Known for his sharp wit, and often controversial style, Gill was widely read and won numerous awards for his writing. On his death he was described by one editor as "a giant among journalists." His articles were the subject of numerous complaints to the Press Complaints Commission.
Gill was born in Edinburgh to English parents. His father was television producer and director Michael Gill and his mother was actress Yvonne Gilan. He had a brother named Nicholas. The family moved back to the south of England when he was one year old. In 1964, he appeared briefly in his parents' film The Peaches as a chess player.
Gill was educated at the independent St Christopher School in Letchworth, Hertfordshire, and later recalled his experiences at the school in his book The Angry Island. After St Christopher's, he moved to London to study at the Saint Martin's School of Art and the Slade School of Art, nurturing ambitions to be an artist. Following art school Gill spent six years "signing on, trying to paint, until one day he realised he wasn't any good". At the age of 30, having abandoned his ambitions in art, he spent several years working in restaurants and teaching cookery.
Gill began his writing career in his thirties, writing "art reviews for little magazines". His first piece for Tatler, in 1991, was an account of being in a detox clinic, written under the pseudonym Blair Baillie. In 1993 he moved to The Sunday Times where, according to Lynn Barber, "he quickly established himself as their shiniest star".
He continued to write for the Sunday Times until shortly before his death in 2016. Gill was also a contributing editor to Vanity Fair and GQ. He wrote a series of columns for GQ, on fatherhood and other subjects. He also wrote for Esquire, where he served as an agony uncle, 'Uncle Dysfunctional'.
Collections of his travel writing were published as AA Gill is Away (2002), Previous Convictions (2006) and AA Gill is Further Away (2011), his Tatler and Sunday Times food writing as Table Talk (2007) and his TV columns as Paper View (2008). He wrote several books on individual restaurants and their cuisine – Ivy (1997), Le Caprice (1999), Breakfast at the Wolseley (2008) and Brasserie Zedel (2016).
He also wrote two novels which were generally poorly reviewed – Sap Rising (1996) and Starcrossed (1999). Sap Rising was given the Literary Review's Bad Sex in fiction award. He wrote books studying England – The Angry Island (2005) – and the United States – The Golden Door (2012).
In 2014 Gill won an Amnesty International Media Award, and a Women on the Move award for a series of Sunday Times Magazine articles on refugees in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Jordan and Lampedusa. In 2014 he also won the 'Hatchet Job of the Year Award' for his scathing review of Morrissey's Autobiography. In 2015 he published a memoir, Pour Me.
On his death The Sunday Times editor Martin Ivens described Gill as "the heart and soul of the paper" and "a giant among journalists".
Gill's acerbic style led to several media controversies. In 2010, The Sunday Times disclosed that Gill had been the subject of 62 Press Complaints Commission complaints in five years.
In 1998, in The Sunday Times, Gill described the Welsh as "loquacious, dissemblers, immoral liars, stunted, bigoted, dark, ugly, pugnacious little trolls". His comments were reported to the Commission for Racial Equality. and used as an example of what was described as "persistent anti-Welsh racism in the UK media" in a motion in the National Assembly for Wales. The Commission for Racial Equality declined to prosecute, saying that Gill "had not meant to stir up racial hatred."
Gill's feud with the Isle of Man began in 2006 with a review of Ciappelli's restaurant in Douglas. Gill wrote that the island:
managed to slip through a crack in the space-time continuum […] fallen off the back of the history lorry to lie amnesiac in the road to progress […] its main industry is money (laundering, pressing, altering and mending) […] everyone you actually see is Benny from Crossroads or Benny in drag…. The weather's foul, the food's medieval, it's covered in suicidal motorists and folk who believe in fairies.
The review was attacked in the Tynwald, the Manx parliament, with House of Keys member David Cannan demanding an apology for the "unacceptable and scurrilous attack".
Gill made further comments regarding the Isle of Man in his Sunday Times column on 23 May 2010, when he described its citizens as falling into two types: "hopeless, inbred mouth-breathers known as Bennies" and "retired, small arms dealers and accountants who deal in rainforest futures". His comments were made in the aftermath of Mick Jagger's suggestion that drugs should be legalised in the Isle of Man. Gill added that "If … they become a hopelessly addicted, criminal cesspit, who'd care? Indeed, who could tell the difference?"
In February 2011, Gill described the county of Norfolk as "the hernia on the end of England". In December 2013, his column just before New Year's Eve, was the result of a night on the beat in Grimsby and Cleethorpes and was heavily critical of both towns where Grimsby is "on the road to nowhere" and Cleethorpes is full of "hunched and grubby semi-detached homes". Humberside Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Grove described Gill as "A tweed-suited, Mayfair-based writer, whose only experience of the North of England was his visit to Cleethorpes and his regular trips salmon fishing in Scotland".
Gill reported in his Sunday Times column in October 2009 that he shot a baboon dead, prompting outrage from animal rights groups. "I know perfectly well there is absolutely no excuse for this", he wrote, and that he killed the animal to "get a sense of what it might be like to kill someone, a stranger". He went on to state, "[T]hey die hard, baboons. But not this one. A soft-nosed .357 blew his lungs out".
In a review of Clare Balding's 2010 Britain by Bike TV programme, Gill referred to the presenter as "a big lesbian" and "a dyke on a bike". Gill's Sunday Times editor, John Witherow, responded to Balding's complaint: "In my view some members of the gay community need to stop regarding themselves as having a special victim status and behave like any other sensible group that is accepted by society. Not having a privileged status means, of course, one must accept occasionally being the butt of jokes. A person's sexuality should not give them a protected status". Dissatisfied with the response, Balding's subsequent complaint to the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) was upheld, who considered use of the word "dyke" to have been "pejorative" and "used in a demeaning and gratuitous way". The PCC considered publication of Gill's piece to be "an editorial lapse" for which "the newspaper should have apologised at the first possible opportunity".
Reviewing Mary Beard's BBC television series Meet the Romans in April 2012, Gill wrote that the academic "should be kept away from cameras altogether". Beard in response accused him of being "frightened of smart women".
Gill suffered from severe dyslexia and consequently dictated all of his writing.
Gill was a recovering alcoholic who stopped drinking at the age of 29. On 1 April 1984, he shared two bottles of vintage champagne with his father on the train to Wiltshire and checked into the Clouds House addiction treatment centre in East Knoyle. He followed an Alcoholics Anonymous "12-step plan" to recovery and, in tribute to the organisation, began using the name 'A. A.' Gill professionally. In a 2014 article in The Times, Gill said that he had "continued to smoke about 60 a day" until the age of 48."
From 1982 to 1983, Gill was married to the author Cressida Connolly. From 1990 to 1995, he was married to Amber Rudd, a financial journalist who later became a politician and is currently the Home Secretary. The couple had two children. He then had a long-term relationship with Nicola Formby, editor-at-large of Tatler, for whom he left Rudd in 1995, and who appeared in his column as "The Blonde". They had twins born in 2007.
Gill's younger brother Nick, a Michelin-starred chef, disappeared in 1998, telling Gill that "I’m going away now . . . I’m not coming back." Gill spoke of his sadness at not knowing what happened to Nick, and wrote that he looked for him whenever he visited a new city.
On 20 November 2016, Gill wrote in his Sunday Times column of his engagement to Formby, and also disclosed that he was suffering from "the full English" of cancer. In his final article in the Sunday Times Magazine, published on 11 December 2016, he revealed that he had a primary lung tumour with metastases to his neck and pancreas. He died in London on the morning of 10 December 2016, at the age of 62.