|Born||4 January 1935|
|Died||22 June 2005(aged 70)|
|Pen name||Henry Root|
|Occupation||Writer and satirist|
|Notable works||The Henry Root Letters|
Life and career
Donaldson enjoyed a privileged upbringing in Sunningdale, Berkshire as the son of a shipping magnate. He was educated at Winchester College, where he met Julian Mitchell. He spent some money supporting young writers such as his contemporaries Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. He completed his National Service in the Royal Navy in the late 1950s, reaching the rank of Sub-Lieutenant.
On graduation, Donaldson became associated with the set surrounding Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon and worked as a theatrical producer. He established himself as a central player in the United Kingdom satire boom of the early 1960s as co-producer, with Donald Albery, of Beyond the Fringe (1960), and of dramatisations of J. P. Donleavy's The Ginger Man (1959) and Spike Milligan's The Bed-Sitting Room (1963). The pair earned a weekly £2,000 from Fringe when the principal performers, Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Alan Bennett and Jonathan Miller, were earning only £75.
In 1971, Donaldson left for Ibiza where he imprudently spent his last £2,000 on a glass-bottomed boat. Before long he was scavenging for food on the beach. Returning to London, he found refuge with a former girlfriend who was running a brothel on the Fulham Road. His experiences there formed the basis of his first novel Both the Ladies and the Gentlemen (1975).
However, it was to be Donaldson's fictional correspondent Henry Root that made him a final fortune. Root's satirical lampooning of the wealthy, famous and influential was retold in the books:
- The Henry Root Letters (1980) - with letters to, among others, famous football clubs, publishers, chief constables, Margaret Thatcher, politicians, newspaper editors and, on 17 April 1979, to First Sea Lord (volunteering his services owing to the "imminent outbreak of hostilities with the Soviets" and concluding "I'm on red alert here and can leave for my ship at the drop of a bollard")
- The Further Letters of Henry Root (1980)
- Henry Root’s World of Knowledge (1982)
- Henry Root’s A-Z of Women: "The Definitive Guide" (1985)
- The Soap Letters (1988)
- Root into Europe (1992)
- Root about Britain (1994)
The phenomenal success of the books, especially the first, enabled Donaldson to resume his chaotic lifestyle and in the mid-1980s he began using crack cocaine. He continued its use for more than a decade, but insisted he was not addicted.
Donaldson married Sonia Avory in 1957 and she bore him his only child, Charlie. However, he left her for Jacki Ellis, then wife of Jeffrey Bernard, who then abandoned him. A sequence of affairs followed, including liaisons with Sarah Miles and Carly Simon. He abandoned Miles for Simon, whom he described as "the answer to any sane man's prayers; funny, quick, erotic, extravagantly talented" but this did not prevent him from jilting her once they were engaged and returning to Miles. In 1968, he inherited another fortune and married Claire Gordon. The couple epitomised 1960s Swinging London. He later remembered that "sex, whether in company or not, has been the only department in life in which I have demanded from anyone taking part the very highest standards of seriousness."
He was survived by his third wife Cherry Hatrick.
- "William Donaldson - Womanising satirist and novelist who squandered several fortunes on wild living". The Times (London). 27 June 2005.
- Hawtree, Christopher (25 June 2005). "Guardian Obituary". The Guardian (London).
- Terence Blacker, ‘Donaldson, (Charles) William [Henry Root] (1935–2005)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Jan 2009; online edn, Jan 2011
- O'Hagan, Sean (13 April 2008). "When rock chicks ruled". The Guardian (London).
- Blacker, T. (2007). You Cannot Live as I Have Lived and Not End Up Like This: The Thoroughly Disgraceful Life and Times of Willie Donaldson. Ebury Press. ISBN 0-09-191386-1.