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Born to write: Tributes paid to 'brilliant' journalist James Gillespie after death aged 61

Tributes have been paid to “brilliant campaigning journalist” James Gillespie who has died unexpectedly aged 61.

The father-of-three was killed after falling on to the tracks at Battersea Park train station, London, on the night of Friday 25 October. Police are not treating his death as suspicious.

Gillespie worked at various regional and national newspapers throughout his 40-year journalism career, including many years at the Sunday Times and most recently as a freelance writer for the Express and the Mail.

“Friends and colleagues of Jim were shocked and distressed to learn of his death,” said Express editor-in-chief Gary Jones. “Jim was a highly talented journalist, admired and respected by all. We shall miss him greatly.”

The Sunday Times has described Gillespie as a “writer of wit and verve”. Friend Daniel Janner QC said: “James was a brave and brilliant campaigning journalist who became a much valued friend.”

Gillespie’s widow, Pauline Heslop, said writing was his “first love” and he had acquired a reputation in the industry as an “outstanding writer”.

She said he was “always happy to lend support” to less experienced journalists “because he was passionate about print journalism” and believed it still had a future in the digital age.

They met while studying English and politics at Leicester Polytechnic (now De Montfort University). “He always wanted to do journalism, even then, and he worked on the student newspaper,” said Heslop.

“He taught himself how to do shorthand and touch-type even before he started out because he was so determined to go into journalism. It’s been a lifelong ambition of his to write.”

After completing a masters degree in journalism at Cardiff University Gillespie took a job at the Carlisle News and Star, and Cumberland News, and later joined the Newcastle Chronicle.

He married Heslop in 1983 and the couple moved to London in 1985 where Gillespie took a job on Fleet Street – “which was where he always wanted to be” – with the Press Association news agency.

He worked as sub-editor at the Independent when the paper launched in 1986 before moving to the Mail on Sunday in the mid-90s and going on to join the Sunday Times in 2012.

Gillespie co-authored a book, A Greater Love, with Olga Watkins which was published in 2011, telling her story of travelling across Nazi-occupied Europe looking for her lover who had been seized by the Gestapo.

Outside of work Heslop said her husband “liked nothing better than to spend time with his family”. A keen cyclist, photographer and “aviation nerd”, Gillespie was also a Bruce Springsteen “fanatic”.

His final article was published in the Daily Express on the Monday after his death in which he wrote about how much money he had spent following his music idol, including taking his family to New York to see the singer.

In the article, Gillespie revealed he had chosen two Springsteen songs to be played at his funeral, saying: “With them, I will go to the next world a happy man.”

Heslop said: “James had no regrets. He loved his job and couldn’t imagine retiring.”

Gillespie is survived by his wife and their sons Liam, 31, Daniel, 29 and Matthew, 25.

His funeral will be held on 13 November at Beckenham Crematorium.

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6 thoughts on “Born to write: Tributes paid to 'brilliant' journalist James Gillespie after death aged 61”

  1. Ref. The late Jim Gillespie
    From Tim Carroll
    May I add a fond recollection of Jim Gillespie? In early November 2002 I was a freelance writing three different stories for three different commissioning editors, at the Sunday Times, the Sunday Express and the Mail on Sunday. Two were women, the other was Jim. On Friday, November 8 my wife was due to give birth by ceasarean to a boy, Patrick. I asked all three editors if they could make a special effort to put my copy to bed before Friday so we could avoid the inevitable last-minute queries on my extra busy day. In the event the two women completely ognored my request and spent Friday plaguing me with last-minute queries. Jim postponed our story until the following week and sent my wife a bunch of flowers. I was also writing a novel at the time. I named the hero Patrick Gillespie. Jim was a rare soul.

  2. I worked with Jim Gillespie on the launch of The Independent in 1986 where he was very soon a member of the news desk team. He was a wonderful understanding journalist and I always regarded him as a consummate journalist while retaining real warmth and sound principles. I am so shocked by his premature death. Maggie Brown

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