A lot of people, upon receiving a cancer diagnosis, are tempted to retreat, to keep it a secret from all but their closest kin. Not England’s prominent (and sometimes controversial) cultural and restaurant critic AA Gill, who has been publishing critiques and commentary in various British publications for over 25 years. In his latest restaurant review for the Sunday Times — on a fish and chips shop — which dropped yesterday, Gill came right out with it:
I’ve got cancer. Sorry to drop that onto the breakfast table apropos of nothing at all. Apropos and cancer are rarely found in the same sentence. I wasn’t going to mention it, the way you don’t.
Reactions to the stunning news ricocheted across the internet.
Oh balls. just seen the opening to AA Gill's column. Whatever the caricature he's a v nice man and great writer https://t.co/uXKagLkaD7— Jay Rayner (@jayrayner1) November 20, 2016
I'm very sad my darling friend, AA Gill, has cancer, but (obviously) it hasn't dimmed his wonderful ability to write https://t.co/aTdnzcA2ij— Camilla Long (@camillalong) November 20, 2016
Ah man. Just read the AA Gill news. Beyond crap.— Jake Humphrey (@mrjakehumphrey) November 20, 2016
I've never shared so many enjoyable meals with someone I've never even met...
AA Gill has cancer. Like, really bad cancer. And he still files his review. https://t.co/KUCKdIJN21— Kim Severson (@kimseverson) November 20, 2016
Such sad news AA Gill has cancer. One of the great British feature writers, who has been making people smile in the Sunday Times forever.— Stig Abell (@StigAbell) November 19, 2016
He followed the admission with a full disclosure:
Chemotherapy can alter the way things taste. I am being rinsed with commando doses of platinum. My insides are being turned into road-rail, pig-lead, firewood, iron-ware and cheap tin trays. If ever things start tasting like licked battery terminals, I’ll tell you.
But Gill’s sober, somber lede didn’t take away from the job to be done. He went on to review the Magpie Café in Whitby, a town about five hours north of London by land (barred, because of his diagnosis, from taking planes or trains or cars, Gill and a pal took a chopper up to the seaside village).
The darkened mood of the piece is punctuated by bits of humor — “‘So,’ [Jimmy Carr, a British comedian and friend of Gill] asks, ‘cancer — what’s the silver lining? There must be an upside.’ Well, there is: you can stop worrying about Alzheimer’s.” — and the revelation that Magpie’s fish and chips still taste, to Gill, just like they did 10 years ago. That was when he first rated them the best in Britain; it was also over a decade before he would learn he was about to die of cancer.
In his latest review, he gave the Magpie Café five stars for food and five for atmosphere, a rare, perfect 10-star rating.
Online commenter Michael Limb wrote: “Good luck (even though you've just had the most awful bad luck) and keep it coming. If you can't taste the food any more, you could become a modern art critic, which I might even prefer.”