Decca Aitkenhead

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Decca Aitkenhead
BornJessica Aitkenhead
1971 (age 51–52)
Alma materUniversity of Manchester
City, University of London
Notable awardsRussell Prize (2020)

Jessica "Decca" Aitkenhead (born 1971) is an English journalist, writer and broadcaster.[1][2][3]

Early life and education[edit]

Aitkenhead's family lived in Wiltshire when she was born; she has three older brothers. Her father was a teacher in Bristol before becoming a builder after the family moved to the country.[4] Her mother was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and died when Aitkenhead was nine. Many years later, Aitkenhead discovered that her mother had killed herself.[4]

Aitkenhead studied Politics and Modern History at the University of Manchester, where she worked for the Manchester Evening News as a columnist and feature writer.[5] After moving to London, she completed a Diploma in Newspaper Journalism at City, University of London in 1995[6] before beginning her career in the national press.


Aitkenhead wrote for The Independent from 1995 before joining The Guardian in 1997, but left the paper in 1999 to write her first book.[5] During this period she lived in Jamaica for a year with her then husband.[7]

Her book The Promised Land: Travels in search of the perfect E, was published in 2002.[8] 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" as her experiences are largely "joyless" and not transformative.[9] Ian Penman in his Guardian review[10] thought the work "tentative" while Geraldine Bedell in The Observer described it as an "intelligent and absorbing book".[11] 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.[5]

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".[12][13] She is also a contributor to radio and television programmes.[vague]

Personal life[edit]

In May 2014, her partner, Kids Company charity worker Tony Wilkinson, drowned in Jamaica while attempting to rescue one of the couple's two sons.[14] 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.[15][16] 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.[16][17][18]

Awards and honours[edit]

She was the winner of the BBC's 2020 Russell Prize for best writing for her article How a Jamaican Psychedelic Mushroom Retreat Helped Me Process My Grief, published in The Times.[19]


  • The Promised Land: Travels in search of the perfect E[8]
  • All at Sea[15]


  1. ^ "Decca Aitkenhead's Guardian contributor page".
  2. ^ Decca Aitkenhead Archived 5 March 2013 at the Wayback Machine at Journalisted
  3. ^ Decca Aitkenhead on Twitter Edit this at Wikidata
  4. ^ a b Aitkenhead, Decca (2005). "The things left unsaid". The Guardian.
  5. ^ a b c "Decca Aitkenhead, the Monday interviewer for G2, the Guardian", Student media awards, 2012, The Guardian.
  6. ^ "Leading alumni... in newspapers", City University website
  7. ^ Decca Aitkenhead, "Pleasure island", The Guardian, 30 November 2000.
  8. ^ a b Decca Aitkenhead, The Promised Land: Travels in search of the perfect E, London: Fourth Estate, 2002, ISBN 978-1841153377
  9. ^ Dave Haslam, "Strangeways Here We Come", London Review of Books, 25:2, 23 January 2003, pp. 29–30.
  10. ^ Ian Penman, "Just say no", The Guardian, 19 January 2002.
  11. ^ Geraldine Bedell, "Take the high road", The Observer, 13 January 2002
  12. ^ "British Press Awards 2009: The full list of winners" Archived 19 September 2012 at the Wayback Machine, Press Gazette, 31 March 2009.
  13. ^ Decca Aitkenhead, "Storm warning", The Guardian, 29 August 2008.
  14. ^ "Charity worker drowns on holiday in Jamaica while rescuing son", The Guardian, 17 May 2014.
  15. ^ a b Aitkenhead, Decca (2016). All at Sea. London: Fourth Estate. ISBN 978-0008142148.
  16. ^ 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.
  17. ^ Felsenthal, Julia (16 August 2016). "Decca Aitkenhead on All at Sea, Her Memoir of Learning to Grieve". Vogue. Retrieved 15 April 2017.
  18. ^ Aitkenhead, Decca (3 June 2016). "How to get through chemotherapy". The Guardian. Retrieved 15 April 2017.
  19. ^ Rajan, Amol (21 December 2020). "The winners: The 2020 Russell Prize for best writing". BBC News Online. Retrieved 23 December 2020.