Decca Aitkenhead

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Jessica Aitkenhead (born 1971), known as Decca Aitkenhead, is an English journalist, writer and broadcaster.


Aitkenhead was born in Wiltshire; she has three older brothers. Her father was a teacher in Bristol before becoming a builder after the family moved to the country.[1] She was nine when her mother died. A home-maker who had helped run a playgroup, she was terminally ill with cancer. It was many years before Aitkenhead became aware that her mother had committed suicide.[1]

Aitkenhead studied Politics and Modern History at the University of Manchester, where she was active in the Labour Club,[2] and simultaneously worked for the Manchester Evening News as a columnist and feature writer.[3] After moving to London, she completed a Diploma in Newspaper Journalism at City University in 1995[4] before beginning her career in the national press.

She wrote for The Independent from 1995 before joining The Guardian in 1997, but left the paper in 1999 to write her first book.[3] During this period she lived in Jamaica for a year with her then husband, a photographer,[5][6] and visited other parts of the world with him.

Her book The Promised Land: Travels in search of the perfect E, appeared in early 2002. While the drug ecstasy was promoted as a way to make oneself happy in her travelogue, the book was described by Dave Haslam in a London Review of Books article as, "In many ways" not "a great advertisement for drug-taking".[7] Ian Penman in his Guardian review[8] thought the work "tentative" while Geraldine Bedell in The Observer described it as an "intelligent and absorbing book".[9] During a period as a freelance, she wrote for the Mail on Sunday, London Evening Standard, and The Sunday Telegraph, before rejoining The Guardian in 2004.[3]

Aitkenhead contributed interviews for the newspaper's G2 section. In 2009 she won the Interviewer of the Year at the British Press Awards. She had "particularly impressed the judges with her remarkable encounter in August with Chancellor Alistair Darling".[10][11] She is also a contributor to radio and television programmes.

In May 2014, her partner, charity worker Tony Wilkinson, drowned in Jamaica while attempting to rescue one of the couple's two sons.[12] The couple had been together for a decade. Aitkenhead has written about their relationship, and the process of mourning in her memoir All at Sea (2016).[13] Just over a year after Wilkinson died, Aitkenhead discovered she was suffering from an aggressive form of breast cancer with a genetic link. After medical treatment, including chemotherapy, her cancer is in remission.[13][14][15]


  • Decca Aitkenhead The Promised Land: Travels in search of the perfect E, London: Fourth Estate, 2002, ISBN 978-1841153377
  • Decca Aitkenhead All at Sea, London: Fourth Estate, April 2016, ISBN 978-0008142148


  1. ^ a b Decca Aitkenhead "The things left unsaid", The Guardian, 29 October 2005.
  2. ^ Decca Aitkenhead "The lady and the scamp", The Guardian, 5 November 2005.
  3. ^ a b c "Decca Aitkenhead, the Monday interviewer for G2, the Guardian", Student media awards, 2012, The Guardian.
  4. ^ "Leading alumni... in newspapers", City University website
  5. ^ Decca Aitkenhead "Till death do us part", The Guardian, 14 July 2007.
  6. ^ Decca Aitkenhead "Pleasure island", The Guardian, 30 November 2000. Other articles on Jamaica by Aitkenhead include "Their homophobia is our fault", The Guardian, 5 January 2005 and "The British officer who changed policing in Jamaica", The Guardian, 7 June 2012.
  7. ^ Dave Haslam, "Strangeways Here We Come", London Review of Books, 25:2, 23 January 2003, pp. 29–30.
  8. ^ Ian Penman "Just say no", The Guardian, 19 January 2002.
  9. ^ Geraldine Bedell "Take the high road", The Observer, 13 January 2002
  10. ^ "British Press Awards 2009: The full list of winners" Archived 19 September 2012 at the Wayback Machine, Press Gazette, 31 March 2009
  11. ^ Decca Aitkenhead "Storm warning", The Guardian, 29 August 2008.
  12. ^ "Charity worker drowns on holiday in Jamaica while rescuing son", The Guardian, 17 May 2014
  13. ^ a b Aitkenhead, Decca (26 March 2016). "'The scene belonged to a disaster movie, not a family holiday': the day my partner drowned". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 March 2016.
  14. ^ Felsenthal, Julia (16 August 2016). "Decca Aitkenhead on All at Sea, Her Memoir of Learning to Grieve". Vogue. Retrieved 15 April 2017.
  15. ^ Aitkenhead, Decca (3 June 2016). "How to get through chemotherapy". The Guardian. Retrieved 15 April 2017.

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