I’m not at all surprised that my old colleague, Jonathan Aitken, now 75, will shortly be ordained in the Church of England. For years, he’s been described in tabloid headlines as “the disgraced former MP”. This followed his prison sentence for perjury, after it emerged that he had lied over the matter of having his sojourn at the Ritz Paris paid for by a rich Arab. But he took his punishment in a Christian spirit, accepting his guilt, doing time in jail and befriending and often helping the other inmates, especially with their reading and writing.
When I was Master of the Keys (at the Catholic Writers’ Guild) for two years from 2011, Jonathan proved to be one of our most popular speakers. He was funny and good-tempered, and he spoke of his prison experience with kindness and respect. He had maintained friendships with some of the inmates after his – and their – release.
Jonathan, whom I first knew in the 1960s when we were reporters on the Evening Standard, has known high life and low life. He’s been on familiar terms with Richard Nixon, Margaret Thatcher and Henry Kissinger, not to mention those Middle Eastern sheikhs who sought his counsel. He’s fallen from grace, been a bankrupt and lost many of his privileges. But he picked himself up, found solace at Holy Trinity Brompton, and produced a biography of John Newton, the former slave owner who repented and wrote the song Amazing Grace.
Though worldly, Jonathan always had a spiritual streak, and it strikes me that a man who has experienced the full rollercoaster of life is an excellent candidate for ordination. Perhaps it will encourage other 75-year-olds to do likewise.
He is divorced from his first wife and is now married to Elizabeth, formerly married to the late Richard Harris and Rex Harrison. But if the Anglican Church doesn’t object, it is not our place to do so, and I wish him a long and fulfilling pastoral vocation. He’ll be an engaging preacher too …
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