Understandably, then, in conversation with the sympathetic and unobtrusive Steven Gale, she focused on bereavement, loss, memories and general ‘dealing with bad stuff’. Last year she was diagnosed with breast cancer, which naturally had her wondering if her two boys would grow up missing both parents, but although she seems physically recovered now there are clearly still emotional scars to heal. She’s a tall, thoughtful figure, more used to questioning politicians than to being questioned herself, and she gave the impression of blinking in the spotlight a little.
She opened by reading the impressive prologue of All At Sea in full, then talked about her partner Tony, contrasting his past – transformed from former drug-dealer and prisoner into degree-educated charity worker – with her own ultra-liberal middle-class background. But I thought the most interesting sections were when she took questions from the audience. She treated each as if it were a new question that she herself had never considered before (I don’t believe that) and gave the most considered answers: helping her son (only four years old) cope with the guilt of triggering the events leading to his father’s death; the extraordinary relationship between Decca and Tony; the coolness of her family towards her partner. This event might have talked about her cancer, but there wasn’t much time.
Overall, I found it an interesting event, albeit I found the whole story of Decca Aitkenhead and her family so bizarre that I couldn’t bring myself to believe that it was true. Except that it seems it is.
One last thing: my apologies for the poor-quality photo. Decca Aitkenhead has cut her hair, and looks quite different from all the photos you’ll see on the internet. The only available decent likeliness of her is the Book Festival photo available from Getty Images. They wanted £163.50 to allow me the privilege of using it here, so you’ll have to make do with this link to the Getty website instead.