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John Diamond: Sparkling through the pain

Friday, 2 March, 2001, 12:58 GMT
 John Diamond: Admired for frank account of his illness

John Diamond was not a man to allow practical difficulties to impede his progress.

During one of his first jobs in journalism, he was the only travel writer with the Sunday Times to confess to a fear of flying.

And later, despite his long-lasting illness, he continued be a witty and powerful journalist.

Born in Hackney, East London, the son of a bio-chemist and an artist, Diamond savoured the variety of language and had much success exercising it.

With his celebrity journalist wife Nigella Lawson, he formed one of London's most glamorous media couples.

United in struggle: John with Nigella

He was an English and Drama teacher at a girls' school before breaking into journalism.

After working for the Sunday Times, he went to the Sunday Mirror. When he was sacked in one of Robert Maxwell's purges, he started writing for the Times.

Diamond's erudite and light-hearted outpourings in his regular Saturday column brought him a legion of fans and a regular spot on Radio 4's Stop Press.

Television appearances followed on Tomorrow's World, Behind the Headlines and briefly his own chat show.

John Diamond said himself: "I believe my personality to be almost entirely manifest in what I say and in the way that I say it."

And then he was robbed of his great skill in the very thing that brought him and his audience such pleasure.

Popular columnist: Diamond in the Times

Prize through pain: Colummnist of the Year 1997

When he was diagnosed with throat cancer in March 1997, his public battle with the disease brought him fresh admiration.

The honesty and humour of his newspaper column made Diamond Columnist of the Year at the 1997 What the Papers Say awards.

Even then, he remained keen to dismantle taboos. Diamond was the first patient at the Royal Marsden Hospital to ask to inspect his own tumour, and wrote his autobiography, entitled Cowards Get Cancer Too.

During a television programme about the year that changed his life, Diamond was asked if he would be sub-titled. "I think so... probably in French," he joked.

This 1997 documentary was called Tongue Tied, and by the end of it, Diamond was back at work.

He continued to make live radio broadcasts until the following year, when the spread of the cancer forced the removal of his tongue.

John Diamond continued to enjoy a blissful family life with his wife and their two young children.

To celebrate 10 years of marriage, the couple threw a party, where their guests were able to enjoy Diamond's enduring wit, written down and projected onto a wall.

In the last years of his life, he also enjoyed riding his new motorbike, brushing aside his wife's protestations that it was

If the choice is living or broadcasting, I'll take broad ... I mean living every time

John Diamond

too dangerous.

Diamond rejected claims of courage. He explained in his book: "Talking is what I do."

But with his full and frank account of his experiences, he invoked much admiration and proved that though his power of speech was long gone, John Diamond never lost his voice.

See also:

04 Mar 01 | UK
Farewell to John Diamond