Early sales of Animal QC are very encouraging; at one point, the hardback was nudging the 150 mark on Amazon, which is excellent (and you can download a free chapter here).
Gary will be appearing on BBC Breakfast next Monday, and we think will be reviewed in the Mail on Sunday the day before. He was also interviewed by Matthew Bannister for the World Service’s excellent Outlook show last week, and we expect that to be broadcast later this week. So soon his fame will be worldwide. (And UK listeners will be able to download the hour-long interview after it is broadcast.)
Last week’s Daily Mail review by James Walton gave the book a qualified thumbs up, the qualification essentially being that Gary is a bit ‘boastful’ in the book.
I should start by saying that we were very grateful for the review – and that James finishes nicely, by saying:
Fortunately, by this stage, Bell has built up so much goodwill that you find yourself looking for ways to forgive [it]… And even if you can’t manage that, there’s one particularly strong argument for mitigation: [that the rest of the book is] such a compelling, if rather weird, delight.
We’re very happy with that.
But Gary has become a good friend, so we’re going to defend him – not that he has asked us to, or even cares – against the suggestion that he is boasting.
We’ll do this on the basis that mostly he isn’t, and that we can’t quite see how anyone who reads the book could think he is.
James homes in on four specific ‘boasts’, which are:
1. Gary’s suggestion that he became ‘one of the best-known hooligans in Nottingham.’
2. Gary talks about having enjoyed (as a barrister) ‘an incredible run of victories, often in the face of overwhelming evidence’.
3. That his BBC TV show The Legalizer ‘pulled in more than thirty per cent of the audience across all channels, even defeating Jeremy Kyle’.
4. ‘Oh yes, and he can still beat his daughter at tennis.’
The ‘one of the best-known hooligans in Nottingham’ boast: This is – extremely obviously – ironic. Hooligans are celebrated in their own circles only for their bravery and ‘hardness’. Gary’s celebrity – he confesses, openly, and repeatedly – was based on a misunderstanding of him and his qualities. Far from being a fearsome hard nut, he was a self-confessed coward, who only gained his (undeserved) reputation for fighting because he was too fat to run away, and who achieved the nickname ‘Animal’ for his revolting eating habits, rather than for any pugilistic proficiency. The relevant section of the chapter involved actually begins:
Conversely, and I confess not wholly deservedly, my own reputation was very high indeed.
Thanks to thirty pints a weekend and a diet of kebabs and Chinese, I now weighed fifteen stone. (At the time I thought this was fat, but it’s a weight which, regrettably, I haven’t seen for some years.) This excess of avoirdupois meant that, whenever our fans ran away from a scrap, I was somewhat handicapped, and odds-on to be caught by the opposition.
As a result, I was forever to be seen exhorting our firm to ‘Stand and fight!’ and I developed, somewhat accidentally, a reputation as a man without fear, whereas the truth was I was in a permanent state of abject terror.
I also acquired a nickname, one of which any self-respecting hooligan would be proud: ‘Animal.’
Young up-and-comers were anxious to address me as such in the street.
‘Alright, Animal?’ they would say, nervously.
‘Alright, lads,’ I would nod back, gravely.
In fact, people from those days still address me as Animal when I see them, and I’m happy to answer to it: it was a name which seemed to speak to my courage and ferocity, and it brought me respect and notoriety in Nottingham and beyond.
It’s a good thing that most people didn’t know how I’d come by it.
James Walton must have missed this, and the various other parts of the book where Gary talks about his own cowardice. But, for the avoidance of doubt, Gary is not really boasting about having been a hooligan. He’s telling his story. (And making what we think are quite interesting if not hugely original points about the prevalence of football hooliganism in his social milieu in the late 1970s.)
The ‘incredible run of victories’ boast: It’s true that he does seem to have enjoyed (and to continue to enjoy) great success as a criminal defence barrister. Perhaps that’s why he took silk? Do they make Queen’s Counsel out of people who consistently see their clients potted? I don’t know, but I doubt it.
However, it’s rather unfair of James to suggest that Gary is ‘boasting’ – not least because a significant number of the cases deal with defeats, often just after he has puffed himself up and begun to believe his own publicity. Others (sensitive readers, look away now) involve Gary in a number of lavatorial incidents, such as accidentally urinating on a skeleton argument just before he hands it to a judge. Or or making the fatal error of judgment not to stop at motorway services on the way to work, and suffering a regrettable defecatory failing on the very steps of the court. Or arriving at court for an armed robbery trial, going to the loo (for once), and sitting down to play the Gameboy he has just bought for his nephew… only to hear his name being called for Court Two, five hours later. (He stands up, and immediately collapses, having lost all sensation in his legs. You might feel these stories are slightly off-colour (I’m not a big fan of bog jokes myself) but you surely cannot see Gary as ‘boasting’ here.
James Walton also suggests that the third of the book which deals with Gary’s legal career is ‘mostly’ a ‘catalogue of trials that he’s fought.’
‘Several are interesting, funny or both,’ writes Walton, ‘but… this part could have been written by any 50-something lawyer.’
Actually – no, it couldn’t. Until very recently, the job of defending in murders and other very serious crime was almost exclusively the province of silks, and very few barristers take silk, so very few barristers could write of such trials. More to the point, almost none have. (Libby Purves thought the book became even more interesting at this point – perhaps because it is precisely not just a list of cases – but each to his or her own.)
The ‘Jeremy Kyle’ boast: Okay, admittedly, maybe this was a bit boastful. But set it in context, for goodness’ sake! The Jeremy Kyle Show is almost exclusively populated by people who grew up where Gary grew up. It’s not exactly the height of vanity to point out that you’ve sidestepped Kyle and all his works.
The ‘I can still beat my daughter at tennis’ boast: This one had us scratching our heads, slightly. It is very clear on reading the book that Gary is boasting – about his young daughter’s ability at tennis, and the fact that she will very soon be overhauling her old man. In the story narrated in the book – and it’s a very minor element, where he deals briefly with his family – he only manages to defeat her with the help of the club pro. He’s a proud dad, essentially – so shoot him.
There are many other examples we could pull out: Gary is almost pathologically keen throughout the book to stress that much of what he has achieved has been mostly by dint of luck, by being in the right place at the right time, and with the help of very many other people. He stresses his many failures, acts of stupidity (and meanness – the story of how he selfishly refused to give his penniless mother a pair of jeans will bring a tear to your eye, and is hardly the sort of tale told by a braggart), and his character and other flaws (in the review itself, James Walton has Gary describe himself as being ‘as fat as a pig’ – do boastful people generally draw attention to their physical imperfections?).
No, it won’t do: in any work of 100,000 words about you, you are going to open yourself up to allegations of boasting – and I suppose anyone who writes anything for publication does so under the assumption that his words will be of interest to others, a species of vanity, surely – but no-one who reads Animal QC fairly could come away thinking Gary Bell QC is a big-head.
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