WE HAVE A NUMBER of books planned for this year – among them the memoirs of a paramedic, a teacher, and a detective – but the first we’ll mention is the autobiography of one of Britain’s most colourful barristers, Gary Bell QC.
Over the years, Gary has prosecuted and represented some of the country’s most serious criminals – murderers, rapists, international drug barons and the like.
As a leading Silk, he now specialises in fraud – the most complex of crime – and the evidence and papers in his cases are measured in tonnes, not pages; one recent case had over sixteen tonnes of material to be assimilated.
But the story of how he reached the height of his profession – published this coming July as ANIMAL QC: My Preposterous Life – is truly amazing.
Believe me when I say that the following brief description does not even begin to scratch the surface of an utterly preposterous life.
The AI jacket for Animal QC: hilarious, moving, astonishing, and preposterous – all at once
From all appearances, you’d have him down as a privileged member of the Establishment, from the top of his horsehair wig to the hem of his silken gown. But the truth is very different.
Conceived in 1959, the son of a teenaged Teddy Boy coalminer and his young John Player cigarette factory worker girlfriend, Gary’s early life reads like a Hovis ad scripted by Charles Dickens for Monty Python’s four Yorkshiremen.
His first home was a condemned slum terrace in Nottingham, where the Bells shared an outside tin bath with half a dozen other families. He had brown sauce sandwiches for tea, his most prized possession was a Dinky car with only three wheels which was given to him by the daughter of the local rag-and-bone man, and he left school without taking any O levels.
The next decade or so was a blur of football hooliganism¹, fraud (ironically)², homelessness, and various short-lived jobs. He was very briefly a miner (he quit because of his lifelong fear of the dark, and specifically the vampires whom he feared might lurk down the pit), an Asda forklift driver, a pet food warehouseman, a Pork Farms production line worker, a trainee fireman, an apprentice lawnmower mechanic, a fruit machine tester, a door-to-door rags-and-tat salesman, and a lamentably untrained bricklayer.
He left those from which he was not sacked, and after a period on the dole he went bumming around Europe for a couple of years – in Cannes, he nearly starved to death, became friends with The Village People (this is not a euphemism), and shacked up with a beautiful French nightclub hostess.
After that, he went back to school as a (very) mature student, took his O levels and A levels, and then went to Bristol University to read law.
He arrived a moustachioed skinhead in stonewashed jeans with flat vowels, and left in Church’s brogues and a Hugh Grant hairdo with a BBC accent, having amused himself by becoming a fake Old Etonian.
(He reinvented himself so successfully – with the assistance of some actual Old Etonian friends at Bristol, who helped him bone up on the history and culture of the school – that many people remain convinced to this day that they actually were at Eton with Gary; he has even been ‘back’ there a few times to take part in the famous ‘Field Game’ in Old Boys vs current pupils fixtures.)
All of that is without touching on his first career as a Los Angeles lawyer (he was offered a job at a Beverly Hills law firm while still at university, after being talent-spotted on a three-month debating tour of the USA).
Or his second career as an award-winning stand-up comedian.
Or his third career as a BBC TV presenter.
Or his improbable marriage to a woman whose family appear in Burke’s Landed Gentry, or his exciting time in student politics, or his becoming a pilot, or the many scrapes he’s somehow contrived to get into over the years (for instance, accidentally urinating on some important court papers a few moments before he handed them to a judge), or his various highly amusing personal foibles and eccentricities.
And – of course – it’s without going into his extremely successful life at the Bar, tales from which he tells with immense and self-deprecating wit and verve, and which would easily make an excellent book in their own right.
The whole thing is mad, moving, hilarious, and completely life-affirming.
¹Gary was nicknamed ‘Animal’ by his fellow hooligans – hence the title of the book – though it was not for his fighting prowess but for what they viewed as his disgusting eating habits.
²It is extremely rare for a person who has been given a suspended prison sentence, as Gary was, to be called to the Bar. But then, just about everything that has happened in his life has been extremely rare.