He may have two Jags, but there's only one John Prescott
Nick Kochan talks to Hunter Davies about his experiences ghostwriting the autobiography of an extraordinary politician John Prescott is the unlikely phenomenon of the self-made British politician. He built his Westminster career without the help of privi
Nick Kochan talks to Hunter Davies about his experiences ghostwriting the autobiography of
an extraordinary politician
John Prescott is the unlikely phenomenon of the self-made British politician. He built his Westminster career without the help of privilege or wealth. Prezza, Prescott's autobiography ghosted by Hunter Davies, reminds us that the former deputy prime minister had served as a seaman for 10 years and as a union official before entering politics.
Davies, who spent much time honing his famously inarticulate English, tells me he is a Prezza fan.
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"I got to like the guy. I have always been attracted to his life story. I liked the fact that he had been 10 years at sea and then went to Ruskin College, Oxford. You are never going to get somebody from his background climbing as far in politics ever again."
Perseverance and rough laddishness are the Prescott hallmarks. But Davies also tells of a man with a temper.
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"Family and friends told he shouts at people and he's a moaner. I observed it, but he never shouted at me, we never fell out. In his office, I could hear him shouting at people on the phone when his staff hadn't turned up. I also heard him moaning at Pauline for usual domestic stuff."
The public got a glimpse of the famous Prescott temper when in 2001 he threw a punch at a man who had thrown an egg at him, in understandable irritation at the intrusion.
Accusation of greed and venality, summed up in the 'Two Jags' sobriquet, are unfounded. The truth is quite the opposite, says Davies. Prescott did not earn a penny from activities outside politics, by taking directorships, consultancies or journalism, until he sold his book. He did not climb on the London property ladder, preferring to live in the house owned by his union. When he became deputy prime minister, he received a 'grace and favour' residence. Davies says: "He really lost out on making some money."
Naivete is a stronger charge against the former seaman, as he appeared to believe he could mend the gaping wound that existed between Tony Blair and his Chancellor Brown. Prescott remains a great fan of both men. Davies thinks his praise is unjustified, but efforts by the media to show that he sought to split them up, rather than heal the divide, are unfair, says Davies.
"The Sunday Times serialisation picked out criticism, but I thought they were boring and we knew them all," he says.
Prescott's Achilles heel, and the characteristic that has attracted such media obsession, is his eating habit. His sad bulimia, revealed only to the biographer at the end of his research was more of an afterthought than a headline. It has won the book and its subject notoriety.
Davies tells me about his discomfort when he was dining with Prescott on one occasion. He witnessed him childishly dipping his finger into some mayonnaise. Worse still, Prescott went on to finish the mayonnaise in a most unedifying manner. "Prescott licked clean the last remnants of the mayonnaise from inside the trencherman. He scoffed what was left of the mayonnaise. He had been dipping his fingers into it throughout the meal."
Pauline Prescott sent her husband to the House of Commons GP, who in turn referred him to a specialist. He recommended a diet which apparently was beneficial.
Awkward characters are milk and drink for Davies. He has written on an earlier occasion about Paul Gascoigne the footballer, who now struggles with drink and depression. Davies wishes him well.
"Gazza is an ill and sick man. One of his fears is that the tabloids want him to end in the gutter. It's not true, the tabloids love him. The way they love celebs is to hammer them to death. He is an ill man, a sick man. I haven't spoken to him for nine months. It is all desperately sad."
Working with Wayne Rooney, the footballer, has been no easier. Davies and Rooney were sued by Rooney's former manager David Moyes for alleging that Moyes had leaked to the media word about Rooney's departure from Everton.
The football manager won the day and Davies and Rooney were required to pay damages. Davies says these will be paid by his publishers.
The art of ghosting autobiography can clearly be expensive as well as lucrative.