Disgrace, divorce, bankruptcy and jail - Jonathan’s incredible life told at Sidmouth’s Kennaway House

Jonathan Aitkin at Kennaway House.

Jonathan Aitkin at Kennaway House. - Credit: Archant

A former Cabinet minister turned author, who rose through the ranks from being a reporter to an MP, befriending a US President and British Prime Minster, before falling from grace, has spoken about his incredible life.

Defeat, disgrace, divorce, bankruptcy and jail - Jonathan Aitkin has experienced it all.

The former Conservative MP appeared as a special guest speaker at Kennaway House, Sidmouth, last Thursday (April 21) as part of Sidmouth’s 2016 Meet the Author season.

Mr Aitkin, who was an MP between 1974 and 1997, holding office as the Minister of State for Defence and Chief Secretary of the Treasury, has released 17 non-fictional books including biographies for President Richard Nixon and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

He has also now revealed he will be diving into the world of fictional writing, with plans to bring out an 18th book of short, 1960s stories. Mr Aitkin said the one piece of advice he would offer any writer was to always power on, to never give up and treat writing like a second job.

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He spoke about his time as a tennis and funeral reporter, before moving onto his adventures as a war correspondent in Vietnam in the 1960s.

“As a young man, there is nothing more exhilarating than being shot at - and it missing,” he said.

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Mr Aitkin later went on to become an MP before a scandal which ended with him being jailed for 18 months for perjury in 1999 and faced with a £2million bill in court costs.

Mr Aitkin touched upon his time in jail, recalling one particular memory about a man who approached him with a problem, after a few days of arriving there. The prisoner, who was illiterate, had received a letter and needed someone to read it to him - it said his family were going to be evicted from their council home.

Mr Aitkin decided to help him write a letter to the relevant authority in the hope it would aid the man’s family in keeping their home. After finishing it, the prisoner did something unexpected - he ran down the wing with the letter in his hand and shouted ‘look at this fancy joined-up writing’. The next day, a queue of illiterate men in need of help to read and write letters had formed outside Mr Aitken’s cell. This included everything from love letters to correspondence with solicitors.

His time in prison inspired Mr Aitkin’s voluntary work for charities and foundations, which focus on education, human rights, prison reform and offender rehabilitation.

For more on Mr Aitkin’s work, visit www.jonathanaitken.org

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