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Simon Shaw reviews Gary Bell’s Animal QC: My Preposterous Life in The Mail on Sunday‘s Event supplement today.

It’s a really great two-page review, but as far as I can see there’s no online link to it yet.

So I hope they won’t mind if we post up a brief precis:

What image does the word barrister conjure up? The picture that pops into my mind is of a Rumpolesque bewigged figure, a sober and expensively-educated pillar of the establishment.

I certainly don’t imagine a former football hooligan and homeless bum with a criminal record and a proven inability to hold down gainful employment.

Yet that precisely describes the early life of Gary Bell, a man who has overcome the twin handicaps of being born on the wrong side of the tracks and of being a lifelong Nottingham Forest supporter to rise to a position of eminence in the legal profession.

The word Bell uses to characterise his life in this hugely entertaining autobiography is ‘preposterous’, but that really doesn’t begin to do it justice…

Bell’s remarkable personal odyssey is on one level a heartwarming and inspiring story of an individual winning against the odds.

But it also stands as a powerful indictment of an educational establishment that failed dismally to spot the potential of a precociously gifted working class boy… One can only wonder how many like him fell irretrievably through the net.

Bell is a naturally funny man and a terrific raconteur. His accounts of some of the outlandish cases with which he’s been involved made me guffaw out loud…

Not all of Bell’s book is a barrel of laughs, of course. He’s a serious figure these days and also has plenty of sensible things to say about British justice and the legal profession.

He is, in every sense of the word, a heavyweight, and should I ever have the misfortune to find myself in court I can’t think of anyone I would rather have defending me than Gary Bell QC.

Thanks to Simon and The Mail on Sunday for that.

Here’s the audio of Gary’s recent Radio 5 Live interview (it’s available for thirty days via this link – Gary is on for twenty-odd minutes, and gets started at just before 1hr 38min).

Here’s the audio of his appearance on Radio 4’s Midweek show with Libby Purves (who said it was ‘An extraordinary yarn… a great autobiography’ and suggested that ‘Marvel Comics could take Gary Bell on’.).

Here’s a free chapter of the book. (Please retweet or otherwise pass on if you enjoy it.)

And here’s his appearance on BBC Breakfast:

For more Monday Books news and general chit-chat, please subscribe under ‘EMAIL SUBSCRIPTION’ at the top right hand corner of the page, or follow us on Facebook and Twitter via @mondaybooks

Gary Bell can be reached on Twitter via @garybellqc

MoS review

The below picture was taken yesterday while the jury was out in a major Old Bailey trial.

The judge is on the far right (naturally), and the prosecution junior is up to his neck in sand. The chap in the white t-shirt is actually Karl Power.

But taking centre stage, as he so often does, is one of Britain’s most charismatic Queen’s Counsel.

Surprisingly, it’s not renowned jack-the-lad and all-round good sport Michael Mansfield, or M’lud Pannick – but one G Bell esq.

gary mooning

The lawyer is an ass, M’lud

Gary’s book Animal QC: My Preposterous Life is being reviewed in tomorrow’s Mail on Sunday.

Our fingers are crossed, but in the meantime here’s the audio of his recent Radio 5 Live interview (it’s available for the next thirty days via this link – Gary is on for twenty-odd minutes, and gets started at just before 1hr 38min).

Here’s the audio of his appearance on Radio 4’s Midweek show (Libby Purves was very taken).

Here’s a free chapter of the book. (Please retweet or otherwise pass on if you enjoy it.)

And here’s his appearance on BBC Breakfast:

For more Monday Books news and general chit-chat, please subscribe under ‘EMAIL SUBSCRIPTION’ at the top right hand corner of the page, or follow us on Facebook and Twitter via @mondaybooks

Gary Bell was interviewed by Jeremy Lewis of the Nottingham Evening Post for a piece about his book ANIMAL QC: My Preposterous Life.

Gary Bell dragged his way out of a life of mischief and under-achievement to become one of Britain’s top criminal barristers.

Jeremy Lewis reads an enthralling autobiography and chats with the author…

Local boy made good? That doesn’t quite cover the life story of Gary Bell, bad local boy made very, very good.

Leave school at 16 with no qualifications, cop a conviction but rise into the professions and you’ll be poster boy in an FE college recruitment campaign.

Leave school at 16 with no qualifications, cop a conviction and end up Queen’s Counsel, marry into the gentry and include Cabinet ministers among your friends and you’ve got the makings of a decent book.

The former Cotgrave scrapper wrote it himself. Just as he has a gift for the spoken word when pleading a case in court, he is handy with the written word too.

It touches on Gary’s main motivation for writing his memoirs.

Bell, now 55, had been lumbered with one of the greatest handicaps any child can have – parents who had not the slightest interest in their offspring’s education. Add a careers master whose default advice was to direct every pupil to the pit gates, and a criminal conviction for a fruit machine scam, and it looked as if the teenage Bell was about to waste a life.After roughing it in Europe, he dragged himself away from a culture of 30-pint weekends and enrolled at West Bridgford College, studying for O-levels at 20.

His mother scoffed when he said his aim was to become a barrister. “Just get yourself a steady job,” she said.

Thanks to his mentors at West Bridgford College, Dr Magee and Angela Green, Bell gathered O-levels then A-levels and his working-class credentials impressed the admissions board at Bristol University.

His message is simple: “The biggest thing holding you back is yourself,” he says at the end of a funny but inspirational book. “There are always others who have had more opportunities and encouragement but success, to a degree, is within the grasp of anyone.”

(You can read a free chapter of the book here. Please retweet or otherwise pass on if you enjoy it.)

For more Monday Books news and general chit-chat, please subscribe under ‘EMAIL SUBSCRIPTION’ at the top right hand corner of the page, or follow us on Facebook and Twitter via @mondaybooks

 

 

Well, we wouldn’t be surprised. Here he is at the BBC yesterday, admitting his ambition before appearing on 5 Live’s Afternoon Edition to talk about Animal QC: My Preposterous Life:

Gary One Direction

One Direction’s rider bill just quadrupled.

As he puts it: ‘Don’t you think that fat, middle-aged men who can’t sing are under-represented in boy bands?’

You can listen to the interview for the next thirty days by clicking on this link (Gary is on for twenty-odd minutes, and gets started at just before 1hr 38min).

Upcoming: appearances on Radios Nottingham, Manchester and Mansfield, a piece on social mobility for The Guardian, a piece on homelessness for The Big Issue, a Mail on Sunday review this weekend (we hope), appearances at two major literary festivals, an interview on BBC World Service’s Outlook show, and much more. Media enquiries please to Sue Amaradivakara at PR Collective. For more Monday Books news and general chit-chat, please subscribe under ‘EMAIL SUBSCRIPTION’ at the top right hand corner of the page, or follow us on Facebook and Twitter via @mondaybooks

Gary will be appearing on BBC 5 Live’s Afternoon Edition sometime after 2pm today to talk about his past as a homeless man, convicted fraudster and football hooligan, his present life as one of the country’s top criminal defence barristers, his work for Pork Farms and Asda, and (probably) his ongoing battles with weight, bed-wetting and his fear of the dark (and his book, ANIMAL QC: My Preposterous Life.

(You can read a free chapter of the book here).

I think Sarah Brett and Dan Walker are doing the interview – Dan is a well-known football nut, and Gary (genuinely one of the funniest nicest and most interesting people I’ve ever met) shares his love of the game.

In fact, here’s a shot of the great man in action:

GB FOOTBALLING

Gary Bell QC demonstrating his Billy Bremner skills and Billy Bunter physique.

It’s a pretty big deal for a small publisher like Monday Books, and it follows hot on the heels of his appearance on BBC Breakfast yesterday:

Following that TV appearance – in which Gary was closely quizzed about his weight and his past as a football hooligan and convicted fraudster, as well as his current career as a highly successful criminal defence barrister – the Amazon sales ranking shot up from around 6,800-ish to 179.

He was for a time the No2 ‘mover and shaker’ in the chart, too – beaten only by that pesky Harper Lee:

Gary mover shaker

For more Monday Books news and general chit-chat, please subscribe under ‘EMAIL SUBSCRIPTION’ at the top right hand corner of the page, or follow us on Facebook and Twitter via @mondaybooks

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.

For more Monday Books news and general chit-chat, please subscribe under ‘EMAIL SUBSCRIPTION’ at the top right hand corner of the page, or follow us on Facebook and Twitter via @mondaybooks

…are very good.

Libby Purves, presented of BBC Radio Four’s Midweek show, called it ‘An extraordinary yarn… a great autobiography’ and suggested that ‘Marvel Comics could take Gary Bell on’.

(You can listen again to Gary – and the great Julia Donaldson, Michael Booth and Iain Sinclair – by clicking this link.)

Angela Epstein interviewed Gary for the Telegraph, and praised the ‘unvarnished candour’ of ‘his riotous new autobiography’.

We are hoping that additional reviews will appear in various places soon, but in the meantime the all-important reader reviews have also started appearing on Amazon.

Hard to beat this one:

I heard Gary Bell on Radio 4 this morning, and downloaded his book on Kindle a few minutes later. And couldn’t put it down, read the whole book today. One of the best and most entertaining autobiographies I have read in a long time.

You can read a free chapter of the book here.

You can also find out why he was (and in some circles still is) known as ‘Animal’ here.

Animal_QC_ early reviews

For more Monday Books news and general chit-chat, please subscribe under ‘EMAIL SUBSCRIPTION’ at the top right hand corner of the page, or follow us on Facebook and Twitter via @mondaybooks

 

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