My name is Gary Bell and I’m a barrister. I haven’t always been a barrister. My life has gone through many phases. I started off as a coal miner, following in the footsteps of my father. Next I did a succession of jobs – apprentice mechanic, fork lift truck driver; bricklayer; pork pie production line worker and fireman, before getting in trouble with the police for fraud and going to prison for a spell. I was pretty useless and feral. A petty criminal and football hooligan incapable of holding down a job. My father had abandoned the family years before. My mother had sadly died of cancer. I was estranged from my siblings, sleeping rough during the last year of my teens. Into my twenties it all changed. I'd tried to be like Frank Sinatra and do it my way, but I came up short. I realised that to make anything of myself in life I needed an education.
I went to college to do my O and A levels, then onto University to read law. After that it was bar school, pupillage, tenancy and thirty years at the bar. There are several types of barrister. My type isn’t the most lucrative, but it’s the most exciting, crime. They’ve yet to make a TV series about ‘Rumpole of the Chancery Courts’ or ‘Kavanagh Tax QC’. That’s another important bit. Only around 14% of barristers become QC’s. In crime that means you get to deal with the most serious cases, the most gruesome murders or serious frauds. I was fortunate enough to be appointed a QC in 2012. I’ve always had itchy feet. Always wanted to squeeze every last drop from this short time we spend on earth. During my life as a barrister I’ve also become a qualified pilot, was an award-winning stand-up comedian, have written for several newspapers and have a column in the Spectator, presented my own TV show on BBC 1 and now I’ve turned my hand to crime writing.
After the success of my autobiography, ‘Animal QC’ (Animal being my football hooligan nickname and QC my current title) I was approached by a film producer friend, Pete Czernin, who put me in touch with a literary agent Eugenie Furniss. She introduced me to another agent, Rory Scarfe. Rory had a brilliant young writer on his books, Scott Kershaw, and he suggested that Scott and I collaborate to write a crime thriller. We met and got on famously and the net result is our first book, Beyond Reasonable Doubt. The second book, County Lines, is currently being written.
The principle character, Elliott Rook, is loosely based on me. I had wanted him to be dashing and thin, but Scott kept me grounded insisting he was shambling and fat. After thirty years at the criminal bar, being involved in cases incorporating just about every crime from shoplifting to mass murder, I’ve a wealth of material to weave into the Rook stories based on real cases. Most of the anecdotes and scenarios in the books actually happened. Only the names have changed.
The Bar is a fantastic profession. You very rarely work in the same court from case to case and it’s brilliant walking into a random robing room and encountering old friends you’ve known and worked with for decades. It’s not like the public perception, an ancient, stuffy profession. In my life I’ve been sacked as a fireman, a bricklayer and a fork lift truck driver at Asda for having a criminal conviction and therefore being too dishonest to put out fires, lay bricks or load pallets onto lorries, but when I applied to become a barrister, having declared my conviction, the message from my Inn, the Inner Temple, was that everyone was entitled to a second chance in life.
But there is still much to be done. The Bar is working hard on diversity, ensuring we have more BAME and socially deprived barristers. Rook’s sidekick, Zara, illustrates the struggles to become a barrister. She is a gay, dual heritage (Pakistani and English) woman from a working class Midlands’ family struggling to make her way at the bar.
It is a struggle to become a barrister. Not only is it a struggle it’s an unequal one, particularly for those without money or connections. I had to sleep rough in Lincoln’s Inn Fields for a while in my early days as an unpaid pupil barrister. But the greater the struggle the more the sense of achievement when you overcome barriers to success. My message to anyone with a dream is simple. If it’s an uneven playing field (which it will be) and therefore much harder for you than for others, don’t moan about it, try harder. If you have the ability and determination you’ll succeed, and that success will taste much sweeter than if it was given to you on a plate.
Beyond Reasonable Doubtby Gary Bell is published by Raven Books on 13 June.
Elliot Rook QC is one of the greatest barristers of his generation. He is also a complete fraud. Elliot Rook is the epitome of a highly successful, old Etonian QC. Or so everyone believes. In fact, he is an ex-petty criminal with a past that he has spent decades keeping secret. Until now... An unidentified young woman of Middle Eastern origin has been found murdered on the outskirts of Rook's home town. Billy Barber - a violent football hooligan and white-supremacist - is accused of her murder. Barber insists that Rook must defend him. If Rook refuses, Barber will expose him, bringing crashing to the ground the life and career that Rook has spent his life building.