My day job is in the parliamentary press gallery, writing political sketches for The Times. In the evenings I move to the West End or further afield to review theatre for the Sunday Times. I also do occasional guest-pundit slots on television and radio, among them ITV’s Good Morning Britain. In the recent past I presented a BBC Radio 4 series, ‘What’s The Point Of…?’ and for a decade wrote about theatre for Waitrose Weekend magazine. My latest book, ‘Stop Bloody Bossing Me About’, was published during the covid lockdown. It seemed to have no effect at all on our politicians.
I was born in 1963 in Cirencester, Gloucestershire, not quite in a February snowdrift. My parents ran a prep school and I was named Quentin because I was their fifth child. My father, tall and slender, was a fine cricketer with a crablike spin-bowling action. He taught classics and knew chunks of The Aeneid by heart. I have inherited few of his talents. My mother’s family were Irish-Canadian – Co Cavan by way of Montreal. One forebear briefly ran the George V hotel in Paris while another was a controversial Cavan farmer and Orangeman, RH Johnstone. My mother’s grandfather, John George Adami was a prominent Victorian and Edwardian pathologist who became vice-chancellor of Liverpool University. My own grandfathers went to war: CFC Letts (d 1962) was a Rifle Brigade officer wounded thrice on the Western front, once when a German bullet whizzed through his neck; GDS Adami was a Sapper who landed in Normandy just before D-Day to clear mines and pay compensation to French farmers. His accoutrements that day included a bottle of Champagne and his Sealyham terrier. He died in 1949 and is buried at Corse, Glos, in a graveyard surrounded by orchards.
My schooling was at The Elms, Colwall, and Haileybury. In my late teens I spent time at Bellarmine College, Kentucky, and worked as a barman, dustman, door-to-door salesman, warehouseman and Father Christmas, among other things. From 1982-86 I drank Guinness, acted in plays and edited magazines at Trinity College, Dublin, while officially reading Medieval English and Classical Civilisation. This was followed by a diploma in Classical Archaeology at Jesus College, Cambridge – the best part of that year was appearing in the Footlights pantomime.
Max Hastings offered me a holiday-relief shift on the diary column of The Daily Telegraph in August 1986, when Fleet Street was still hot-metal and dissolute. I worked briefly for a magazine company in Cardiff, producing ‘Fiat World’ and ‘Peugeot Talbot News’ before rejoining the Telegraph in 1988, becoming City diarist. I was the paper’s temporary Commons sketch writer when Mrs Thatcher was toppled. Don’t blame me, though some do.
I edited the ‘Peterborough’ column for five years before moving to New York for The Times, 1995-97. Since May 1 1997, the day Tony Blair won power, I have been back at Westminster sketching for first the Telegraph, then Mail, and now the Times.
When not in London I live in Herefordshire. My wife Lois, a former Times obituarist, is a church organist and we have three fine children.