books.

In The Angry Island, he dedicated a whole chapter to Letchworth, and recalled St Christopher as ‘a weird and unconventional little place with a high proportion of Quakers, many of whom wore sandals all year round and one of whom wouldn’t speak on Wednesdays in memory of those killed in Hiroshima’.

Most Read

He added: “Despite the crankiness, the long matted hair, the sallow cheeks, ragged jeans and wispy beards of the sixties, it was, underneath, just another English public school, albeit a rather benign one.

“We were passionate about George Orwell and global socialism, and would play truant to go on marches against Vietnam and for abortion. I had pictures of Che Guevara and Trotsky on my wall, but Ebenezer Howard would have been an irony too far.”

His final column, about coming to terms with his cancer diagnosis, was published on Sunday.

In it, he described asking his doctor how men reacted when told their cancers were fatal, prompting the answer: “Always the same way – with stoicism.”

His reaction, he wrote, was to think: “Bollocks, I thought that was just me.”

Mr Gill is survived by his fiancée and partner of over 20 years, Nicola Formby, and their nine-year-old twins Isaac and Edith – as well as his two children from his first marriage to present Home Secretary Amber Rudd, Flora and Alasdair.

His diagnosis with cancer, which came after people on holiday told him he had lost weight, among other things prompted him to pluck up the courage to finally ask Nicola to marry him.

Sunday Times editor Martin Ivens said Mr Gill – known for dictating his copy over the phone due to his dyslexia – had been ‘a giant among journalists’ and ‘the heart and soul’ of the paper he had written for since 1993.

He was known for his acerbic style – at various times he wrote that the Isle of Man ‘managed to slip through a crack in the space-time continuum’, called the Welsh ‘dark, ugly, pugnacious little trolls’, and described TV presenter Clare Balding using demeaning language about her sexuality and appearance.

Ms Balding’s complaint about the words he had used to describe her was upheld by the Press Complaints Commission.

Mr Gill also wrote for Vanity Fair, GQ and Esquire, among others, and was one of the most widely-read and highest-paid columnists in the UK.